Changing a spouse’s name after marriage is a time-honored tradition in the west, signifying a future where two people act and behave as one. For those that choose it, it’s a beautiful way of affirming love and commitment.

It also requires a great deal of paperwork, patience, and standing in line at government offices. Like most things pertaining to adulthood, paperwork is prominent.

Getting a spouse’s name changed can be exciting, but if you’re doing it yourself, be prepared for some tedium. The process itself isn’t complicated, but it does take a while, and you’ll find yourself in several meetings, lines, and offices that, after a while, will all start to feel the same. Don’t give up. You’ll feel much better once it’s all done, and done correctly, and in the right order. Skipping steps just to see your name changed might be fun in the meantime, but it’s best to do this systematically.

If you simply don’t want to bother, and you have the money, there are online services that tackle this for you. You’ll still have to fill out paperwork, and you’ll still have to follow up with some of the smaller tasks, but the process as a whole will be much easier.

If you don’t have the money, however, you’ll just need to be systematic.

One Word of Warning

There’s many states in the U.S. for which this process is more tedious and cumbersome if you’re either a same-sex couple or a man changing his name for his wife, rather than the other way around. It’s not impossible, but it does often require an extra layer of paperwork. Don’t let this discourage you.

Above all, for every step of this process, make sure you consult with state government websites to see what each state requires. The rules below will mostly apply everywhere, but there are exceptions to every rule, and you won’t know about them unless you combine checking state requirements with phone calls and questions. Get into that habit early, and you’ll save yourself a lot of work.

Want to change your name? Let’s get started.


Make a List

to do list

The documents that rely on your full name are probably more numerous than you’d at first imagine. Consider everything you own, or borrow, or pay money for in any way – anything you do involving money will involve paperwork, and all that paperwork will need to be updated.

Your first step should be to sit down and make a simple list of the documents you’ll need to change. There’s a simple pattern to this – ‘myself, my job, my money, my perks.’ This is the order you should follow to keep track of everything.

Myself, My Job, My Money, My Perks

  1. Myself. The beginning of this list will always be the big three – Social Security card, driver’s license, and passport/immigration papers. These need to be done first, even though they’re some of the most difficult. Without those, none of the easier stuff is possible.
  2. My job. Anything and everything that revolves around your job will need to be changed. For most of us, this involves nothing more than updating a name in your employer’s computer systems. If you’re self-employed, however, or if you operate under state and federal licenses, you’ve got more work to do. Are you a doctor, lawyer, or insurance salesman? You’ll need to update your license. Do you own your own business? Make sure your LLC is in your new name. Put all this down on your list.
  3. My money. Consider everything you can that involves your finances or identification. A heads-up here – it’s probably going to be longer than you think. Car payments, mortgage payments, rent? Check. Credit or debit cards? Check. Keep thinking, though – utility payments? Student loans? Every bit of money that comes out of your bank account is probably associated with paperwork somewhere.

If you don’t think you can remember everything, take your list with you, and write down anything you remember over the next couple of days. Sometimes it takes a while for things to surface.

  1. My perks. These last items are the least important, but often the most fun. Anything and everything that involves a club, or reward points, or some kind of material benefit without financial obligation is included here. Frequent flier miles? They’ll need to be updated. Reward programs in your local pharmacy or grocery store? Update.

Also included here are the easiest things to handle – social media accounts. It’s a small thing, but seeing your name changed on Facebook and Instagram is a simple way to keep you smiling through the more difficult parts of this process.

‘Myself, my job, my money, my perks.’ All done, even after carrying the list around for three days? Good.


Make Lots of Copies

Print off several long-form copies of your marriage certificate. You’ll need more than one. Keep several copies with your list.

Now, let’s get started.


Get the Big Three Done First


Always, always, always start with your Social Security card. You’ll need this for everything that follows.

This part might be the most tedious, but it’s also one of the simplest. You’ll need the following form, and luckily for you, it’s the same form no matter where you live (this won’t be true of many other documents, which will vary depending on the state). Print it up, fill it out, and turn in the paperwork – in person – at the nearest Social Security office. You’ll need to take with you a current driver’s license or passport, and current immigration papers if applicable.

Turning in the form in person can be a pain, but once this step is completed, everything else will be a little bit easier.

Next in line is your driver’s license. For most states, you’ll need that Social Security card, which is why we recommend getting it done first. Some states are easier, however, and it’s best to check ahead of time to see what you’ll need.

Checking state requirements ahead of time will almost always save you time, and sometimes money. This is a habit you’ll want to acquire quickly.

Last, but certainly not least, is your passport or immigration papers. Immigration papers will probably take the longest, and will most certainly cause you the most trouble if you neglect them. Get started on these early, and keep careful track of what you’ve done so far. There is nothing more important to your well-being than keeping these documents updated and backed up safely. If you have an immigration lawyer, consult with him or her immediately.


Deal With Insurance – It’s Terribly Important

Changing your name on your major medical insurance card is the most important step after the big three. The last thing you want is to find yourself injured, and then suffer delays at the hospital because your documents don’t match.


Divide and Conquer Everything Else with Money


Refer to your list. You’ve probably got a lot there that deals with finances. Your best bet for tackling these is to do everything that involves you paying off a debt first, followed by everything else. This means car payments, mortgage payments, and credit cards come before utility payments and rent. If you have a loan or loans somewhere, deal with those first – money you owe before money you have.

Fortunately, this part is fairly easy – call up the bank or credit union and just ask for assistance. Your lenders might require an in-person meet, so that either you or your spouse can sign some paperwork, but since you already have your Big Three documents handled, this part will be a breeze.

Take note, too, that if you’re changing your name on a loan, there’s an opportunity here to put your spouse on that loan with you. If this improves your credit, you’re looking at a better, refinanced loan – all the more reason to change your name.

Credit card companies will likely require a form, and will then send you new cards in the mail. Debit cards are the same way, but you will probably have handled those already if you’ve been talking to the bank about changing any loans you have.

Next up is taxes – state taxes, anyway. Technically, this part isn’t about a debt, but it’s awfully close (just try not paying them, and see what happens). Your federal taxes will have already been changed, since changing your Social Security card automatically sets this in motion. Changing your driver’s license, however, doesn’t necessarily do it. Again, check your state government websites, and see that you have the proper forms.

This is also a good chance to update your voter registration with your new name.

Now move on to things you own that are worth money. Have you finished paying off your car? You’ll need to switch the title over. Do you own your home? You’ll need to change the deed. For larger things, like a home or property, you’ll doubtless need a visit to the title company, but a little paperwork and a notary (who is probably already in the building) will set things right.

What’s left? Is your old name on your utility payments account with the city? Call them up. Is your old name on file with your landlord? Call him or her up. Most of these final steps require little more than a phone call and some patience. The tedium isn’t the little step itself, but that there’s so many of them.


Save Some of the Simple Stuff for Last

Long, patient journeys are more easily navigated with rewards, and one of the best ways to get through this journey is by saving something easy, but meaningful, for last.

If you have the ability to make yourself wait, we highly recommend saving your social media accounts for last. They take just a few seconds, require no paperwork, and are the least consequential changes. They’re also the most visible symbols of your new union, and the most likely to spur a torrent of online congratulations. It’s a wonderful way to signal the end of all your work, and the anticipation of it can help you along.

If you’re like most of us, though, you simply won’t be able to wait. In that case, don’t – checking your social media accounts with your new name can just as well help you through the more tedious phases of this process, rather than being a reward for the end of it.

What’s left? A few fun things, a few dull things, and a few important things. Frequent flyer miles or clubs with reward points should be tackled here. Is your old name on file at your doctor’s office, or your children’s pediatrician? Does your child’s school have your old name or new name on file? These last things aren’t likely to cause serious problems if you procrastinate, but that certainly doesn’t mean you should.

Once you’re finished with your list, you’ll have talked to state and local governments, bankers, landlords, title companies, loan officers, doctors, lawyers, and a lot of front desks. It’s a lot of paperwork and a lot of patience, but you’ll be known to the world as a new person.

And that, in the end, is a big part of marriage anyway.

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