In between sending out wedding invitations, finding the perfect venue and ordering the cake, financial expert Suze Orman says every couple needs to make time to draw up and sign a prenuptial agreement.
It might feel unromantic, but it's an important step toward protecting yourself and your finances later on in life, Orman tells CNBC Make It. "I get too many emails from older women and men telling me that they've just lost everything because of a divorce," says Orman, who recently released "The Ultimate Retirement Guide for 50+."
The best way to prevent that: Get a prenup, Orman says. Contrary to popular belief, Orman says having these conversations won't ruin your relationship — in fact, it could actually make it stronger. A side benefit to getting a prenup is that it forces couples to get into the nitty-gritty details of their finances and how they think about money.
"If you cannot talk money to the person that you are about to marry, you are doomed for failure because money is going to run through your relationship more than anything else," Orman says.
Why a prenup can be useful
Even if you're not currently wealthy, getting a prenup is important because you never know where you'll end up financially and if a relationship will stand the test of time, Orman says. "I was a waitress until I was 30 years of age making $400 a month — and look at me today," she says.
If things don't work out, getting a prenup can help protect what you've accumulated both before and during the marriage. About 28% of millennial couples (ages 23 to 37 when surveyed) are forgoing traditional joint bank accounts after marriage and opting to keep their finances completely separate, according to a 2018 Bank of America survey. But divorce experts say just because you keep your finances separate and your name is on the account or the deed to the house, doesn't mean it's yours alone.
A prenup may also allow you to avoid becoming responsible for your spouse's debts, Orman said on a recent episode of her Women & Money podcast. If you live in a community property state, anything acquired during the marriage — including debts such as credit card balances and medical bills — is considered "community property" and therefore belongs to both spouses. Residents of Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin fall into this category.
But even if you live outside those states, a good attorney may be able to argue that any debt acquired by either spouse during the marriage should be considered "marital property" and paid equally upon divorce.
A prenup may also make sense if you or your partner has kids from a previous marriage or if you've received an inheritance. With a prenup, you can sort out the details of how you want the money or other assets to be split up.
That said, a prenup may not be right for everyone. If you don't want to go that route, it's worth at least printing out or saving digital copies of all your account statements for the month before you marry, says Susan Guthrie, a family law attorney and mediator. That way, you know exactly what you brought into the marriage and have proof should you ever need to divide everything up.
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The best approach to getting a prenup
If you do decide to get a prenup, there are a few steps couples should take to make sure the agreement has the best possible chance of holding up if the marriage should end in divorce, Orman says.
Spend time talking about your financial goals
About 94% of millennial couples (ages 23 to 38 when surveyed) say they talk about their fiances at least once a week, yet 48% also say they hide debt, according to TD Bank's latest Love & Money survey. But it pays to have frank conversations that go deeper than surface level. Talk with your future spouse not only about what accounts you currently have open and the balances of credit cards, but also about how you spend your money on a day-to-day basis and what your financial goals for the future are.
Get a lawyer to help with the prenup
The average cost of a prenup ranges from about $1,200 for low-cost, simple agreements to $10,000 for more complicated situations. While it may be tempting to download one of the free, do-it-yourself forms available online, many times those don't stand up in court later on because you didn't meet all the legal requirements.
And each partner should have their own private attorney, Orman says. "You cannot use the same attorney," she warns. You should also find attorneys that specialize in divorce or family law, rather than just general business.
Read over all the details
Once the lawyers have drawn up the prenups for you, read them over carefully and make sure that you understand all of the details. Legal jargon can be challenging to understand, so take the time to talk it over with your lawyer and check out The Knot's helpful glossary of common terms.
Both partners should also make changes to the prenup, Orman says. If you don't want to make any substantial updates, try re-wording a sentence. The point is to prove you both have read and knowingly agreed to all the terms. That way, your spouse — or soon-to-be ex-spouse — will not be able to claim they never read it or that they didn't know what they were signing.
Don't rush into it
Like marriage, you don't want to rush signing your prenup. "Do not do it on the way to the chapel," Orman says. Ideally, you should take at least six months, minimum, to draw up and sign a prenup, she says. Otherwise, if it's challenged in court later, there may be questions around whether you were rushed into doing it and if it's valid.
If you're already married, you can look into getting a postnuptial agreement. These are basically the same as a prenup: It's a full account of all the money and property you both have and outlines how you will divide the property in the event of a divorce. Keep in mind though that these can be more difficult to enforce if challenged.
At the end of the day, Orman says getting a prenup is about planning ahead and standing up for yourself. "The time for you to plan for the 'what ifs' of life is when you are in a state of love," Orman says, and not when you're already drawing battle lines.
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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.