There are several reasons someone may want to change their name, often after a marriage (or divorce), but it has to be done legally. Below are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about how to legally change your name, including a summary of the steps involved and the importance of notifying various institutions of the change.
Can I change my name to anything I want?
Probably! Everyone has the right to change their name. Typically, you may legally change your name to whatever name you'd like, although state marriage laws also may provide some additional legal guidance. There are some exceptions, though:
What are the most common reasons people change their names?
Marriage and divorce are easily the most common reasons people change their names. With marriage certificates in hand, many a spouse has gone to a government office to get their name changed. See, Changing Your Name after Marriage. If the marriage doesn't work out, divorce decrees are a common route to change back to your maiden name. See, Changing Your Name After Divorce.
If you want to change your name after marriage, then your marriage license should suffice to prove your name change. If you want to go back to your former last name after a divorce, then usually mere usage is all that is required. You should check with your local courthouse to be sure.
Is filing my name change in court required?
No, not in most states, but it is helpful. Most states allow you to legally change your name simply through usage. You can choose a name and just start using it in social settings and in your business. This is a completely legal name change. The problems arise when it comes to government and financial agencies. In current times when identity theft, credit card fraud, and even the fear of terrorist spies are rampant, many financial and government agencies may require legal court documents to prove your identity. Furthermore, there are certain forms of identification, such as a social security card, birth certificate card, and passports, which absolutely will require legal name change documents.
Again, since every state varies on their name change rules, be sure to check with your local court clerk on your state's requirements.
What is the process to legally change your name?
The most important thing to do to legally change your name is to start using your new name. Introduce yourself using your new name, fill out forms and applications under your new name, tell all of your family and friends to only refer to you using your new name, and tell your school and/or employer of your new name.
As mentioned, some institutions may require legal documentation of your name change. In most states, it is a rather simple process to change your name through the court system. Most state government websites have forms online that you can print and use. The questions on the forms are very straightforward, and may include your old name, new name, social security number, reason for your name change, and a promise that you are not changing you name to escape debt or criminal liability.
The most commonly required forms include a petition to legally change your name, an order to show cause for legally changing your name, and a decree to legally change your name. Once you have these forms filled out, simply take them to the court clerk and file them along with your state's required filing fees. In most cases, a judge or magistrate will review your forms and grant the name change. Some states require a more formal advertisement of the usage of your new name, which is done simply by posting notice in the local newspaper. Be sure to check the requirements in your state by visiting your state government's website or calling your court clerk.
As mentioned above, most states only require your usage, and do not require a court proceeding to legally change your name. Having the court document that grants you permission to legally change your name, however, will help you when dealing with institutions and companies that do not want to honor your new name.
Who should you notify of your new name?
Be sure to change your name on all of your personal documents, such as wills, deeds, titles, trusts, accounts, and powers of attorney. Changing your name on estate planning documents will make it much less confusing and easier on your heirs in the future. They cannot be disinherited because of a name discrepancy, but they may have to go through more steps in showing your former name and true identity, before they will be awarded their share.
In addition to your friends and family members, here are some of the entities that should be notified once you legally change your name:
If any of these entities give you a hard time when you try to tell them about your legal name change, remind them of your right to do so, and offer them a copy of the court order. If necessary, talk to a supervisor. Remember that many financial institutions and creditors will be reluctant for fear of identity theft and fraud. Be patient, and continue enforcing the use of your new name. Eventually, it will catch on permanently.
Consider Talking to a Lawyer Before Changing Your Name
Legally changing your name, whether for marriage, divorce, or another important reason, can be a big event life event. The laws in every state are different and you'll want to make sure you're doing it by the book, including filing your legal name change petition with the appropriate government entity. Let an experienced family law attorney walk you through the process.