brenda b. shapiro

Brenda B. Shapiro on Why a Prenup is Essential to Your Financial Future

Greed. Wealth. Gold-digging. Asset control. Asset protection. These are words that come to mind when “prenup” is mentioned. In fact, the preparation of a prenuptial agreement fosters a discussion between you and your fiancé when planning for your married future. Usually, the most often cited causes of marital discord are sex and money. The about-to-be married couple most often assumes “We know who we are and what we want. We don’t need a pre-nup,” or, “This is our first marriage.” Pre-nups are for much older couples who’ve acquired property and kids and want to protect both.” Wrong. Prenuptial agreements are wise choices for all those who plan to marry or as the sage says as a gentle reminder, “Assuming makes an ass of u and me.”

Another reason why people get turned off by the idea of a prenup is because they believe it is a form of divorce planning. Why contemplate the end at the beginning? Do you know how much divorce proceedings cost now let alone ten years from now? Do you know what your state statute entitles you to expect when you are a spouse? When you become a surviving spouse? When you are an ex-spouse? Probably not. It costs much less to consult with a family law attorney before your marriage rather than after. An experienced family law practitioner will educate you on whether you live in a community property state or an equitable distribution state. The difference is significant. This is a sensitive conversation to have with your future spouse. It is important to become well informed before that conversation happens. The best pre-nups reflect the wants and needs of both parties as preliminarily discussed between them.

Discussing a prenup might seem too serious or uncomfortable for soon-to- be newlyweds, which is why sometimes couples avoid the discussion. However, there are certain guidelines I believe can help couples talk about what their goals are, which makes the conversation easier.

It is important to not let your emotions get the best of you. Of course you do not want to offend the person you love, so make sure you do take into consideration their feelings and opinions, since it is a mutual discussion. But do not get so swept up in emotion where it clouds your judgment. As my English professor taught, “Think and write with an open mind but not so open that your brains fall out!” In an ideal world you will never have to use the prenup, but working on the agreement together is important. It is critical you both begin with the understanding that this is us, not you and/or me.

Being open to the conversation is important. Chances are you both have different ideas about what you want the prenup to include, so respect your fiancé’s opinions and be prepared to

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compromise until you reach a mutual agreement. However, in the same regard, don’t be coy. Understand their hopes for the prenup but be transparent when it comes to your goals and wishes. If you hold back and don’t lay it all out on the table you may end up missing important issues, which you will later regret. Being completely honest with your future spouse will let them know where you are and where you are willing to go. It avoids surprises later on. The discussion of having children should be addressed during this time as well. Make sure you are both on the same page, because more times than not you may think your fiancé is on board, but they might not be, which can cause major problems in your relationship. The agreement should include what happens with kids, business interests, investments, savings, household expenses, death of either spouse, and anything else you and your fiancé want to include.

While talking about the legal aspects of the prenup is less than romantic, it is a formality that must be acknowledged. Every couple must understand the legal repercussions of not having a prenuptial agreement. Each state has different laws regarding splitting assets in a divorce, so make sure you are both familiar with the laws and tailor your prenup to fit your specific situation.

If this is not your first marriage, it is even more crucial to sign a prenup. If you are someone who has gone through a divorce, or two, or three, then you know how difficult the process can be and how monetarily draining it is. Signing a prenup alleviates some of the strain divorce causes and offers you financial security, if need be. If this is not your first marriage, there are probably children involved, which gives you another incentive to sign a prenup, to protect their financial future as well.

There are also factors that I advise all my clients not to do when entering into the discussion of a prenup. It is an intimate discussion. It can quickly derail if it is not handled properly.

Make sure you do not sign a prenup just to avoid a problem because that will cause you to look at it negatively. Always keep in mind that this is a discussion between you and your fiancé about the life you both want to have together and not a contract to avoid turmoil if the marriage doesn’t work out. You are not simply skipping to the end; you are planning for your financial future moving forward.

Although it might be uncomfortable, it is important to plan out the separation of assets if the marriage ends. Creating provisions for dissolution will allow you and your fiancé to know clearly what will happen if you decide to divorce, with an unbiased mindset. If not, you will end up battling out in court where emotions are running wild and your intentions might not be the best.

Most people end up getting prenups because their parents or other family members insist they sign one to protect the family money. This is why most people come to me for prenups, and I have witnessed first-hand that this does not work. The discussion ends in a screaming match and feelings are hurt, trust is lost, and family relationships can become severed beyond repair. You should only discuss a prenup if it is what you and your spouse mutually decide on. At the end of the day you are the one getting married and it is your financial future that is at stake, not that of your family members.

Be sure to discuss a prenup soon after your engagement. Planning a wedding is stressful enough, so don’t wait until a month before you get married to start this conversation. The ideal amount of time is about six months prior to your wedding, so you have ample time to work out a prenup that you are both comfortable with.

The best way to ensure a successful marriage is to discuss your goals and wishes beforehand. Granted, they may change as your lives together evolve, but knowing where each of you stands is important. A prenup addresses your financial life together and will give you both peace of mind as you move forward. Remember that signing a prenup comes from a place of love and respect from your fiancé, and is not due to a lack of trust, but rather a proactive way to plan your family’s future.

To learn more about Brenda B. Shapiro, visit her Haute Lawyer Network Profile and personal website.