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What's in a Name?

Most of us are given a name at or near birth, a name that we identify with and which, in turn, identifies us to others. That name, and variations thereon, is used by us, our families and friends and others. That name will be tied to us in many ways. So what happens when we decide to change that name? We might unilaterally decide that we like another name better and will adopt that name going forward. If done properly, the change will be done through the courts and be a legal change. In other circumstances, we might decide to change our surname upon marriage to adopt that of a spouse, to resume a prior name upon divorce or to take a family surname other than our birth name. Name changes might occur for religious reasons as well.

Whatever the reason, when one changes their name, it is very important to ensure that the change is properly done and communicated to those who may be affected or need to know. It may be as simple as going to the Social Security Administration to ensure that your record properly reflects both the pre-name change earnings and contributions as well as the post-change items. Bank accounts, credit cards, tax returns, insurance policies, current employer, driver’s license – these are some of the many items you will need to address through the proper channels. If you do not, there can be unforeseen and undesired consequences.

Further afield, what about others who may have known your prior name and used it to designate a beneficiary to an insurance policy or qualified retirement plan? Or those who added that name to a bank account or trust? What about establishing a section 529 plan for your education? The possibilities are many and the need to ensure that these folks know and can, possibly, amend the designations may be important to ensure that your receive the benefits that were attributed to you under the prior name.

Keeping a copy of your marriage certificate, court approved name change or other legal document will provide you with a way to establish that rights and interests assigned to you under your prior name will also be available to you under the new, current name. As it turns out, there is a lot in your name and one way to really understand that fact is to go to the trouble of changing it. 

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