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Prenuptial agreements:
Legal benefits of prenups

Joseph P. Zwack, an Iowa lawyer and author of a best-selling handbook Premarital Agreements: When, Why and How to Write Them, encourages couples with prenups to review them every few years. After 10 years of marriage, for example, you might want to consider giving your spouse more than the original prenup provided for. "Prenuptial agreements are written defensively," he said, "so after a certain number of years, it's good to be more generous."

Difficult as it may be to talk about money before marriage, doing so can save heartache and hassles in the long run. A prenup can minimize the financial and emotional toll of a divorce. Couples without one will have their assets distributed for them by the state if the marriage ends and they disagree about who should get what.

Without a prenup, assets could end up in the hands of your spouse's children from a previous marriage instead of your own kids, or they could go to a slothful mate who did nothing while you toiled away at a business or book that eventually became a big success.

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"If you don't want a divorce court to make the final decision about how your assets will be divided, a prenuptial can protect you," says Nancy Dunnan, a New York City financial adviser and author. "Without a prenup you're letting your financial future be determined by a third party."

If you live in one of the nation's nine community property states -- Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington or Wisconsin -- the law says property accumulated during the marriage will be divided equally.

In all other "equitable distribution states," assets are divvied according to what the court deems fair. The judge would take into consideration things such as the length of the marriage, whether there are children, and the couple's age, health, job skills and other factors. Alaska is a special case -- it's an equitable distribution state, but it has a law that allows people to voluntarily enter into a community property agreement.

Zwack says premarital agreements are a personal decision, but without one couples relinquish not only power over their assets but privacy as well.

"[The courts] shouldn't have to step in and interfere with a husband and wife's private financial affairs," he says.

Keeping it current Basics home

--Posted: June 15, 1999

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See Also
What's a prenup?
Who should have one?
Approaching the subject
Signs of a valid prenup
Follow proper legal procedures
Keeping the prenup up to date
Legal benefits of having a prenup
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