How To Legally Change Your Name
If you are changing your last name through marriage, skip to Step 4 (Notice) to notify the Social Security Administration, the Department of Health, financial institutions, utility companies, etc.
The legal name change process includes asking (petitioning) the court to use a new name by submitting a name change request. The name change process generally follows these steps, which we'll get into in detail below:
- Fill out a name change form
- File and pay a filing fee
- Review and grant by the court
Keep in mind: This name change process is for an adult name change. States have different rules about minor children. However, the process normally includes parental consent to change a child's name.
Steps 1-3 are not for those getting married, because your last name may already be changed to the name written on the marriage certificate.
There is no need to file a name change form. You can start using your married name after signing the marriage certificate.
Note: This depends on your state. Be sure to check your state's requirements.
1. Fill Out a Name Change Form
In most states, getting a new legal name can be a simple process through the court system.
You should be able to submit a name change application form on a web page online. Or you can print the form and submit it in person to the court.
The name change application form will ask for legal documents, such as your birth certificate and driver's license. A certified copy or an original will suffice. Check this article for more information on specific legal documents you will need.
Common Name Change Forms
During this process, you may see the following legal terms:
- Petition (a form you will fill out to legally change your name)
- Order To Show Cause (a form you will fill out to legally change your name)
- Decree (a document from the judge granting your name change)
Name Change Form Questions
The questions on the name change forms may include:
- Your old name
- Your current name
- Your new name
- Your social security number
- The reason for your name change
- A promise that you are not using a change of name to escape debt or criminal liability
2. File & Pay a Filing Fee
Once you have filled out the forms in Step 1: Fill Out a Name Change Form, submit or file the forms, and pay a filing fee.
If you filled out the forms electronically, you may be able to submit them electronically (depending on your state) and pay a filing fee.
If you want to submit them in person, take the forms to the local court clerk. The court clerk will file them for you, and you will pay a filing fee.
Note: Every state will have different filing fees for a name change. The filing fee will be a small amount (usually payable by credit card, check, debit card, or cash).
Do I Have to File My Name Change in Court?
Not necessarily. In most states, it is not required to file an official name change petition in court. However, having a court-ordered name change is helpful.
Most states allow a legal name change simply through usage. Choose a name and start using it in social settings, on social media, and in your business. However, to legally change your name, you'll need to go through the official process.
A court order for a change of name can be useful when dealing with the government or financial agencies. Because of identity theft and credit card fraud concerns, many financial and government agencies may require legal court documents to prove your identity.
Forms of identification that require legal name change documents include:
- Driver's license
- Social Security card
- Birth certificates
- Government ID cards
3. Review and Grant
A judge or magistrate will review the forms and grant the name change.
Depending on the number of cases the judge has, it may take a few weeks or months to process a name change.
Usually, an in-person hearing is not required. Once the judge reviews your petition for a name change, they will enter a decree and allow you to change your name. Or, the judge can deny your petition if your name change is not allowed.
Note: this depends on your state. Be sure to check your state's requirements.
Who should you notify of your new name? Tell your family, friends, and coworkers about your name change. In most jurisdictions, the notice does not require any kind of formal process.
Be sure to change your old name to your new name on all your personal, legal, and vital records, such as:
- Powers of attorney
Changing your name on estate planning documents will make it easier for your heirs in the future.
Heirs cannot be disinherited because of confusion over an old name or new name. However, failing to change your name on estate planning documents will make the process harder for your heirs to receive their share.
Other entities (such as government agencies, financial institutions, health providers, etc.) will usually require proof of your name change.
You can provide proof with a marriage license or court order (or a copy of the order). The entities that should be notified of your name change include:
- Post Office (via change of address form)
- Department of Motor Vehicles
- Social Security Administration
- Department of Records or Vital Statistics (issuers of birth certificates)
- Department of Health
- Banks and Other Financial Institutions
- Creditors and Debtors
- Telephone and Utility Companies
- State Taxing Authority
- Insurance Agencies
- Registrar of Voters
- Passport Office
- Public Assistance (Welfare) Office
- Veterans Administration
Some states require a formal advertisement during the name change process. This can be done by simply posting a notice in a local publication.
Disclaimer: Every state has different notice rules. Make sure to check your local government's website to find out your state's requirements.
5. Using Your New Name
It is very important to use your new name. You can do this by:
- Introducing yourself using your new name
- Filling out forms and applications under your new name
- Telling your family and friends to only refer to you by your new name
- Informing your school, employer, and other institutions of your new name (some institutions may require legal documentation of your name change)
Some states require a formal notice before you use a new name. This can be done by posting a notice in the local newspaper.
Talk to a Lawyer About How to Legally Change Your Name
If you want to change your name (regardless of the occasion), you should seek legal advice from a family law attorney.
The laws in every state are different and can be confusing. Let an experienced family law attorney walk you through the process.
Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?
- Many people can get married without hiring legal help
- Marriages involving prenups, significant debt, child custody issues, and property questions may need an attorney
Get tailored advice and ask questions about getting married.
Don't Forget About Estate Planning
Marriage is an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries (including your spouse!) to your will. Consider creating a power of attorney to ensure your spouse can access your financial accounts. Also, a health care directive lets your spouse make your medical decisions if you ever become incapacitated.