The Comprehensive Guide to Changing Your Name After Marriage
I confess — this article is actually for my own benefit. I recently got married, and I’m now in the process of changing my name. I say “process” because changing your name truly is a multi-step procedure: waiting in lines, copying documents, filling out forms, and paying fees here and there. Hopefully, however, there are some of you dear Wise Bread readers who are heading down the aisle as well, and this article will have some useful information for you too. (See also: Create Your First Shared Budget Without Blowing Up Your Relationship)
First, Get a Copy of Your Marriage License
Before you get started, you’ll need an original copy of your marriage license. This is your proof to all agencies where you’re seeking to change your name that you are legally married. You and your betrothed presumably appeared together at a Recorder of Deeds’ (or analogous administrative body’s) office in the state where you were married and applied for a marriage license. After the ceremony, the license is signed and mailed back to the Recorder of Deeds, where it is recorded and mailed to you, provided you have paid all fees. If your license was not returned to the Recorder within the required time period, you may be required to return to the office with your spouse to sign an affidavit certifying your marriage. Unfortunately, procedures vary from state to state (and even between counties), so if you have any issues, you should start by inquiring with the county in which you originally obtained the license. You could also check out the CDC’s helpful page on where to write for vital records.
The Things You’ll Need to Change
As I mentioned above, there are a lot of places where you’ll need to change your name. I’ve broken these down into three main categories: identification records, financial records, and online accounts. This is also the general order you’ll want to follow in changing your name — you’ll need a new social security card to obtain a new driver’s license, which you’ll need to change your name on your bank accounts, etc. Many of these can be done out of order, though.
Your identification records are those things you generally need to identify yourself in order to sign a lease, open a bank account, buy a car — you get the picture. Like I said above, it’s easiest to change your name on your various ID records before forging ahead into the name-change process elsewhere.
Social Security Card
Check out a clear, three-step guide to changing your name on your social security card here. It’s actually a relatively quick process (it was for me, anyway — good luck to you). You’ll need these things:
- Evidence of your name change (an original or certified copy of your marriage license)
- Evidence of your age (birth certificate, passport, religious record established before age five showing your age or date of birth, or final adoption decree)
- Evidence of your identity (passport, driver’s license or government-issued ID card)
- Evidence of citizenship (birth certificate or passport) or immigration status (current document issued to you by the Department of Homeland Security)
- Completed social security form SS-5 (PDF)
Notice that if you have a passport, that serves as documentation for three categories (age, identity, and citizenship), so you’d only need your marriage license and the SS-5 form in addition. Take the documentation to your local social security administration office, or mail the form and required documents to the local office and wait for a new social security card to be mailed to you. They say all documents will be returned to you, but I’m a bit skeptical about sending sensitive personal data by mail.
Unlike social security cards, which are federally issued documents, driver’s licenses are issued by your state, so the procedure for changing your name varies depending on what state you’re in. Start by finding your state’s department of motor vehicles website, then searching for “driver’s license name change” to find the page describing what documents you’ll need to bring with you and which form you’ll need to fill out. Notice that the procedure is somewhat different if your old license is set to expire within six months anyway.
In my lovely state of Pennsylvania, I’ll need to fill out a form DL-80 (PDF, non-commercial driver’s license application for change/correction/replacement) and bring $13.50 in check or money order as well as an original or certified copy of my marriage certificate. I can either mail the documentation to a centralized bureau of licensing location or spend a delightful morning whiling away the hours at my local DMV.
Having fun yet? Driver’s license and registration goes together just like peas and carrots. While you’re searching your state’s DMV website for information on how to change your name on your driver’s license, don’t forget your vehicle registration and title as well. In Pennsylvania, this requires the form MV-41A (PDF, application for correction or name change), $22.50 in check or money order, and a marriage certificate. Like the driver’s license, I have the option of mailing my info or skipping on down to the DMV office.
Do you have to change your name on your passport? Not really, unless you’re planning on going out of the country sometime soon, but it’s a good idea to do it anyway — it can take up to six weeks or more from the time your application is received to when your new passport is issued. If you think your international travel in the foreseeable future will be limited to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda, you might just want to apply for a less-expensive passport card (PDF).
If you’re like me and in need of a new, regular adult passport, start by checking out the steps listed on the State Department’s website. You’ll need to mail your old passport, a completed form DS-82, applicable “renewal” fees ($110 for an adult passport), and a recent color photo that meets required specifications to the address listed on the form DS-82. Note that there are different steps you’ll need to follow if you’re a first-time applicant. Also, if your passport was issued less than a year earlier, you don’t have to pay renewal fees!
If leery of sending off your original copy of your marriage license, you can obtain another certified copy by checking with the administrative body (usually Recorder of Deeds) in the county where you obtained your original license. The fee for certified copies varies, but it is less expensive than obtaining the original license. For example, in the county where Husband and I were married, the original license was about $60, while copies are only $9. If you were married in a different county or state from your permanent residence, fear not: the copies can be mailed to you.
Changing your name on your financial records will not automatically add your spouse as a joint account holder, beneficiary, or registered user on your accounts. That, of course, is a whole different can of worms. After exhaustively researching for this article and finding the entire name-changing process overwhelming, I suggest leaving the combining of finances for a different time.
IRS Records (Taxes)
Remember when you changed your name with the Social Security Administration by filling out the SS-5 form? That also took care of your name change with the IRS. See? This site says so. Whew! For those in favor of preventative measures, you could also fill out a change of address Form 8822 (PDF) with your new last name. No judgment here — I’m planning on filling one out myself. Lastly, there’s no need to stress about whether you’ll file a joint tax return until tax time next year (although word is the majority of couples benefit from filing jointly).
Other Financial Records
Here is a list of a few other financial records you should keep in mind when changing your name. For each of these, you’ll want to make a list of where you have accounts and what the account numbers are. Then, just get to calling!
- Bank accounts
- Credit cards
- Car loan
- Personal loans
- Insurance companies (health, life, renter’s, homeowners)
- Work records and benefits
- Doctors (primary care doctors, specialists, dentists)
- Phone company
- Cable and Internet provider
- Postal Service (if you’re moving to a new residence with your spouse)
Changing your online records isn’t vital, but it may be something you want to do for consistency’s sake. Below is a list of just some of the most popular sites where you might have an account with quick links to articles that explain how to change your name.
- Email: notice that your e-mail consists of your actual e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org) and your display name (From: Bob Thomas). In all free e-mail providers, I’ve found that you can change your display name, but not your actual e-mail address. If you’re looking to change your e-mail address to something including your new last name, you’ll need to go through the whole process of setting up a new account, transferring your contacts, and forwarding your mail (yuck).
Overwhelmed from just reading this article? I don’t blame you. If you’re looking for some help in the labyrinth of changing names, check out sites such as MsNowMrs.com or NameChangeExpress.com, both of which charge $29.95 and claim to aggregate all of the information you’ll need to make the name change process easier.
But Wait: Should You Change Your Name at All?
Maybe you’re established in your career; maybe your last name has important significance to you and you don’t want to lose it; maybe you’ve just read through the steps required to change your name and realized it’s not worth the effort. Whatever the reason (and they are all valid reasons), some people decide not to go through with the name change after marriage. If you’re just not convinced the name change is for you, explore the other possibilities in this Kiplinger Magazine article, 5 Choices for Changing Your Name.
Are you changing your name soon, have you done it recently, or do you know someone going through the process? Share your thoughts and advice in the comments!