You just got married, you have this beautiful wedding ring and you signed the marriage license, wouldn’t it be nice if that’s all it took to start signing that new last name of yours? Unfortunately, that is not how the system works. If you are going to officially take your new spouse’s last name as your own it will take several steps, many forms and a lot of patience. For this exact reason, many brides decide to either not change their name or wait months before getting around to it. It all may seem daunting, but today I am going to walk you through the process step by step (including links to the forms) to help make it as painless as it can possibly be… but it’s still a little painful.
Now, some brides may decide before the wedding that they don’t want to change their last name at all for a variety of reasons… they have started a business with this last name in the title, they are a teacher or they simply really like their maiden name. All those reasons are valid, and you shouldn’t feel pressured to change it if you don’t want to. There are also those who would prefer to hyphenate their last names. That is totally reasonable as well, however, you will still have to go through this process to have it legally changed to include both names.
The reason I wanted to do this blog post for you is because there is somewhat of an order to go in with the various departments and government entities to change your name. You need to tackle some entities first and there can be a variance regarding what documents different places need to process your paperwork. There are services out there where you can pay a fee and get all the necessary paperwork up front without having to do the research, but you still have to fill it all out and send it in yourself, therefore, I’m here to help tell you what you are looking for, or what to type in the Google search bar, which should enable you to do it all yourself at no extra charge.
Let’s start with step one: your marriage license. After your marriage license is signed by all the required parties (in some states that doesn’t even include the bride and the groom, just the officiant and witnesses), your officiant should send it to the appropriate office for your state with their information stating that they were able to legally marry you. (Side note: if you have your cousin Bob be your officiant because he got an on-line certificate that is awesome, however, make sure the license is properly signed and witnessed and then sent to the right place.) After this paperwork is mailed off and processed, you will need to get certified copies of it. Some states will automatically mail you a single certified copy, but some states will require that you call the clerk’s office. Either way, I definitely recommend ordering and paying the small fee for 2 or 3 certified copies of your license because every department will need to at least take a look at it and some will take it for their records.
Next, after you have the copies you need (it shouldn’t take too long to get them in the mail because they are likely coming from a local office, unless you had a destination wedding), you will want to start with the federal Social Security office. You can do this in person or by mail and, lucky for you, this is a FREE service, so enjoy this while you can because the next couple of steps will come with additional fees. Whether you decide to do this in person or by mail, you will need to wait for the new social security card to be mailed to you before you can move on. If you go to your local office in person your paperwork will at least be processed immediately versus you mailing it in, taking an extra few days for them to receive the paperwork and process it. If you decide to brave going in person, just like the DMV, there will be a wait, but unlike the DMV they do not go in order of which you arrived. You still want to get there are soon as you can so you don’t get pushed too far back, but once you are inside the building you will fill out an electric form indicating why you are there and what you need to accomplish. Compared to other services, changing your name is one of the easier things to process, so don’t be surprised if you don’t wait as long as someone who got there before you. There are a series of things you will be asked to provide… name change application, certified marriage license, your driver’s license (with your maiden name) and your passport (or your birth certificate, if you do not have a passport). The whole process is fairly quick, but they need all these documents to confirm identity and citizenship. I don’t know if they do this with everyone, but I did get asked two or three times to verify the spelling of my new last name. It’s like getting a tattoo, the situation is a lot easier if it’s right the first time.
Next comes the DMV, and unfortunately there will likely be a minimal replacement license fee (in Idaho, it is currently $15). Your name MUST be changed in the social security system before you will be able to get a new ID card. However, this does not necessarily mean you need to physically have the card if it is delayed in the mail for one reason or another as the DMV can verify the change with their computer system. Typically, if you wait 10 days following the social security office confirmation that your name change request has been submitted, you should be good to go whether you have the physical card or not. Along with the new social security card, you will need your current license/ID card and a certified copy of your marriage license. If you are going through this process before October 2021, remember to get the STAR card so you don’t have to go through it all again following that date as you will need it to travel in the future. Also, you will have to take a new picture, so make sure you are prepared for that!
Okay, now this next step is a big one and can seem like a hassle, but if you’ve done the first two steps your life will be much easier if you just bite the bullet and spend the time to get your banking information changed over. If you are making the decision with your new spouse to join accounts, you will both need to be present during this process. Again, in order to change accounts, you will need a certified copy of your marriage license and both you and your spouse will need your driver’s license/ID cards. This process is likely to come with some fees as new debit/credit cards & checks are printed; the amounts will depend on your bank. New debit and credit cards come with new card numbers, so make sure as soon as you receive those you change over any bills that are on auto pay! I recommend going through your entire list of bills (even if they aren’t on auto pay) because, believe me, it is easy to miss just one and it will likely come back to bite you in the butt.
After all these steps are done, next comes your passport. If you already have a passport, this renewal and name change process can be completely done by mail, but is going to be the most expensive. If you are not planning to leave the country anytime soon this may not be a step that is high on your list, but keep in mind it does usually take longer to process the paperwork and return to you than a social security card or debit card (usually 6-8 weeks). To do this you will need to fill out and mail: the appropriate application, your most recent passport (it will be hole punched and returned to you with your new one), a colored passport photo (most local Walmarts, Walgreens or Fedex Stores will do this for a very reasonable cost), a certified copy of your marriage license and a check with the processing fee (currently that is $110). If this is will be your first passport (or if your previous passport was issued when you were under the age of 16), you will need to apply in person at your local recorder's office. You will need to fill out and bring with you the appropriate application (this is different than the mail in application), a colored passport photo, your birth certificate, a certified copy of your marriage license, your valid driver's license (with the name change) and a check with the processing fee (currently this is also $110). Keep in mind, if you travel by land or sea between the U.S., Canada, Mexico and/or the Caribbean, the STAR card on your driver’s license is all you need, but is not valid for any air travel or to any other international locations, so it is best to make sure you are prepared with an up to date passport.
Now, I know this already sounds like so much information, but after you have changed your name with these four major entities, most everything else is as simple as signing new paperwork or even just informing the proper person. Other places to remember to change your name include: employer/payroll, landlord/mortgage company, insurance companies, any household utilities that are in your name, anything relating to your kids if you have children from a previous marriage, i.e.: the paperwork at their school, doctor’s offices, voter registration, vet and gym membership. There are things that will seem to just come up that you didn’t even think of, so my suggestion would be to carry a copy of your certified marriage license in your purse at least for the first year of your name change. It may sound silly, but there is a chance you will have to “prove” your identity depending on the situation. Such as, if you have your driver’s license changed over but not your bank cards yet, during certain checkout processes there may be some questions.
On the flip side, there are a few things I wouldn’t stress about getting changed over right away until you need to or would like to. Some of these include: an email address, buying clubs like Costco, magazine/online subscriptions, rewards cards that have a name listed, things like library cards if you are old school, other online things like Amazon Prime, etc.
Okay, you made it! Welcome to your new last name! Remember this process is a marathon and not a sprint. If you are anything like me, I would not consider “patience” one of my great strengths, but consider this some patience practice. Also, give yourself some time to get used to signing a new name. Don’t beat yourself up if your signature looks a little childish at first or if you even sign your maiden name every once in a while, it is a big life change so it will take some getting used to. I will say, it has been almost two years since I changed my last name and if I am not paying attention at the coffee stand there have been a few times that I automatically sign my maiden name, then I catch myself and feel super weird. Give yourself some slack and enjoy this new chapter in your life! Congratulations!
If you found this article helpful and want to learn about how I can make your wedding day as stress-free as possible, head on over to the services page for packages and pricing information. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me or leave a comment below!