You can hear the wedding bells already. Friends and family gathered together to witness your big day. The limousine ride, the toasts, wedding cake and the first dance -- it's all coming together for the perfect day. But wait! Before you say "I do," there are a number of important things that you and your future spouse must do to become officially married. Many newlyweds overlook the fact that a marriage is a legal contract. Two individuals merge all they have into a new legal entity or partnership. While many couples often focus on the big day and all of the events surrounding the ceremony and reception, there are a number of legal steps that newlyweds must consider as part of the process.
To help you and your partner have a worry-free wedding day, here's a prenuptial checklist from FindLaw.com with legal items to consider as you merge your households into one. Changing names It's often one of the first big dilemmas facing a new bride: Keep your maiden name, or take his last name? It's a big decision, because if you decide to change your legal name, it means changing your name on everything from your driver's license to stock certificates. While thinking this through, also think about the last names of children you may have in the future. Marriage requirements Each province has its own requirements for couples wishing to be married, some of which include: marriage licenses, blood tests or residency requirements. Make sure you and your future spouse know what the requirements are in your province, and have fulfilled all marriage requirements before the big day. If either you or your future spouse has been married before, make sure you have obtained all legal documents to ensure that your new marriage is valid and legal in the eyes of your province. Marriage ceremonies Most provinces have legal requirements pertaining to the marriage ceremony itself, including who may perform the marriage ceremony and whether witnesses are required. Check with your city or province or provincial government website about these requirements. Prenuptial agreements A prenuptial or pre-marriage agreement can help define the property and financial rights and obligations of marrying spouses, including what will happen if the marriage ends. If you are considering entering into a prenuptial agreement, you should be aware of the legal requirements that must be met in order for the agreement to be considered valid and enforceable. Marriage, money and property In a recent, national consumer survey by FindLaw.com, the topic of money came in second, tied with having and raising children, as the topic that most led to a fight among married 18- to 34-year-olds. When you get married, your property and finances will, to a certain extent, merge with those of your spouse. Based on the laws of the province in which you marry and/or intend to establish your permanent residence, you should become familiar with what is and is not considered marital or "community" property, and understand how to keep certain assets as separate property. You also should become familiar with your obligations as a new spouse in taking on the debts and tax liabilities of your partner, and agree on how you're going to handle finances as a newly married couple. Wedding day contracts In preparing for your big day, you will sign a number of contracts for items such as wedding day photos, the reception hall and a honeymoon package. Now is a good time to start working together as a team to carefully identify credible wedding day vendors, to negotiate these contracts together, and to decide in advance how you will handle a problem if something goes wrong. Will and health care directives As you and your new spouse work together on merging your finances and assets, now is a good time to write a will together that also incorporates end-of-life health care directives. This is especially important for previously married individuals who may be merging families together.