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How wealthy engaged couples can protect their assets

If you and your spouse-to-be have waited to tie the knot until you were established in your careers and perhaps even bought your own homes and have healthy savings and investment accounts, you're not alone. Many Americans don't even begin considering marriage until they're well into their 30s or older. Many more marry for a second time with far more assets and responsibilities than they had the first time around.

People who want to protect the assets they bring into a marriage -- whether it's a modest condo, a car and a respectable savings account or many millions of dollars and perhaps a business of their own -- can and should take some important steps to do that.

Of course, a prenuptial agreement is one of these steps. Even if only one of the spouses has significant assets, the other can benefit from a prenup. For example, if they can better afford to put their career on hold to stay home with the kids than their higher-earning spouse, a prenup can help ensure that they'll get enough money in any future divorce to help them live comfortably while they get back into the job market.

Another wise step is for couples to separate their income. You'll likely both contribute some of your income to joint purchases like homes, vacations and child-rearing expenses. However, If you own a business or are getting income from a trust set up by your parents, commingling these sources of money can make things complicated if you need to divide it in a divorce.

Marriage or remarriage is a good time to develop an estate plan -- or to update the one you already have. As one financial professional says, "High-net-worth couples should meet with a financial planner and make an estate plan immediately to organize their assets and designate where they should go in the case of death." It can also protect individual assets in a divorce.

Make sure that your prenup and your estate plan don't have contradictory provisions. It may be wise to hire an attorney who's experienced in family law and estate planning so that they can help you draft all of these documents.

It's also important that you and your spouse-to-be have separate attorneys -- particularly for your prenup -- to make sure that your individual interests are protected.

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