Why Mark Zuckerberg needs a prenup

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg prepares to speak to reporters at Harvard University November 7, 2011 in Cambridge, Mass. Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
(MoneyWatch) With the news that the new $20-billion man, Mark Zuckerberg, added a "life event" to his timeline Saturday, a financial advisor can't help but ask a question: Did he have a prenup? With the summer wedding season almost underway, and millions of couples planning their nuptials, it's a question worth pondering. Of course if you're Facebook founder Zuckerberg, now one of the 25 richest people on the planet, getting married takes on a whole other dimension.

In the wake of the second largest IPO in U.S. history, Zuckerberg is a rare case. But in some ways, he's in good company. The classic picture of a young couple starting their lives together with few earthly possessions is giving way to a more complicated modern reality in which people getting married carry all manner of family and financial issues into the union.

More people are getting married later in life, or for a second or third time. As a result, they have more income, assets, and obligations when they arrive at the altar. So it is no surprise that prenuptial or premarital agreements are becoming a more frequent topic of discussion among to-be-weds.

Dropping the "P-word." Discussing a premarital agreement has all the romance of making out with a cold. The person requesting one prenup may be viewed as a greedy, untrusting, and unromantic clod. "I want to protect myself in case this doesn't work out" is one side of the issue; "If you love me then you should trust me" is the other side.

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Money and marital issues are a notoriously combustible issue. But avoiding the topic because you think it could doom a marriage isn't smart either. It's like avoiding getting a will because you believe it could increase the chance that you'll die. In any case, a frank discussion of money before a marriage is healthy, and in some cases a premarital agreement is in order.

Sign on the dotted line. As a practical matter, a premarital agreement is a contract entered into by both individuals before the marriage. It stipulates how financial assets, income, and obligations will be addressed during and after the marriage. Without such an agreement, the laws of your state will decide these issues, often conflicting with what couples may want. Properly and fairly structured, these contracts can protect both spouses and ensure compensation for non-monetary contributions to a marriage.

The marrying kind. The marital scene is changing. More people are waiting longer to get married. Along the way, they accumulate 401(k) and brokerage accounts, homes, inheritances, businesses, and other financial obligations. Folks are also marrying (and divorcing) several times, often with children from prior marriages to support. So who should consider getting a prenup? You should if you have children from a previous marriage, above-average income, or significant income from unique talents or patents.

Also consider if you own your own home, property, or business or are working toward your professional degree. And if you have or expect to receive significant gifts or inherited assets, definitely look into a prenup.

Check back in a few days when I'll write about what to include in a prenuptial agreement.

  • Ray Martin

    Since 1986, Ray Martin has been a practicing financial counselor, providing valuable and practical financial guidance and advice to individuals. He has appeared regularly as a contributor on the CBS Early Show, CBS NewsPath, as a columnist on CBS Moneywatch, and on NBC-TV's morning newscast TODAY. He has also appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and is the author of two books.

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