Massachusetts family lawyer Kimberley Keyes discusses the challenging aftermath of a legal name change in Massachusetts.
In my blog, “How Do Legal Name Changes Work In Massachusetts?”, I reviewed the legal procedure for a Massachusetts name change for adults. Although the multi-step process may seem arduous, and certainly involves legal issues and paperwork, the real legwork comes after the Decree of Name Change is allowed and issued by the Court. As discussed in the blog, it is important to remember that the Court does not (and will not) directly inform or notify any person, company or other government entity of a change of name in Massachusetts.
Table of Contents for this Blog
- Just Married? Did You Change Your Last Name? This Blog is For You Too!
- Nobody Does it For You: Name Change Petitioner Must Inform the World of a New Name
- Who Wants to Know? The Many Government Entities to Inform About Your New Name
- Start with a New Social Security Card
- Next: Obtain a New Driver’s License or State ID
- Banks, Credit Cards and Other Financial Providers
- Insurance Carriers, Doctors and Medical Providers
- When in Doubt: Check Your Password List and Letter Writing Campaigns
The most common reason that individuals in the United States change their name is by adopting a new spouse’s name after being married. This blog is a practical guide to informing government agencies, service providers and others about a new change. The steps discussed in this blog are just as applicable to a newly married individual who has adopted the name of his or her new spouse through marriage as they are to individuals who formally changed their name through a petition for name change with a court. And while the blog is written from a Massachusetts perspective, most of the steps discussed on the blog are equally applicable to any individual living in the United States who is wondering how to tell the world about his or her new name.
Please note that all references to a “petitioner” in this blog are simply referring to the individual with a new name. If you changed your name through marriage, virtually all of the steps are the same, except that you will be providing copies of your marriage certificate instead of a decree for name change to the entities you wish to inform about your new name. The same applies for recent divorcees who are resuming their maiden name, who would be providing copies of their divorce decree as proof of their name change.
The petitioner alone is responsible for informing the world of his or her new name. And while the process is not very different from a spouse changing her (or his) name upon marriage – and updating her records accordingly – an individual who changes her name through a Petition for Name Change must frequently do more explaining and go the extra mile providing paperwork to third parties, where people and companies are simply less familiar with court-ordered decrees for name changes than they are with marriage certificates and judgments of divorce involving Massachusetts name changes.
With a new name entered pursuant to a Court Decree, a petitioner is faced with the often time-consuming and confusing task of updating and informing all of the relevant people, companies and/or government entities that may be affected by his or her change of name: Social Security Administration; the Massachusetts Department of Transportation; the Registry of Motor Vehicles; employers (and their payroll providers); creditors; debtors; banks and post offices; and any organizations in which the petitioner may hold a position, an account, or even a membership, just to name a few. While each step appears simple on its own, the total scope of the process can be daunting.
The process of changing one’s name in Massachusetts includes the real world that extends far beyond the Commonwealth, from working with the federal government to reaching out in cyberspace. A lawyer can help simplify this process, or a petitioner can tackle it on his or her own.
After a change in name occurs, the first (and maybe most important) entity to inform is the Social Security Administration because a Social Security card is the document a person must show to subsequently change his or her name on their MA Drivers’ License, which is the form of identification most often required (along with the Decree of Name Change, Marriage Certificate, or Divorce Judgment) to officially change a name with almost all other entities. This Social Security name-change requires the completion of an application and a physical appearance at a Social Security Administration office. Individuals should be prepared to spend a minimum of 30 minutes at the SSA office.
A newly-named individual will generally be required to show the Social Security officer a certified copy of the Name Change Decree along with an alternate form of identification, most often the Massachusetts driver’s license (i.e., a MA license reflecting the previous name). The agent will update the system, the petitioner will be given written confirmation of the change, and the new Social Security card will be mailed to the person at the address on file with the Administration.
With his or her new Social Security card in hand, the petitioner can then update their information with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, Registry of Motor Vehicles. Again, this will require an application to be completed by the petitioner, along with a physical appearance at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Petitioners should be prepared to spend a minimum of 30 minutes here, too. It’s a good idea to have your application complete prior to visiting the RMV to expedite the process and avoid waiting in two lines before receiving a call number.
A Registry agent will need to see the Social Security card reflecting the new name and the MA driver’s license showing the old name (bringing the Decree and other supporting documents would also be wise, as the RMV is a bureaucracy whose policies and procedures can change with little notice). The new license will not be given to the driver immediately. Instead, the petitioner will be issued a temporary driver’s license (paper) and the new license card will be mailed to the person in 7-10 business days.
Once a petitioner has an updated Social Security Card, MA driver’s license, and Decree of Name Change in hand, there remains the task of informing any company or business that issues any documents (i.e. bank cards, credit cards, employers, etc.) in the individual’s prior name. Most companies require the person to submit a copy (sometimes a certified copy is required) of the name-change decree along with a request to update the person’s information – often either by mail or by fax. Thus, petitioners should be aware that as of the date of this blog, the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court charges $20, plus $1 per page for each page except the first, for a certified copy of any order or decree. If you need five certified copies of your Decree of Name Change, you will need to spend at least $100 on copies at the Court.
The customer service telephone number for each entity is typically found on the back side of the card issued by the entity, and calling to speak with an agent to determine the proper procedure for changing a name with that particular entity or company is advised. The best bet for petitioners is take stock of all of their vendors and attempt to change his or her name with as many vendors as possible in a single day. Strategies for identifying vendors include examining past bank statements, as well as email histories, to determine all of the entities the petitioner has paid money to over the last six months.
One group of entities that people often forget to share their new name with is are insurance providers and doctors. It is important to update insurance cards and medical records with the new name on a new Driver’s License for one simple reason: if you require urgent or emergency medical services, any confusion over your name could result in complex and frustrating mess when it comes time to pay for your medical care. Think about it: what if a hospital issues a very large bill to a name that does not match the on an insurance carrier’s account? The insurance carrier may decline to pay the bill, and next thing you know, a many-thousand-dollar bill arrives at your house asking you to pay.
Granted, coverage problems like those described above can generally be ironed out, but often only after many hours spent on the phone. Moreover, most of don’t read the fine print in our insurance policies. Do you really want to depend on an insurance company to resolve confusion over your identity with thousands of dollars on the line? Your best move is to inform your insurers and medical providers as early as possible.
One commonsense tip for informing companies and government agencies of a name change is to check your online password list. Most of us have one these days. You know what I am talking about. The list you keep of websites, usernames and passwords for the dozens (and dozens) of companies you visit online. One of the best ways to make sure you are sharing your name change with as many providers as possible to scan down your password list to make sure that you have considered all of the important websites you log onto. Chances are, you have forgotten an account or two that you can find on your password list.
My final suggestion is to consider a letter-writing campaign. Yes, you heard that right. Letters. Sent through the US mail. But why send letters in a digital age? Letters are a great way to document which entities you have informed of your name change and how. Unlike digital logins, you can keep a copy of every letter you send out. Letters also allow you to send a copy of the Change of Name Decree to every provider on your list. Perhaps most importantly, a letter writing campaign is an excellent way to create and organize a list of providers that you believe should know about your new name. In many cases, you will need take additional steps beyond simply sending a letter to a particular entity, but a letter writing campaign is a great way to get organized and inform a large number of providers using a uniform, easy to document method.
Congratulations on your name name…and good luck!
About the Author: Kimberley Keyes is a Massachusetts probate and family law attorney for Lynch & Owens, located in Hingham, Massachusetts.
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