13 Legal Benefits of Marriage

Social Security benefits and filing joint taxes don't exactly pop into your head when you're getting engaged, so we've specified 13 legal benefits of marriage you may not even know you have.
by Ivy Jacobson
A piece of legal paperwork and a plate
photo by Jen Yuson Photography

Aside from scoring some pretty awesome monogrammed towels and sheets (oh, and your amazing new wife or husband!), there are even more benefits to marriage than you may have thought. Seriously, did you know that getting married means you could have a leg up in receiving benefits, rights and privileges under Social Security and estate laws, government benefits and eligibility for joint health insurance policies and family discounts from employers? Simply put, the perks of marriage are many and can simplify plenty of legal issues, which is why we consulted experts to further discuss 13 benefits of marriage.

(Full disclosure: Since some of these topics can be pretty heavy and may require legal guidance, we recommend you consult an attorney and/or accountant in your area for more elaboration.)

Tax Benefits of Marriage

Marital Tax Deduction

Unlimited marital tax deduction is the biggest tax benefit a married couple can receive, Blank Rome LLP matrimonial lawyer and partner Dylan S. Mitchell says. "You can transfer an unlimited amount of assets to your spouse at any time, free from tax. That also includes leaving assets in your estate to your spouse without estate or gift tax subjection."

And just to clarify, gift tax, as defined by the IRS, is a tax on the transfer of property by one individual to another while receiving nothing, or less than full value, in return. So, basically, a gift is giving property or money without expecting to receive equal value in return.

Filing Taxes Jointly

Getting married and filing taxes jointly may or may not help you. "With two high-earning individuals, you could end up paying more in taxes," Chemtob Moss & Forman LLP matrimonial lawyer and partner Susan M. Moss says. "If one spouse stays at home and the other has a high-paying job -- or just a job -- it benefits to file jointly."

If you file taxes separately, you could potentially miss out on those benefits, such as getting to deduct two exemption amounts from your income and qualifying for various tax credits.

Financial Benefits of Marriage

Social Security Benefits

If either you or your spouse don't qualify for your own Social Security benefits, you can receive the other spouse's benefits. The payoff isn't immediate, though -- you have to either be at least 62 years old or be any age but caring for a child who can receive benefits and is younger than 16 years old or disabled. You can also potentially receive Medicare, disability, veterans, military and pension plan benefits through your spouse.

(And although this is a bit of a buzzkill statement, knowledge is power. If your marriage ends but lasted at least 10 years, you may still be able to receive Social Security benefits on your former spouse's record. Aside from that, you'd also have entitlement to spousal support.)

Prenuptial Agreement Benefits

It's presumed under the law that when two people get married, they're creating an economic partnership, Aronson, Mayefsky & Sloan LLP matrimonial lawyer Alyssa A. Rower says. "If one person spends a substantial amount of time on career and [the] other spends it on raising children, we will compensate the non-monied spouse in a prenuptial agreement by dividing assets fairly between the spouses should the marriage end."

IRA Benefits

An Individual Retirement Account can be used a few ways in the course of a marriage, including rolling over a deceased spouse's IRA to your own, or you can contribute to a spousal IRA, which is an account that lets an employed spouse contribute to an unemployed spouse's retirement account. There's one caveat, though: You must file a joint tax return to do this.

Legal Benefits of Being Married

Legal Decision-Making Benefits

If you're married, you can have the status as next-of-kin for hospital visits, which grants you the ability to make medical decisions in the event your spouse becomes sick or disabled. "You also have the legal right to sue for wrongful death of a spouse and have decision-making power with respect to whether a deceased partner will be cremated or not and where to bury him or her," Schpoont & Cavallo LLP family and matrimonial lawyer and partner Sandra L. Schpoont says.

Inheritance Benefits

A spouse can inherit an entire estate without tax consequences. "If the couple is not married, there will be taxes," Rower says. And if there's no will, a spouse still has inheritance rights when the other spouse dies intestate -- meaning a person passed away without making a legal will.

Health and Employment Benefits to Being Married

Health Insurance Benefits

If you're married, you can usually get on your spouse's health insurance and get a family rate. This is helpful when one spouse may not have health insurance through their own employer or isn't currently employed.

Paternity Child Benefits

If any issues ever arise over the paternity of a child with a married couple, the married couple may have less of an issue. "If a child is born in New York state to a married couple, there's virtually no issue of paternity," Mitchell says.

Leave Benefits

Through your employer you can usually take a family leave if your spouse is sick, or bereavement leave if your spouse or someone in your spouse's immediate family passes away.

The Emotional Benefits of Marriage

While watching bridal TV shows or arriving home to stacks of RSVPs from friends and family is fun, there are many emotional benefits to being married. Beyond the material aspects of marriage, finding love has been linked to prolonging our lives, improving emotional stability and increasing the opportunity for a more positive psychological state of mind.

Longer Life

Research consistently shows that couples in a committed marriage even live longer than those who are single, cohabiting or divorced -- but why?

"To start, the emotional support that is possible in a marriage provides each partner with the feeling of being 'heard,'" licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist Shira Burstein says. "Particularly for men, being in a stable relationship allows men to break outside of gender expectations and roles. With statements that exist such as 'Men don't cry' or 'Men don't talk about feelings,' having a partner provides a safe space to be able to verbalize emotions, feelings and needs that may often go ignored or suppressed on a regular basis."

Less Chance of Developing Depression

Keeping thoughts and feelings to yourself can possibly lead to depression, anxiety and greater stress with the increase of ruminating, unyielding self-disparagement.

"Of course, no relationship is perfect, but a healthy, functioning marriage can provide stress and anxiety relief in many different forms: encouraging each other to strive for healthier goals (think: quitting binge drinking, eating healthier, going after that dream job), complimenting each other's positive qualities and celebrating each other's successes," Burstein says.

Increased Serotonin Levels (a Natural Antidepressant)

Another major mood booster is the more frequent exposure and release of serotonin and testosterone that married couples can experience. (Serotonin is a neurotransmitter created by the human body that's known to maintain mood balance and decrease depression, anxiety and anger.)

"Coming home from a long day of work and having that partner there for physical affection increases positive mood, sex drive and, ultimately, intimacy," Burstein says. "Despite the concern that having the same sex partner for the rest of your life means the possibility of sex becoming 'stale' and hot and heavy nights can become few and far between, a partner that is reliably reliable, available, supportive and dedicated in other ways extends overall happiness long-term for a married couple."


The Knot and ARAG present Adulting 101, a sponsored series to help you plan for your marriage. Visit ARAGlegal.com/theknot to download a free wedding organizer that includes checklists and work sheets to keep everything organized for the big day and beyond.

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