By JENNIFER SARANOW SCHULTZ
If you’re planning to change your name after getting married, making the change in a timely fashion is probably going to become even more important next year when a new program, called Secure Flight, will require that the name you use to make an airline reservation be exactly the same as the one you use on an ID, even if the rules may sometimes bend a little.
Too bad the process of figuring out how to change your name can be so tricky.
When I got married two years ago, what to change my name to wasn’t an issue. I used my maiden name professionally so I knew I wanted to keep it somehow. Since I wasn’t that attached to my middle name, I decided to drop it and replace it with my maiden name, adding my husband’s name as my new last name as many others do.
But as for how to go about changing my name, that wasn’t quite as simple. I looked online and followed the instructions I found on sites like About.com and eHow.com, filling out a myriad of paperwork and going through the varying steps required for each stage of the process.
I first ordered about a dozen extra certified copies of my marriage certificate and then brought one, along with the required form, to the Social Security office in New York City to get a Social Security card with my new name. When it arrived in the mail, I changed my name on my bank accounts and credit cards and finally, earlier this year after moving to California, got a driver’s license with my new name.
But I’ve never been sure if I’ve followed the proper procedure to officially change my name. So I decided to consult some experts to help other future newlyweds avoid the same confusion. Edited to add: (By the way, if you’re gay the process can be a bit more complicated; see our related post for more.).
According to those I spoke with, while the exact process varies state by state, it’s the act of getting married that allows you to change your name. Then, getting extra certified copies of your marriage certificate (two to three are recommended), changing the name on your Social Security card and telling your employer should be your first steps if you plan a more traditional change like adding your spouse’s last name, with a hyphen or without.
By changing your name with Social Security (and with your employer), you generally ensure that your wages will properly be posted to your number, that your tax refund won’t be delayed and that other agencies will recognize your name change.
“The way the process is defined, Social Security is the main place to change your name,” said Danielle Tate, whose three-year-old site, MissNowMrs.com, helps streamline the name change process for newlyweds by providing and filling out the required paperwork. (Similar services also exist, among them Name Change Express and the Name Change Kit for Brides.) “Once Social Security has seen your document and agreed to change your name, the other offices follow,” she said.
Then, after you change your name with Social Security, how long you should wait before changing your license varies. Some states require that you wait for your Social Security card to be issued before you change your driver’s license, while others just require you wait 24 to 48 hours after filing the Social Security name change form. Others, meanwhile, don’t even require that you file first with Social Security. (Newlyweds will need to check with their state motor vehicle office to find out.)
At this point, you also should change your name on your passport by filling out and sending in the required form along with your marriage certificate, change your name for voter registration and change your name with the United States Postal Service. Ms. Tate also recommended filling out I.R.S. form 8822 to further insure that you don’t have any problems getting tax refunds.
But regardless of the requirements in your state, Ms. Tate recommended trying to file all the government change documentation within two months of your wedding (most states would like it done within 30 to 60 days, though there’s rarely a penalty) to avoid hassles like delayed tax refunds and missed flights, especially with the full enforcement of Secure Flight starting next year. Before I got my new driver’s license, for instance, I had to travel with my marriage certificate if tickets were booked in my new name.
Then, after you officially have a new name in the eyes of the government, you can worry about going through the various procedures for changing your name with your bank, creditors, utilities, medical professionals and insurers, among others. (See a more complete list here.) Some companies will change your name over the phone, while others require you send in a form and a copy of your marriage certificate. You can generally create a form letter that works for most.
That’s all there is to it.
“After marriage, it’s a lot easier to change your name than if you were doing it at another random time in your life,” said Emily Doskow, an attorney in California who specializes in family issues and writes about marriage and divorce issues for the legal information publisher Nolo. And all the procedures I outlined above apply to men who want to take their wife’s name in some states, including California, Hawaii and New York.
Unfortunately, the process is not as easy for those couples opting to merge their names or create new ones nor for men in certain states. And an increasing number of states are making it harder to make a maiden name a middle name as I did. In such cases, Ms. Doskow said, the name changer will need to go through the more traditional name changing process of filing a petition at court, paying the $100 to $400 or so filing fee, publishing a notice in a local newspaper and getting a court order.
Still, even if you don’t have to go through that process, it’s easy to forget about certain steps. I still feel as if I’m living a bit in limbo between Jennifer Saranow and Jennifer Saranow Schultz. Just recently, for instance, I realized I still needed to change my name at my gym and for all my frequent flyer accounts. One airline let me do it over the phone without any forms or proof, while another required I send in a copy of my marriage certificate.
I also just opened my passport to find that it still contains my old name — changing it is another thing I’ve added to my to-do list.
Readers, if you changed your name after you got married, how did you find the process and what ways did you find to make it easier?