How Can I Change My Name Legally for Free?

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

The easy way to change your name is to simply start using the new name. That’s it. If you want your new name to be “Tex” or “Queenie,” just smack anyone upside the head anytime they don’t refer to you in that preferred manner. They’ll get the idea PDQ (pretty darn quick).

This is perfectly legal and accomplishes your goal free of charge in many states. If you’re a minor or a con sitting in stir, this won’t work. Even if you aren’t a minor or an inmate, this is not a perfect solution. Some states don’t accept this and it may be hard to get official documents changed. You might prefer to go the more formal route. The only downside is that this will cost you a little money. Not much, but a little. All you have to do is complete and file a petition for name change with the court.

There are many reasons for officially changing your name. The most common are marriage and divorce. But if your birth name is Mergatroid or something like that, you might not need any other reason.

Just keep in mind that you must justify a name change and the court won’t always approve your petition. People get denied when they try to skip out on debts, take the name of a celebrity or use any other sneaky scheme to defraud others. There are far better ways to get out of credit card debt fast than to change your name to Belefonte Smith.

There are three basic name change applications:

1. Name change filed by an adult individual.

2. Name change filed by individuals trying to change the name of a minor. This is done by the parents or legal guardians.

(If you don’t like your kid and want to get rid of him, this could be a great gift idea. Give him a free name change for his birthday and then move far away!)

3. Name change petition filed for the entire family.

In order to petition the court, there are some legal requirements. First, you have to live in the county and state where you are petitioning. Sometimes, there is also a time requirement as well. Once you file the petition, you’ll probably also have to publish a notice in a local newspaper. After you get formal notice that the name has been changed, there are a few more steps. You must notify a number of other institutions. Here’s a list of some of the more important people to notify:

  • Social Security Administration
  • DMV
  • Passport Office
  • Post Office
  • IRS
  • Voter Registration

In addition, you have to inform your bank, credit card and insurance companies as well as your brokerage firms to name a few. You may also have to amend your trust or will. Fortunately, you can amend these documents or create them without hiring an attorney.

Another way this issue comes up is in marriage. Let’s say you discuss the issue before you get married and decide to change your name. In that case, you don’t have to inform all the organizations above. Just let your banks, credit companies, etc., know. You basically use your marriage certificate instead of a petition by the court. Just make sure to get three or four certified copies.

The Social Security Administration has its own form which you can get for free. The good folks at SSI will also let the IRS know about the name change, so you’re good to go. When you go to the DMV, you’ll just need to bring the certified copy of the marriage certificate and you’ll be done. To change your name on your passport, you’ll need two color passport pictures, a certified copy of your marriage certificate and your old passport. Depending on how old your passport is, you will have to complete different forms as well.

Have you gone through this process? What steps would you add?

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