SO YOU'RE GETTING MARRIED!
The following was reprinted in part with permission of The Florida Bar. To order a free pamphlet on this subject send a self addressed, stamped legal size envelope to Consumer Pamphlets, The Florida Bar, 650 Apalachee Parkway, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2300.
ADVICE TO NEWLY MARRIEDS
If you were married recently or wedding bells will be ringing soon, you've probably received a lot of friendly and helpful advice on the subject of matrimony from your families and friends, your pastor, and your physician. But what about the family lawyer? A little of his or her advice now on the many legal questions and transactions that arise in married life, could save you a great deal of time, trouble and money later. If you don't have a lawyer, now is a good time to select one.
Not only are new personal responsibilities imposed by marriage, but the law imposes certain legal responsibilities as well. A marriage is a legal contract in itself and the State of Florida recognizes the validity of that marriage contract.
DUTY TO SUPPORT YOUR FAMILY
The state recognizes the obligation of a husband to support his wife and children, and of the wife to support her husband and children if she is the party who has the income or substantially greater income.
In Florida, both husband and wife are personally liable for the debts of the family. This liability for debts is binding on the husband and wife even if one or both are minors. Marriage "emancipates" minors from their status as minors, assuming the marriage meets all legal requirements. Emancipation also frees a married couples' parents of the legal obligation to support their minor son and/or daughter.
CHANGE YOUR BENEFICIARIES
One of the first things a newly married couple should do is to make appropriate changes in any existing legal documents. Members of your family are probably named as beneficiaries or joint owners on many of these documents and you may wish to make your spouse the new beneficiary or joint owner. These changes can be made by taking insurance policies to your insurance company or agency, and government bonds or securities to your bank or stockbroker. For estate planning, however, always consult your attorney. Additionally, withholdings for Federal income taxes will have to be adjusted after your marriage to reflect your new status.
Newly married persons should inform employers of their new status so they will receive any employment benefits due them as married persons. Many employers offer "fringe benefits" of special interest to married employees.
CHANGING INFORMATION ON DOCUMENTS
If your marriage means a change in name and/or address, remember to make the following important notifications:
Florida Department of Highway Safety Motor Vehicles
Division of Drivers License
Tallahassee, Florida 32304
Your nearest Social Security office.
Your voter's registration office.
Military Reserve commanding officer.
A bride is not required by law to change her name, but if she chooses to do so, the pertinent offices above must be notified.
YOU DO NEED A WILL
Contact your family attorney as soon as possible to have a will drafted for the disposition of your property in case of death. There are two important reasons why:
First, Florida law provides that if you die without a will, one portion of your estate goes to your spouse and the remaining to your children and/or step children. The surviving spouse would be appointed guardian of the estate of minor children. The guardian must be bonded by the state and the cost of the bond depends on the amount of the estate. If you have a will drawn by your attorney, you-not the courts-decide how your properly is to be distributed.
Second, if husband and wife should die at the same time, a guardian must be appointed for any minor children. You may designate a guardian in your will. If you do not have a will, the court will select a guardian-and that selection may be someone you would not have chosen.
In your new family roles, both you and your spouse will want to provide as much security and protection as possible for your children, as well as provide for other contingencies should one of you precede the other in death. The drafting of a will is an important step in making this security a reality.
RENTING OR BUYING A HOME
If you rent a house or apartment, you will probably be expected to sign a written lease, setting forth rates for rental, the time period of the lease and the conditions of renewal.
When you lease property, the law imposes certain duties, liabilities and obligations. You may find it to your advantage to lease rather than relying on an oral agreement. If you rent a farm or commercial building, you need a written lease to protect your livelihood.
If you are like most couples, you look forward to buying a home of your own. But since such a purchase represents a large investment and involves many questions of a legal nature, you will want the advise of an attorney. He or she will answer such questions as: What is the legal status of the property? Is the title "merchantable" so it can be sold again? Should you have a title abstract or will the title insurance protect you? Is it necessary to take the title in both names? How do you protect your inheritance if you use it for a down payment? How do you claim the homestead exemption?
It is also in your best interest, because of the legal technicalities involved, to have an attorney represent you at the closing transaction when the seller conveys the property to you.
BEFORE YOU SIGN ON THE DOTTED LINE
Unless you are renting furnished living accommodations, furniture and appliances are probably a major concern. If you decide to buy these items "on time," be careful not to overextend yourself. Know what you are signing before you sign and be certain you can afford the payments. A "dollar down and a dollar a week" may be more than your living expenses and other financial obligations will allow.
A good credit rating is a valuable asset. It can help you obtain employment, borrow money in an emergency, and establish credit accounts at stores. A poor credit rating, on the other hand, may narrow your chances of obtaining financing for a major purchase. It may also actually jeopardize your job or your ability to find employment.
Keep records of all your financial affairs. This is especially important should the United States Internal Revenue Service have a question and wish to review your income tax return. Your receipts, canceled checks and credit charge slips constitute legal proof of expenditures. If you do not have a checking account and pay in cash, ask for receipts on all items that are tax deductible for income tax purposes.
Keep a file of your records safely stored in your home. If possible, keep valuable documents such as insurance policies, marriage certificates, birth certificates, bond and stock certificates and important contracts in a safe deposit box at your bank.
SELECTING A FAMILY ATTORNEY
If you do not know an attorney personally you may contact a lawyer referral service. Such referral services are maintained by many local bar associations and are listed in the yellow pages under "Attorneys"-or you may call the toll-free number for The Florida Bar Statewide Lawyer Referral Service (1-800-342-8011).
Do not accept "curbstone opinions" on legal matters from those not trained in law. Normally, every lawyer admitted to practice law in Florida has had at least four years of college and three years of law school. He or she was required to pass a rigorous bar examination before being permitted to start a law practice.
Skill, reputation in the community and integrity should be your guidelines for selecting an attorney. Once you've decided, let your attorney serve you and protect your legal interests. Just as your doctor should be the only competent advisor in matters regarding your physical well being, your attorney should be the only professionally trained person qualified to advise you on legal matters.
Although you are beginning your marriage with the intention of remaining together "till death do us part," you should be realistic about the possibility of failure. Just as the law will dispose of your estate if you have not signed a will, the law will determine custody, property, support and debt rights and obligations in the event of a dissolution of your marriage. A fair premarital agreement signed before your marriage can determine most of these issues at a time when both parties are not under the stress and hostility which usually accompanies an unsuccessful marriage and impending divorce. Such an agreement should be negotiated and signed well in advance of the marriage ceremony and each party should be represented by a separate attorney competent in marital and family law. Some issues such as child custody, visitation, child support, as well as temporary relief while a dissolution of marriage action is pending cannot be conclusively determined in a premarital agreement, but the expense of divorce can be minimized by a properly drafted agreement.
Blair & Prather PA, 2138-40 Hoople Street, Fort Myers, Florida