Legal Guide: Things To Do Before You Get Married

Updated October 13, 2023
13 min read
Legal Guide: Things To Do Before You Get Married


Entering the realm of marriage is not just about romantic proposals and wedding planning. There are certain things to do before marriage to ensure a strong legal and emotional foundation. From understanding your financial dynamics to considering a postnuptial agreement, each step paves the way for a harmonious union. 

Pre-Marital Counseling

When engaging in significant business endeavors, one seeks counsel from lawyers well-versed in marriage-related issues, correct? In a parallel manner, pre-marital counseling stands as your relationship's due diligence process. It ranks paramount among things to do before marriage.

For instance, consider a couple, Alex and Jordan. Alex assumes they'll reside in the city post-marriage, while Jordan envisions a suburban life. Counseling can bring such unspoken expectations to the forefront, allowing for compromise before significant decisions are solidified. Essentially, it's about comprehensively understanding each partner's aspirations and apprehensions, thereby preemptively addressing any potential discord.

Discussing Finances

Monetary concerns, often intricate and delicate, necessitate careful deliberation. One of the paramount things to do before marriage is to engage in a comprehensive financial dialogue.

To illustrate, let's consider Martin and Leah. Martin, unbeknownst to Leah, has an outstanding student loan, while Leah harbors aspirations of investing in a startup within the next year. These are matters that, when unshared, can lead to unforeseen contention down the line. 

It's imperative to delineate your financial objectives, acknowledge extant liabilities, and be candid about assets. Be it earmarking funds for that picturesque home by the lake or acquainting oneself with other family templates and documents, the cornerstone remains transparency. In the legal world, as in matrimony, full disclosure often prevents future disputes.

Prenuptial Agreements

The legal realm frequently encounters misconceptions, one such being the exclusive association of prenuptial agreements with affluence. Let's demystify this. A prenuptial agreement, irrespective of one's financial standing, is among the astute things to do before marriage. It operates much like a business contract, outlining potential contingencies and safeguarding both parties. To offer a clearer perspective:

  • Purpose: This legal document primarily delineates how assets will be apportioned should the marriage conclude, either by divorce or other unforeseen events.

  • Protection: Beyond asset division, it can also serve to protect one from the other's debts or liabilities, a critical factor in today's world of credits and loans.

  • Clarity: In the instance of Robert and Elaine, for example, Robert, an entrepreneur, wanted to ensure his business remained unaffected by marital disputes. Elaine, on the other hand, sought assurance that her inheritance would remain in her sole possession. A prenuptial agreement served as a clear blueprint for their financial relationship, averting ambiguities.

In its essence, while romance and trust are foundational to a union, intertwining pragmatic legal steps ensures that the journey remains unclouded by potential fiscal disputes.

Understanding Marital Property Rights

In legal parlance, just as in real estate, property rights become a complex domain when intertwined with personal relationships. Among the crucial things to do before marriage is to grasp the intricacies of marital property rights. Drawing an analogy, one might view it akin to understanding zoning laws before erecting a structure. Here's a distilled breakdown:

  • Shared assets: Typically, any property or assets acquired after the marriage fall into this category. Think of a home purchased after the wedding or joint bank accounts.

  • Separate assets: These are usually assets owned prior to the marriage or acquired via inheritance or personal gifts during the marriage. For instance, if Jane inherited a family heirloom or a sum of money, it would generally remain hers alone.

  • Hybrid assets: It gets intricate here. An asset can start as separate but morph into shared. For instance, a home owned by one party before marriage but where both contribute to its mortgage or upkeep after marriage. 

  • Legal protection: It's prudent, as in the case of Mark and Lina, to have a clear agreement. Mark, having a thriving art collection, wanted it to be recognized as his individual asset. Lina, a budding author, hoped her royalties would remain hers alone. A clear understanding of marital property rights allowed them to navigate these waters with ease.

In essence, while love might be the guiding star of a marital journey, a lucid understanding of property rights ensures that the journey adheres to the established legal cartography.

Health and Medical Decisions

Navigating the health and medical landscape, especially in dire circumstances, can be as intricate as interpreting a dense legal document. Hence, setting clear directives in this domain is an indispensable thing to do before marriage. It's akin to having a contingency plan in a business agreement, ensuring smooth operations even in unpredicted situations.

To elucidate further:

  1. Healthcare proxies: Essentially, this legal document allows one to appoint their partner (or another trusted individual) to make medical decisions on their behalf if they're incapacitated. 

  2. Living wills: This document clearly outlines your wishes concerning medical treatments and procedures, especially life-prolonging measures. 

  3. Medical records access: Ensure that your partner has access to your medical records. This is vital in emergencies. 

  4. Discuss personal beliefs: Beyond legal paperwork, it's crucial to converse about personal beliefs related to health, wellness, and end-of-life decisions. 

In summation, while discussions about health and medical decisions may evoke vulnerability, they stand pivotal among the things to do before marriage. Such preparations, though solemn, empower couples to face uncertainties with clarity and mutual respect.

Estate Planning

Delving into the legal realm of marital union, one quickly realizes that romance, though the essence, is complemented by concrete legal foundations. Estate planning, in particular, emerges as a crucial cornerstone, a non-negotiable among the things to do before marriage. 


A will is the most fundamental tool in estate planning. It stipulates how one's assets will be distributed upon their demise. In the absence of a will, state laws, such as the intestacy laws in many U.S. states, take precedence.

For instance, in New York, if a person dies without a will and is survived by a spouse and children, the spouse only gets the first $50,000 of the estate and half of the balance, with the rest going to the children.

Beneficiary designations

Certain assets, like retirement accounts or insurance policies, allow for beneficiary designations. It's essential to review and update these designations, especially post-marriage.

Brad, after marrying June, realized his 401(k) still listed his sibling as the beneficiary. A quick revision ensured June's rightful claim to it.


These legal entities can be established to hold assets for the benefit of specific individuals, usually the spouse and children. Trusts can offer tax benefits and ensure a smooth transfer of assets. The use of trusts is widespread in the U.S., especially when aiming to avoid the often lengthy and public probate process.

Utilizing legal platforms

In today's digital age, leveraging platforms like Lawrina, a reliable legaltech ecosystem, can simplify estate planning. It offers resources and tools, ensuring every 't' is crossed and every 'i' is dotted, mirroring the meticulousness of a seasoned attorney.

In conclusion, while heart and soul are the essence of marital unions, a keen legal acumen ensures the relationship's longevity and security. Estate planning stands paramount among the things to do before marriage, echoing the importance of foresight and preparation in any legal contract.

Discussing Children and Parenting

At the crossroads of personal aspirations and legal guidelines lies the intricate subject of children and parenting. While conversations about future offspring might start as whimsical musings, it's prudent to elevate these to strategic discussions — akin to due diligence in legal parlance — as a crucial thing to do before marriage. In short, it's about being as meticulous with family planning as a lawyer would be when examining U.S. statutes.

  • Guardianship: In the unfortunate event of both parents' untimely demise, the question arises: Who would take custody of the child? U.S. law allows parents to designate a guardian in their will. For instance, in California, without a legally documented guardian, the court might choose someone you wouldn't have preferred. 

  • Education: Does one believe in public schooling while the other is an advocate for homeschooling? Delving into specifics, like the Waldorf or Montessori approach, can be enlightening. Remember, in some U.S. states, homeschooling parents might need to meet specific educational qualifications or adhere to a structured curriculum.

  • Discipline & Values: This can be a contentious area. Suppose one partner believes in timeouts while the other subscribes to a more hands-on approach? Drawing upon the U.S. legal system as an analogy, the same act can be a misdemeanor in one state and a felony in another. Similarly, what one parent might perceive as gentle discipline, the other might view as too lenient.

  • Religious & Cultural upbringing: The U.S., a melting pot of cultures, witnesses myriad instances where interfaith or intercultural couples grapple with defining their child's religious path. A candid discussion can prevent potential clashes, similar to how legal contracts anticipate and navigate potential disputes.

In summary, as love and mutual respect lay the foundation of any union, a detailed and legally informed strategy is indispensable when broaching topics of children and parenting. The clarity this provides makes it a top-tier item among the things to do before marriage, ensuring harmony and aligned goals in the parenting journey.

Addressing Debts and Liabilities

In the realm of marriage, finances hold a seat of significant importance. Just as one would scrutinize a business partner's financial health before sealing a deal, addressing debts and understanding liabilities is non-negotiable among the things to do before marriage. Consider it akin to analyzing risk factors in a legal contract.

  • Community property vs. Common law: Most U.S. states operate under a common-law property system, where debts incurred by one spouse are usually that spouse's responsibility. However, in community property states, such as California and Texas, most debts acquired after the marriage are the responsibility of both spouses, even if only one spouse signed the paperwork.

  • Credit score review: It's wise to share credit reports. If one partner's score is significantly lower, it might affect joint financial endeavors, like obtaining a mortgage. Drawing an analogy from the legal sphere, this is akin to due diligence before entering a business partnership.

  • Existing loans: Be it student loans, personal loans, or credit card debts, it's crucial to disclose them. In some U.S. states, a spouse might be held accountable for the other's undisclosed debts, especially if they were acquired for the household or during the marriage.

  • Bankruptcy: If either partner has previously filed for bankruptcy or is considering it, this needs to be discussed. U.S. laws, especially Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code, have specific implications for married couples. For instance, in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in a common-law property state, only the filing spouse's property is part of the bankruptcy estate unless the other spouse co-owns any of that property.

In conclusion, marriage is as much an emotional union as it is a financial merger. Addressing debts and understanding each other's liabilities stands out as one of the salient things to do before marriage. Such forthrightness ensures a journey that's free from unexpected financial hiccups and promotes mutual trust.


Marriage, akin to a legal contract, demands preparation. By understanding these essential things to do before you get married, couples can ensure a smooth transition into this new chapter of life, fortified with mutual understanding and clear legal standpoints.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is a postnuptial agreement different from a prenuptial agreement?

Both documents primarily focus on asset division and spousal support, but their timing is distinct. A prenuptial agreement is finalized before the marriage. In contrast, a postnuptial agreement is executed after a couple is legally wed. 


For instance, under New York law, both types of agreements must be "in writing" and "subscribed by the parties" to be enforceable. The key difference lies in the couple's marital status at the time of signing.


Is a postnuptial agreement legally binding?

Absolutely. If drafted correctly and with adherence to legal guidelines, a postnuptial agreement is legally binding. Both parties must fully disclose their assets, and the agreement must be made voluntarily without any duress or unfairness. 


For context, in states like California, the law mandates that each party have their own attorney or expressly waive that right in writing for a postnuptial agreement to be valid.


Can a postnuptial agreement protect future assets?

Indeed, a postnuptial agreement can safeguard future assets. However, the enforceability hinges on the exact wording of the agreement and the respective state's laws.


In Florida, for example, postnuptial agreements can address future earnings, inheritance, or assets, provided the terms are clear and both parties have given informed consent. As always, it's crucial to consult with a local attorney to ensure compliance with specific state regulations.