NEW YORK (Reuters) - I picked a good day to change my name after my divorce - late on a Friday afternoon recently when it was pelting sleet outside.
I took the subway to the one Social Security office in Manhattan that does card services - which was practically deserted and closing early - and completed the process in less than 15 minutes.
Then, I was officially back to the name my parents gave me at birth, nearly 14 years after changing it when I got married.
That was only just the start of the onerous paperwork process, though, which is still ongoing. I never changed my name professionally, using it as my byline and on my business cards. But every other legal and financial aspect of my life had to be upturned.
The overall cost ended up not being too high. A new driver’s license ran me $12. A new passport, which I needed anyway, was $110.
All the other changes merely cost time - long hold times, making copies of my divorce decree and mailing them off, or sitting in overheated bank offices while clerks learned the arcane rules of name changes.
The following is a rundown of how to legally change your name, which is basically the same if have just gotten married or divorced, or have some other legal proof:
Bank branches do not do much banking anymore, so when I arrived with my divorce decree in hand, they had no idea what to do with me. Even more complicated was the fact that all of my accounts are titled to a trust.
My banking rep sent me away for a few days until he figured out how to manage the process.
About two weeks later, I got a new debit card in the mail, and new checks.
Note that this is not one-stop shopping. You might have many accounts with one financial institution, but changing your banking account information does not flow through to any other divisions.
For those without trusts, you need to make sure to update your beneficiaries, or add another adult signer who is your power of attorney. This is important if you get sick and need somebody else to be able to pay your bills, and not just so your ex does not get your money if you die.
All the major credit card companies seem to have different rules. Citibank took my info over the phone and put a new card in the mail. Chase mailed me a form and required me to send it back with a copy of my new driver’s license. American Express has an online upload system, but I had to wait for my new ID to arrive in the mail before I could submit the form.
INVESTMENTS AND MORTGAGES
Have an IRA at your main bank? Or a mortgage? You have to change the account names separately from your banking information.
You will also need to update your beneficiary information. My bank had to mail me those forms.
For a mortgage, make sure your changes flow through to your tax and insurance accounts.
If you own a property titled in your married name and change it, you have to refile the forms; otherwise, you may have trouble when you sell or if you die. The process costs $350 in New York, not counting legal fees. (My house is titled to a trust, so I did not have to deal with the extra paperwork.)
Changing the title of a car at the DMV costs about $200 where I live. This is less of a priority if your car falls below the level for probate in your state, which is $30,000 in New York and $50,000 in Texas.
The bills you want to give most attention to are any insurance policies - car, house, life, long-term care, health, etc. In an emergency, you do not want to be scrambling around the attic for your divorce decree.
Changing my name on other bills is not a top priority, since I use auto-pay. The name on the account seems to matter little to most providers, but I will get around to these eventually.
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