You’re Getting Married – Now What?

Are you changing your name? Don’t think we’re only talking about the wife – some states allow men to adopt their wife’s last name, and some states permit civil union partners to change their names. Federal agencies generally don’t recognize name changes for men after marriage which means the man would need to go through a legal name change authorized by a court.

Some couples choose to adopt a hyphenated or hybrid last name. Then both must change their names.

If you change your name, it should be changed on your social security card, driver’s license, vehicle registration, car title, medical and other insurance, bank accounts, investments, credit cards, and your passport. You’ll need new checks, business cards, credit and debit cards. Make sure your employer has your new info.

To change the name shown on your card, complete Form SS-5, Application for Social Security Card, and submit evidence of your identity and proof of name change (court order or certified copy of marriage certificate). You can take or mail the signed application with your documents to any Social Security office. Your card will have your new name but the same number as your old card.

To change the name on your passport, use Form DS-19, Passport Amendment / Validation Application, and with it send a certified copy of your marriage certificate or your name change court decree, and your current valid passport to the following address: Charleston Passport Center, Attention: Amendments, 1269 Holland Street, Charleston, SC 29405. There is no fee to have a passport amended.

You’ll need a new driver’s license. Call your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to get instructions.

Don’t forget the postoffice, phone company, utilities, and your voter registration.

Determine your filing status. Married couples have the option to choose to file taxes jointly or separately. You should determine your filing status depending on which status would allow you a lower tax rate. Filing jointly means you and your spouse are allowed to deduct combined deductions and expenses on a single tax return; whereas, filing separately means each spouse can take only his or her individual deductions and credits. If one of you itemizes deductions, the other must also.

You’ve heard of the marriage penalty? The difference between what you pay in taxes as a married couple and what you would pay as two single persons is often referred to as the marriage tax penalty. The marriage penalty does not apply to all married couples, it depends on the husband’s and wife’s respective incomes. Tax laws in more recent years have actually eliminated the marriage penalty for tax payers in lower tax brackets. So here’s the good news: there’s no marriage penalty built into the tax rate schedules in the 10% and 15% tax brackets.

Review your withholding. Changing your filing status to either married filing jointly or married filing separately, will likely change the amount of income tax you owe when you file your 1040. You can change the amount withheld from your salary by submitting a new Form W-4 to your employer. IRS Publication 919, ‘How Do I Adjust My Tax Withholding?’ gives information on this topic.

Should you have a marriage contract? The fact is, if you’re married, you already have a marriage contract. Your marriage contract consists of the obligations imposed on married couples by the laws of the state where you reside. Romantic or not, every married couple has a marriage contract. The only question is whether you have the “one size fits all” marriage contract provided by the state or whether you want to design your own contract.

People routinely change the state law provisions for inheritance rights for married couples – they write wills, often giving the entire estate to the surviving spouse. This is common, socially acceptable, and even encouraged. Marriage contracts and pre-nuptial agreements settling other property rights, however, are less common and, yet, just as important.