Marriage changed a woman's financial options

When a couple marries, several name and address changes are required. The woman who adopts her new husband's surname needs to contact her bank, credit union, employer, the Social Security Administration, and dozens of others to record her new name on existing files.

If she owns a life insurance policy, she may want to change the beneficiary as well as the name and address. A short note will ordinarily suffice for most places. The post office will supply change of address cards for sending to friends, magazines, and similar places.

Financial and legal contacts warrant more thought and effort. Credit extenders, for example, offer a choice. A woman must notify every creditor of her new status, but she may retain her own credit cards under her name or under her husband's name.

A new couple may also use a joint credit account. If they live in one of the eight community-property states, neither is required to supply information about the other spouse's employment or income unless he or she will be responsible for paying on the account.

Even if you elect to use a joint account, and these are the simplest and most convenient, you may request that the creditor keep seperate records in both names. Thus, both of you begin to generate separate credit histories. These regulations are spelled out in legislation against discrimination in credit use for age, sex, race, or national origin.

Bank accounts may be in one of several forms. Some couples use separate checking accounts, with each partner responsible for his or her own deposits and withdrawals. A more usual form is a joint checking account with only a single signature required for withdrawal.

I usually recommend that savings accounts be kept separately to assure access to immediate funds in case one should be injured in an accident or incapacitated for some other reason. Separate ownership of stocks assures a deduction of up to $100 for dividends for each person.

Generally, joint ownership of a house is the rule. In community property states equal ownership of community assets is assumed, the seperate ownership of assets will be recognized only if property was owned prior to marriage or was received by inheritance after marriage. Special precautions must be taken to preserve the separate property status in those states.

For example, if cash is inherited from a parent's estate, the person should deposit fthe cash in his or her name alone. Income from the investment or deposit can be reported on a joint income-tax return, but maintaining such property separately reduces the hassle in case of a divorce, and could reduce estate taxes later.

When two married persons work and contribute to the purchase of a house jointly owned even in common law states, records of payments by each should be maintained. Otherwise, the property may be considered wholly owned by the first person to die.

The main concern about jointly owned property involves a conveyance to a survivor after death of a joint owner. Ordinarily, the surviving owner receives clear title to the property without probate. But joint ownership should not be used in place of a will or living trust.

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