By Contributors: Charles E. Cohen, Debra Wishik Englander, Jordan E. Goodman, Ira Hellman, Beth Kobliner

(MONEY Magazine) – Nothing can ruin the romance of a marriage proposal quite like the moment you whip out the prenuptial agreement for your dewy-eyed betrothed to sign. Such ^ contracts protect marriage partners by defining who will own what in the event that something less than death do them part. But many people are reluctant to ask their spouses-to-be to sign. ''They're afraid financial discussions will jeopardize the marriage,'' says New York City matrimonial lawyer Peter Bronstein, ''but marriage is the most important financial transaction of your life.'' Romantic or not, Bronstein argues, a prenuptial agreement is your best protection. But for couples who are uncomfortable with such a calculated approach, he suggests these steps a person can take on his own to protect assets taken into a marriage: -- Retain financial records, monthly statements and other documents that show how much you brought to the altar. -- After the nuptials, hold on to your individual bank, stock and other accounts and open new ones for any business you and your spouse transact together. (Most states consider money that goes from an individual account into a joint account a ''gift'' to the marriage.)

-- Keep tangible assets such as property, valuables and the like in your name. -- If your individual holdings are substantial, hire an investment adviser (annual fee: about 1% of your portfolio's value) to manage them. That way, says Bronstein, your spouse can't argue that it was his or her advice that led you to invest those assets so wisely -- thus entitling said spouse to a cut of the profits. Bronstein, who notes that he has been happily married for 18 years, insists that he is not a killjoy about wedlock. ''People who are perfectly content to join property with their spouses should feel free to do so,'' he says. ''But if you don't want to, don't make it a gift by a lack of careful preparation or planning.''