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Everything you need to know about prenuptial agreements
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The first step in the prenup process should be to sit down with your sweetie and reach an agreement about what, in general, you want the contract to say. "Draw up your list of assets and talk about it before you hire the lawyers," suggests Zwack. "You won't know the specific laws, but have a concept in mind."

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Doing that can save you money. Fees for prenups depend on how long they take to draft. Hourly wages for attorneys can go from $300 to $500 an hour on the East and West coasts. In the Midwest, you might be able to get away with $100 to $125 an hour. Ask your attorney at the first meeting what the anticipated charges will be.

Next, hire separate attorneys. To help ensure an enforceable agreement, both parties need their own lawyers. Many a prenup has been thrown out because an aggrieved spouse did not have legal representation. The attorneys co-write the agreement with their clients' best interests in mind.

Signs of a valid prenup
Perhaps the most important ingredient of a solid prenuptial agreement is honesty. Both parties must FULLY disclose their assets. If it turns out either person has hidden something, a judge can toss out the contract.

An ironclad agreement also must be signed well in advance of the wedding. You can't present your honey with a prenup two days before the big day and say, "Uh, by the way, I need your signature on this."

The document should be signed as early before the nuptials as possible to avoid the appearance of coercion, another key reason why some agreements are rendered null and void.

"I recommend at least one month before the wedding and preferably before the invitations have been sent out," says Dunnan. "Then you both have time to back out if you're uncomfortable with the terms. If the discussion revealed such deep and basic differences between two people that they decide not to marry, it's obviously best if all the talks took place well in advance… You don't want to have to send back presents!"

A valid prenup also is "fair" and will not leave one of the parties destitute. "No matter what state you're in, the state will look for equity to make sure one spouse is not being taken advantage of," says Zwack.

Prenups can include responsibilities that don't deal with money, but you should avoid making demands that might seem frivolous, such as requiring that your spouse not gain weight, or that he or she quit smoking and take out the garbage three times a week. A judge could look askance upon terms that are less serious than, say, stipulating what religion your children will observe if you and your betrothed are of different faiths.

"It's dangerous to do that, and you're flirting with having the whole thing set aside," warns Zwack.

Following proper legal procedures
Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope, but if you want that prenup to have legal force, it's best to do things a little more formally.

 
 
Next: "Without a formal contract, you could end up a lot less rich."
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