If you are getting married and the idea of a prenuptial agreement puts a distaste in your mouth or that of your spouse, but you are still concerned about losing your premarital assets, there are a few things that you should and should not do if you get married without a prenuptial. Never add your spouse’s name to the house or bank account you had prior to marriage unless you are willing to gift this asset to the marriage. This is not to say that the house you own prior to your marriage will not be distributed in a divorce, but you can minimize the amount by keeping it separately deeded. The equity that you have when you get married will remain your asset should you get divorced. You should know what this value is when you get married by having the house appraised and keeping documentation on your mortgage balance at the time of your marriage. Without a prenuptial agreement, the increase in value during the marriage will become marital, whether or not you add your spouse to the deed or title of your account. If you have a mortgage and pay it off during the marriage, you will be accumulating marital equity even if the house does not go up value. In addition, if you have any bank accounts, you will want to keep the funds that you had going into the marriage in your separate name.
Once you start putting your premarital assets into a joint account, they become a gift to a marriage. This means that if you get divorced and have no prenuptial agreement, the Court will have to decide how to distribute this asset if you cannot agree. If you are in Bucks County, the court will normally apply a diminishing credit value meaning for every year that it was transferred into joint names, 1/20 of the asset will be considered as marital and you can seek a credit for the balance. After 20 years, you will get no credit for the premarital asset you contributed to joint names. When you start gifting your premarital assets to the marriage without a prenuptial in place, you should be very careful to document both the amount of your contribution and the source of funds. This way, if you do end up in a divorce, you will be better prepared to argue for the diminishing credit if you are in Bucks County or a more equitable share of the asset.
For more information on prenuptials, see /Family-Law-Divorce/Prenuptial-Agreements/