The wedding was the day of your dreams and the honeymoon as romantic as they come. Now it’s time to turn your attention to the fine print—those admin tasks that will prepare you and your partner for your life together. Here are some of the things newly married couples need to think about to get on the same (financial) page.
Many couples choose to combine their finances when they get married to streamline their financial admin. A joint account(s) allows them to easily contribute to shared household expenses, such as food, bills, and rent or mortgage payments.
Harriet, 26, and Fraser, 29, are one such couple. Together since 2012 and engaged since December 2017, Harriet and Fraser have been living together for five years. Throughout their relationship the couple has taken a number of steps to combine their lives and build wealth together. Opening joint bank accounts was one of them. “We had joint bank accounts before we got engaged because we bought a house,” says Harriet.
While an “all-in” approach worked for Harriet and Fraser, and many couples choose this route, it’s also worth noting that couples don’t necessarily need to combine all their income. Another option is to combine a portion of your earnings in a joint account, but also keep separate accounts to provide you both with some financial independence.
And then there’s the option to not combine finances at all. There’s no reason why couples can’t contribute individually to household bills, or decide to split bills in different ways—one person might pay for groceries, while the other pays for car expenses and so on.
There’s also no hard-and-fast rules around needing to split expenses down the middle, especially if one person earns considerably more than the other. Money is a very personal subject—what’s most important is to decide on a strategy that works for your partnership.
Insurance is an important tick on the financial admin list, as getting the right cover can help protect you and your partner now and later—particularly if you decide to have a family.
Personal risk insurance
Many couples choose to take out income protection, life, trauma, and total and permanent disability insurance when they get married, as these policies provide protection if they suffer an illness or accident or can’t work for a period of time. Depending on the insurance, the funds can be used to replace lost income, pay for medical treatments, or cover everyday expenses such as bills, mortgage or rent.
These insurance policies can be purchased via an insurer but can also sometimes be accessed via your superannuation fund. The exception is trauma insurance—this short-term protection for costs relating to specified illnesses, such as heart attacks, cannot be held inside your super fund.
If you already have one or more of these insurances, your admin checkpoint might be to add your partner’s name to existing policies.
Joint private health insurance is another consideration when you get married. A joint policy may have cost savings compared to two individual policies, while many couples also take out a joint policy to cover existing or planned children.
If you don’t have private health insurance, your marriage may have a bearing on whether you pay the Medicare levy surcharge, which is an extra tax for people who don’t have private health insurance; for couples, this kicks in when the shared income is above $180,000 per year. The levy will be calculated by the Australian Taxation Office the first time you submit your income tax after you are married, although this might already be taken into account if you’ve been living together before marriage.
Some couples sign a prenuptial agreement before they get married (or a postnuptial agreement after they get married), especially if one partner is entering the marriage with considerable wealth.
Fiona Reid, managing director of Reid Family Lawyers, explains a prenup is a binding financial agreement that sets out how assets will be divided and how financial support will be arranged after a couple separates or gets a divorce.
“It’s one way of hopefully avoiding litigation if the marriage ends. The agreement maps out a resolution without having to go to court,” says Fiona.
Both parties need separate legal advice for these agreements to be binding. “The agreement has to be in writing and drafted in accordance with family law legislation. While they’re not bulletproof, they’re the best Australian law has to offer to protect your assets in the unhappy event your marriage ends,” she says.
Draw up a will
A will may not seem like a priority if you’re young and healthy. However, your marriage is a great time to put a will in place, as it ensures your partner is covered in the event of your death.
If you already have a will in place, make sure you get advice from a legal professional. Getting married can affect the validity of your will, so you may need to review and revisit the document, particularly if you have children from a previous relationship or other loved ones you want to provide for.
While you’re drawing up your will, also remember to name your spouse as a beneficiary on your super account, as this means they’ll receive any proceeds if you die.
Update your legal documentation
If you’ve decided to change your name, you’ll need to update it on all financial documents, including:
You’ll also need to change your driver’s licence and your passport, among other legal documents.
To update your name, you’ll often need to provide the relevant organisation with your marriage certificate as evidence. You’ll need to formally apply to your state’s register of births, deaths and marriages office for this, as the certificate you receive on your wedding day is solely commemorative—it’s not your legal marriage certificate.
Getting married is an exciting time, and in the glow of your new life together it can be easy to forget about organising the less exciting aspects, such as insurance or bank accounts. But it pays to get organised and tick off those financial admin boxes, so you can start your marriage on the right foot.