No one likes to think that their marriage might not work out, but half of today’s marriages end up in divorce. So even if you think your marriage was made in heaven, it’s wise to protect yourself from the unexpected by taking some key defensive steps as early as possible. Look for ways to protect yourself that don’t require your partner’s participation or knowledge and keep in mind that assets in your name are subject to disclosure in the event of a marital breakup.
Here are two examples of simple but effective steps you can take to safeguard information about your personal financial affairs.
- Get your own safe deposit box. If you own a business, you can make the box even more private by opening it in the name of the corporation. Give access to another person who you trust and leave instructions for your spouse to contact that person in the event of your death.
- Have certain mail delivered to your business address or to a post office box rather than to your home. Credit card bills, statements from your stockbroker, and similar sensitive mail usually contain information you might prefer to be kept confidential.
Taxes and trusts
There’s nothing that reveals more about your financial situation than your income tax form. If you file a joint return, look for some investments that yield tax-free income which doesn’t have to be reported. Or you might consider filing separate tax returns even if your taxes are slightly higher.
One of the best ways to conceal assets is through a Living Trust, which guarantees secrecy while you are living and avoids probate when you die. You can act as its trustee and can designate an alternative trustee to administer and distribute its assets according to your wishes after you die. Another advantage to a living trust is that although you must report income earned by the trust, you do not have to report the source of that income.
You can also protect your assets by putting them in your children’s names and designating yourself as the custodian of the children’s accounts.
Pre-nuptial agreements have become quite common and are an accepted way to protect the interests of both husband and wife. They detail exactly how all finances, including child support and alimony, will be handled in the event of a divorce. Pre-nuptial agreements also segregate assets owned before marriage.
Pre-nuptial agreements are yet another way to spell out the distribution of assets if there’s a divorce, but certain states do not enforce them as stringently as others.