Massachusetts probate and family lawyer Josey Lyne Payne discusses the challenging aftermath of a legal name change in Massachusetts.
Last month 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 leg-work 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. 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 judgements of divorce featuring 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 persons, 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 extend 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 on his or 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 Decree) 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 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 Drivers’ 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 2 lines before receiving a call number. A Registry agent will need to see the Social Security card reflecting the new name and the MA Drivers’ 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 returned to the driver immediately. Instead, the petitioner will be issued a Temporary Drivers’ 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 Drivers’ 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. 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. Petitioners should also be mindful of the online world, noting that entities like Amazon, Ebay and Paypal may all need to be updated, with varying degrees of complexity. Email accounts, social media, and online memberships should also be updated. While these changes could, in theory, be completed piecemeal, the best approach for most petitioners is to get organized and address the challenges in a systematic fashion.
About the Author: Josey Lyne Payne is a Massachusetts divorce lawyer and Massachusetts family law attorney for Lynch & Owens, located in Hingham, Massachusetts.
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