A Guide to the Legal Benefits of Getting Married

wedding altar

Photo by Gloria Good Photography

Are you and your forever love on the fence about getting married? Consider the benefits: Some are financial and others involve legalities, but most happy, long-term marriages also positively affect your physical and emotional health and longevity. In short, the legal benefits of marriage can be broken down into three categories: financial, legal, and health.

For attorneys Codi and Kevin Tillson, the ability to file taxes jointly is one of the most attractive reasons, as well as being the legal next-of-kin when it comes to making health decisions in accordance with their spouse’s wishes. Plus, married people tend to have a better quality of health and social integration.

Meet the Expert

Married couple Codi and Kevin Tillson are practicing attorneys at their law firm Tillson Law P.C., Sandy, Oregon. Both specialize in estate planning, probate and trust administration, business planning, and real estate transactions.

Ahead, we dissect the many benefits of marriage to help you decide if the milestone is right for you.    

Financial Benefits

Between potential tax breaks to home mortgage loans, the financial benefits of marriage alone could be enough to tie the knot. 

Taxes

There are tax benefits to being married. Codi Tillson says, "As a married couple, you qualify to file your taxes jointly. Filing jointly increases the income threshold that a couple can earn and possibly qualify for more tax breaks. For example, in 2020, the standard deduction for a single individual is $12,400 compared to the $24,800 standard deduction offered to married couples filing jointly.”

Since every situation is different, Codi recommends couples discuss any tax planning with a CPA to determine what is best for them.  

Social Security

Benefits from the Social Security Administration also favor marriage. “As a married couple, you may be entitled to up to one-half of your spouse's Social Security benefits if he or she were to pass away. If your spouse is not eligible for Social Security under their record, i.e. they did not work during the marriage, this ensures that they will continue to receive some Social Security benefits upon your passing. If your spouse is eligible to receive Social Security benefits, he or she may be entitled to additional funds upon your passing, if the benefit is higher,” says Codi. “Your spouse may also be entitled to Medicare under your Social Security benefits.”

Remarriage may affect your ability to receive your spouses' benefits. Most widowers and widows are eligible for survivor benefits at age 60, or age 50 if they are a disabled spouse. If you remarry before age 60, you forfeit that benefit. If the remarriage ends you regain legibility for the survivor benefit. The benefits you earned are not affected. Again, it is important to do your research as Social Security rules are complex. 

IRA

One of the best benefits of marriage is the IRA account because they provide tax-deferred growth for your retirement nest egg. The key to maximizing this benefit is for both of you to open your own IRA account. But if you are not working and therefore have no taxable compensation, an exception is made for married individuals. The working spouse with the taxable income may contribute to your IRA account on your behalf. As long as they have the taxable earning to cover the contributions, they can contribute to both IRAs. This provides additional tax deductions to you and you must file jointly as a married couple. “If your spouse passes away, you can rollover their IRA into your own IRA without a taxable event occurring,” Codi notes. There are stipulations on distributions, loans, caps on contributions, and inherited assets, so check with your financial advisor or CPA.

If you enter your marriage with a less than stellar credit rating, you can improve your financial health by being added to your more fiscally fit partner's credit card and work to improve your credit score slowly but surely. 

Home Mortgage

Generally, couples qualify for more mortgage money than a single and can come up with a higher down payment. Providing you both have a stable income, good credit rating, and low debt-to-income ratio, you should qualify for more mortgage money from your lender, equating to the ability to buy a nicer home. 

Inheritance

Inheritance can be a sticky topic for many. It divides loved ones and can be a nightmare for a surviving significant other from a live-in situation. Without a legal marriage, the surviving partner would not be considered a surviving spouse. A will outlining in detail who gets what, would be the answer, but many put off creating these important documents until it is too late.     

“If you are married, you can receive your spouse’s estate without incurring any tax. Anything you own jointly will be transferred to your spouse upon your death, without the need for probate. In Oregon, if your spouse dies intestate, meaning without a will, you are still entitled to receive your spouse's entire estate, as long as there are no non-joint children,” says Kevin Tillson. 

Legal Benefits

Beyond financial reasons, there are plenty of legal benefits after saying “I do.” 

Decision Making

If an individual becomes incapacitated or incompetent a spouse generally has the right to make decisions on his or her behalf. A couple in a non-legal, long-term committed relationship is not afforded the same protection. Kevin recommends that you have these documents prepared, “We always advise all couples to obtain a power of attorney and advanced health care directive to ease the process, married or not.”  

Paternity

In Oregon, children are presumed to be the offspring of the married couple. There is no need to take any additional steps to identify the paternity of the child. Most states have enacted paternity laws that support martial paternity.  

Health Insurance

Married individuals are automatically entitled to add their spouse as beneficiary under their health insurance plan. Generally, health insurance premiums are also lower for a married couple than for two individuals paying for their own policy. Another benefit is if both spouses have medical insurance, they can select the one policy that offers better coverage or is more affordable. 

Leave

States differ on leave allowance, but Kevin offers these examples, “In Oregon if you are employed by a larger employer, you may qualify for Oregon Family Medical Leave Act (OFLA) or the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Both of these may entitle you to take time off to care for a sick family member. If you are married, you are provided the following additional benefits:

  • Up to 12 weeks of protected time off to care for a spouse’s serious medical condition (this does not apply to a non-married couple). 
  • Military family leave (up to 14 days if your spouse is a service member who has been called to active duty or is on leave from active duty).”

Divorce

Married couples are eligible for divorce which provides additional legal protections that a “break-up” does not. “Divorce provides the legal protection to ensure that each party receives an equal distribution of the marital assets. You may also be entitled to spousal support or ‘alimony’ as it is commonly known. You may be entitled to a former spouse’s social security benefits if you were married for over 10 years. Retirement accounts can be divided, and you may be eligible for distributions without incurring a tax penalty,” Kevin adds.  

Health Benefits

And finally, and perhaps surprisingly, are the health benefits. Researchers have been studying the health effects of heterosexual marriage for decades and many theories exist about how a happy marriage is beneficial to physical and mental health. A sampling of highlights of heterosexual marriage studies included these findings:

  • A study in England of 25,000 people found that of those having a heart attack, those who were married are 14% more likely to survive and left the hospital 2 days sooner than their single counterparts. 
  • Married people release less Cortisol, which is the body's reaction to stress; high levels can impair immune function.
  • Married couples tend to support each other to follow a doctor's advice, make preventative medical appointments and eat better.
  • Marriage provides social support, whereas singles without this support could experience depression, isolation, and loneliness.
  • Married people are more likely to survive cancer.

Studies of the effects of marriage on same-sex couples vs. LGBTQ+ couples are also being conducted, but data is limited as these marriages and civil unions have not been legal for that long.

Related Stories