Is a Prenuptial Agreement Right for You?

For premarital agreements, follow these steps to decide whether a prenup makes sense.

Once you understand the basics of premarital agreements, you should focus on the specifics of your circumstances and figure out whether a prenup is what you need. The following three steps will help. (To learn the basics of prenups, see Prenuptial Agreements -- An Overview.)

Step One: Take a Prenup Quiz

If you or your fiancé answer yes to any of the following questions, there is a good chance a prenup would be helpful. If you answer no to every question, you might still benefit, but having a prenup might not be as critical.

  • Do you own any real estate?
  • Do you own more than $50,000 worth of assets other than real estate?
  • Do you own all or part of a business?
  • Do you currently earn a salary of more than $100,000 per year?
  • Have you earned more than one year's worth of retirement benefits or do you have other valuable employment benefits, such as profit sharing or stock options?
  • Does one of you plan to pursue an advanced degree while the other works?
  • Will all or part of your estate go to someone other than your spouse when you die?

Step Two: Identify Important Issues

Jot down on a piece of paper a list of the things you might want to include in a prenup, such as identifying separate property, decisions about how you will handle money and property while you are married, whether alimony will be paid or waived in the event of divorce, retirement benefit agreements, and agreements about how you want to leave property at your death.

Step Three: Assess Your Comfort Level

Next, ask yourself this question: On a scale of one to five, how comfortable am I with the idea of having a prenup?

Score of one or two. If you give yourself a one or a two, try to identify the reasons for your discomfort. If it is because you are uncertain how the terms of a prenup might compare to your legal rights without one, you may want to investigate the laws of your state before making a decision.

If you are pretty sure you want a prenup and your discomfort comes from fear of starting an argument or offending your fiancé by asking, then you might take this as an opportunity to practice talking about difficult matters in a loving way. You may even find it helpful to work on communication and negotiation skills with a counselor who specializes in premarital counseling.

The same is true if you don't think you want a prenup and you feel that your fiancé is pressuring you to make one. This is a good time to practice communicating -- clearly and kindly -- about stressful issues. Whether or not you eventually make a prenup, you're sure to learn more about what you each need and want.

Score of three, four, or five. If you scored a three, four, or five on the comfort scale, you are ready to start talking specifics with your fiancé. Even so, bear in mind that every good conversation involves some give or take. Don't assume that you and your fiancé will see eye-to-eye on everything, especially when you first start talking. Allow plenty of time to talk -- and be willing to get help if you need it.

When you're ready, Nolo's book, Prenuptial Agreements: How to Write a Fair & Lasting Contract, by Katherine E. Stoner and Shae Irving, walks you through each of these steps in more detail, and helps you draft your own agreement.

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