Marital Rights and Benefits

Saying “I do” and signing a marriage license change your legal rights significantly—marriage comes with more than a ring and a new last name. There are at least 1,138 tangible benefits, protections and rights that come with a legal marriage, according to a 2004 report from the U.S. General Accounting Office. These rights can benefit you in all aspects of your financial life.

Tax Benefits

Married couples have the option of filing their tax returns jointly, giving them access to double the standard deduction for single filers. This can yield remarkable tax savings for couples who have disparate incomes, such as when one spouse doesn’t work or works part time. Married couples are also subject to different tax brackets than single filers. The IRS grants married couples tax breaks in other areas too. For instance, a single person selling his or her home can earn up to $250,000 in profit, tax-free. But a married couple can make up to $500,000 in profit.

Estate Planning

The IRS caps the amount you are allowed to give away per recipient per year of your life without paying gift tax. However, you can give as much to your spouse as you’d like without ever being taxed. Married couples can give each other monetary gifts or property throughout their lives or even in death without ever triggering a tax.

If your spouse dies without a will, you will be able to inherit his or her assets anyway. The same cannot be said for an unmarried couple without a will. Additionally, married couples can create many types of trusts that are unavailable to non-married couples or individuals.

Government Benefits

If your spouse is eligible for one of these government benefits, you are eligible as well, even in the event of your spouse’s death:

  • Social Security benefits
  • Medicare
  • Disability benefits
  • Public assistance benefits
  • Veterans’ benefits

Medical Benefits

You have the right to visit your spouse in the hospital, even outside of visiting hours or if he or she is in the intensive care unit. You can also make medical decisions if your spouse is unable to communicate his or her wishes. For instance, if your spouse is in a coma or vegetative state and does not have a living will, the decision will fall on you. Married couples in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are also usually kept together, unless one partner’s health requires special care.

Employment Benefits

Many employers offer various benefits to their employees and employees’ spouses. Common benefits include:

  • Health insurance
  • Workers’ compensation and retirement plan benefits on behalf of a deceased spouse
  • Family and medical leave: the employee can take medical leave to care for a sick spouse, bereavement leave when their spouse’s close family member dies, or family leave for the birth or adoption of a child
  • Continuation of employer-sponsored health plans (COBRA)

Death

If your spouse dies before you, you have the right to make funeral, burial, and other final arrangements on his or her behalf. You will also be responsible for consenting to examinations and procedures such as an autopsy or cremation. Married individuals also have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit and receive benefits awarded on behalf of their spouse.

Other Rights and Benefits

Married couples also have access to the following list of legal rights and benefits:

  • The option to contribute to a spousal IRA
  • Easier approval of green card applications for spouses of U.S. citizens
  • The ability to roll over your deceased spouse’s retirement benefits into your own retirement plan, instead of taking distributions right away
  • The marital communications privilege, which exempts spouses from testifying against each other
  • Visiting rights in jail
  • Consumer discounts on tuition, insurance, and other memberships or subscriptions with family rates
  • Financial and legal protection in the case of a divorce

It’s important to know your rights as part of a married couple so you can be sure to take advantage of the benefits available to you. Marriage comes with many responsibilities and life changes. It can be easy to be caught up in emotions, but don’t overlook the legal and financial benefits and repercussions of marriage.