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posted: 2/28/2014 12:01 AM

Valentine's flowers are gone, but 'pre-nup' questions never die

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Most betrothed couples don't need a prenuptial agreement when a home is involved, but there are some exceptions.

Q. I am getting married in June, so I was extremely interested in the column you wrote recently about marriage and homeownership. Neither of us currently owns a home of our own, but we plan to buy one together in the fall. Should we sign a prenuptial agreement that says how our house and other property we acquire after the wedding would be split if we eventually get divorced?

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A. That's certainly not the most romantic of notions, and it could cause a big argument eventually if you don't bring it up with the proper amount of tact should you broach the issue with your fiancee.

Nonetheless, you probably don't need a full-blown prenuptial agreement -- legal jargon for a contract that's signed before the wedding nuptials to spell out how each of your respective assets would be divided if the marriage ends in divorce. Most attorneys say that pre-nups are needed only for those who are marrying someone with much less money or with much more debt, or for people who are financially responsible for children from a previous relationship.

People who are involved in a family-owned business also sometimes sign a prenuptial agreement to reduce the chance that an eventual divorce may jeopardize an enterprise that may have been in the bride or groom's family for decades.

Discuss your real estate and other financial concerns about your upcoming wedding with an attorney, as well as with your sweetheart. Several studies have found that various financial issues cause discord among married couples. So, sit down with your fiance now and have a long and completely open discussion about your respective credit, bills and income, and future goals.

An honest conversation today may be uncomfortable, regardless of whether a pre-nup is addressed, but it could go a long way toward ensuring marital bliss later.

Q. We purchased our first home, a condominium, last year. Are the $147 monthly dues that we paid to our homeowners association tax-deductible on our upcoming tax return?

A. I get this type of question dozens of times each year, usually when the April 15 tax-filing deadline is approaching. And my answer is usually "no," but I throw in some exceptions.

Internal Revenue Service Publication 530, Tax Information for Homeowners, states that "you cannot deduct these assessments because the homeowners association, rather than a state or local government, imposes them."

You could, though, deduct all of the HOA fees if you rented the entire property out to someone else. A partial deduction may be allowed if, say, you rented a room in the condo to someone and declare the rental income on your tax return.

All homeowners should get a free copy of IRS Publication 530 by contacting the agency at (800) 829-3676 or by downloading it from www.irs.gov.

Q. We bought our first home in January, but the landlord at our old apartment building still hasn't returned the $750 security deposit we paid to him when we signed his lease two years ago. He is not responding to our phone calls and letters about getting the money back. Is there a limit on the amount of time he can hold onto our cash?

A. Yes. Most states require a landlord to return a tenant's initial security deposit within 14 or 30 days of moving out. A few states, including Arkansas and Florida, allow up to 60 days. In New York, it's a more nefarious "reasonable time."

Call the rent control board or other agency that regulates rental properties in your former neighborhood for help. You also might want to check out one of my favorite legal-related websites, www.nolo.com, which provides a free list of state-by-state guidelines that landlords must follow about security-deposit returns and other important real estate issues.

Real estate trivia: The first condominium project in the continental U.S. is believed to be the 120-unit Greystone Manor, which was built in 1960 in Salt Lake City. Historians say the concept of owning an individual home with shared "common areas," such as yards or pools, dates back to the Roman Age, more than 2,000 years ago.

• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers/Trust, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.

© 2014, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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