Losing a spouse is a challenging experience, and it often brings about many changes in one’s life. One such change many women make is returning to their maiden name.
When a marriage ends in a divorce, a woman can easily return to her maiden name by requesting it as part of the divorce process.
However, when a marriage ends due to a spouse’s death, no similar shortcut is available for a woman to return to her maiden name.
Tim’s Legal Tip: A woman wishing to revert to her maiden name after her spouse’s death must follow a legal process to change her name. That process involves filing a name change petition, publishing a name change notice in the local newspaper, and attending a short hearing before a judge.
In this article, we will guide you through the steps to return to your maiden name after losing your spouse, providing the information you need to navigate this process smoothly.
The Legal Steps To Change Your Name After The Death of a Spouse
To change your name after the death of a spouse, you will need to petition the court for a name change.
While it involves some paperwork and a small fee, it’s typically a straightforward process.
The process can vary based on your state, but generally, it involves the following steps:
1. Petition for Name Change
The first step is to complete a petition for name change form, which can usually be found on your local county or state court’s website.
This petition will ask for information such as your current name, the name you wish to use, and your reasons for wanting to change your name.
2. Filing the Petition
Once the petition is completed, it must be filed with the court. A filing fee may be involved, which can also vary based on the jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions may waive the fee if it presents a financial hardship.
3. Publishing Notice of Name Change
Depending on the laws in your state, you will likely be required to publish a notice of your intended name change in a local newspaper. This allows the public to object to the name change if they have a valid reason.
4. Attending a Short Court Hearing
A court hearing will be scheduled. During the hearing, the judge will ask you questions about your reasons for the name change. If there are no objections and the judge agrees, the court will issue an order to change your name.
Steps for Undertaking a Legal Name Change on Your Official Documents
Once the court order is received, you must change your name on all official documents. This includes your driver’s license, passport, social security card, and other identification forms.
Here are the steps to take to make your name change official:
Step 1 – Update your name with the Social Security Administration (SSA)
To begin, you must first update your name with the SSA. This requires completing Form SS-5 and submitting it by mail or in person at your local SSA office.
The necessary documents include the following:
- Proof of Name Change: A certified copy or the original copy of your divorce decree or court order documenting the change.
- Proof of Identity: This should be a valid photo ID issued by a government agency, such as a driver’s license, state-issued ID card, passport, or U.S. Military ID.
- Proof of Citizenship: A certified copy of your birth certificate or passport.
- Social Security card: Bring your original Social Security card. (Note, your Social Security number will not change).
For non-U.S. citizens, visit this link to help determine the necessary documents you’ll need.
You can expect to receive a Social Security card featuring your new name within approximately two weeks of application.
The IRS will also be notified automatically when your name change is registered with the SSA.
Although sending your application via mail might be convenient, we suggest personally visiting the SSA office. This eliminates any risk of losing crucial personal documents in the mail.
Step 2 – Obtain Your New Driver’s License or State Identification Card
It’s essential to wait at least 48 hours after your SSA office visit before going to the DMV to get a new driver’s license or state ID card.
If you submitted Form SS-5 via mail, hold off until you receive your new Social Security card.
Before you visit the DMV, check out your state DMV’s website to see if appointments are available. This could help you bypass the long wait in line.
We also recommend opting for a REAL ID as it will become necessary for domestic, commercial flights starting May 7, 2025.
The following documents are typically required to get a new driver’s license:
Proof of State Residency
You must provide two (2) documents showing your residency, such as a utility bill, bank statement, credit card statement, or mortgage/lease statement. Ensure these documents contain your full name and address.
Proof of Social Security Number
This can be done by presenting your newly issued Social Security card. If you have yet to receive your new Social Security card, you may bring your old Social Security card along with the receipt that SSA issued to you when your name was changed.
Proof of Identity
Present your driver’s license or State Issued Identification card for identity proof.
Proof of Citizenship
To prove your citizenship, bring a valid passport or birth certificate. If you aren’t a U.S. citizen, you must provide your foreign passport with a valid U.S. Visa and approved I-94 form or a Certificate of Naturalization.
Proof of Name Change
Lastly, you must bring an original or certified copy of your divorce decree or court order for proof of name change.
Step 3 – Update Your Passport
Next, you must update your passport to reflect your new name.
Note: If you have any travel reservations (flights, hotels, car rentals, vacations, etc.) under your old name, delay the update until you return from your trip. Discrepancies between your reservation name and photo ID can prevent you from boarding your plane or checking into your hotel.
You can submit all the required items by mail since updating your passport is technically a correction.
- If you possess a valid passport issued more than 12 months ago, you must use Form DS-82.
- If your valid passport was issued less than 12 months ago, you should use Form DS-5504.
- If your passport expired more than five (5) years ago or you’re applying for your first passport, you must fill out Form DS-11.
Your updated passport should arrive in 6-8 weeks. For quicker processing, an additional $60 expedition fee can reduce this to 2-3 weeks.
Your old passport, with a hole punched through it, and your submitted documentation will be returned to you.
Step 4 – Update your TSA PreCheck and Global Entry Memberships
With an updated passport, ensure your Global Entry and TSA PreCheck memberships match your new passport details.
Remember to update Global Entry first if you have both Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. The databases are shared, so your name change will automatically pass through to TSA PreCheck.
For Global Entry, you should call your nearest Global Entry Enrollment Center.
Ask if you can update your name over the phone. If not, a visit in person will be necessary. You must bring your Global Entry card, new passport, and divorce decree or court order.
For TSA PreCheck, call the TSA Help Center at 855-347-8371 to request a name change. You must email or fax your legal name change document (divorce decree or court order), passport, Known Traveler Number, and a unique code provided by the TSA agent over the phone.
Due to high demand, TSA typically takes 30-90 days to process name changes.
Step 5 – Update your voter registration information
Step 6 – Update your name with the United States Postal Service (USPS)
As divorces often result in an address change, keeping your name updated with the USPS is vital. You can update your address for free by visiting moversguide.usps.com.
Step 7 – Update your name with your employer
Once you have an updated photo ID (driver’s license or passport), inform your HR department of your legal name change. This ensures that all your payroll information and employer-sponsored benefits (401k, health/dental/vision/disability/life insurance, etc.) reflect your new name.
Step 8 – Update all your financial accounts
Next, update your financial accounts. You must visit your bank with your updated photo ID and divorce decree or court order.
Other accounts, such as credit cards, mortgages, investments, and life insurance policies, may be updated online, over the phone, or by mailing in supporting documentation.
Step 9 – Finish up with your remaining accounts
Next, consider accounts that you automatically pay each month. This includes utilities, monthly subscriptions, cell phones, TV/internet providers, loyalty programs, and email accounts. These, too, will need to be updated with your new name.
Check your checking account and credit card statements for recurring expenses when updating. These might be for:
- Monthly subscriptions (Netflix, Apple +, Spotify, Hulu, HBO, YouTube, etc.)
- Utilities (electric, gas, water, garbage, etc.)
- Cell phone
- Loyalty programs (airlines, hotels, retail stores, etc.)
- Social Media – Personal & Business (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest, Reddit, YouTube, TikTok, Google My Business, Yelp, etc.
- Email accounts
Not only should you update all of these accounts, but you should also change ALL of your passwords.
Step 10 – Lastly, don’t forget your legal documents
In the final step, remember to update any other legal documents or records that still carry your old name. These might include:
- Will and Testament
- Living will
- Power of attorney
- Property deeds
- Legal contracts
- Medical records
While it might seem like an extensive process, updating your name across all these areas will ensure that all aspects of your personal and financial life are consistent with your new legal name, helping to avoid confusion or issues down the line.
It is also the final step in ensuring your new identity is reflected in all areas of your life.
Valid Reasons For a Woman to Change Her Name After The Death of a Spouse
There are several reasons why a woman might choose to change her last name after the death of her spouse.
1. Personal Identity
Some women have a strong attachment to their maiden name and view it as a central part of their identity. Returning to their maiden name allows them to reclaim their sense of self and honor their personal history.
2. Consistency With Her Children’s Name
If a woman has children by a different last name and her marriage did not last long. It is not uncommon for a woman to change her last name after the death of her spouse.
Sharing the same last name as their children promotes a sense of family unity and identity.
3. Emotional Closure
Changing one’s last name after the death of a spouse can provide emotional closure and mark a new chapter in life. It symbolizes the transition from being part of a couple to embracing a new phase of individuality and independence.
4. Professional Considerations
If a woman has established a career under her maiden name, changing her last name back to her maiden name can help maintain consistency in her professional life.
It ensures that her professional reputation, published works, licenses, and certifications are aligned with her chosen name.
5. Family Connection
Changing the last name after the death of a spouse can help maintain a connection to the woman’s family of origin. It can strengthen ties with siblings, parents, or extended family members who share the same last name, providing a sense of belonging and heritage.
Q. Can I change my name immediately after the death of my spouse?
The timing of a name change after the death of a spouse varies depending on personal circumstances and legal requirements. Before initiating the name change process, you should wait until you have obtained the necessary documentation, such as the death certificate.
Q. Do I need a lawyer to change my name?
In most cases, you do not need a lawyer to change your name after the death of a spouse. However, consulting with a lawyer can clarify and ensure that you follow the legal procedures correctly, especially if complex legal considerations are involved.
Q. Can I keep my married name if I prefer?
Yes, the decision to return to a maiden name is entirely personal. If you prefer to keep your married name, you can do so. Consider what feels most comfortable and authentic as you navigate this decision.
Q. How long does the process take to change a name?
The timeframe for changing your name after the death of a spouse can vary depending on various factors, including local regulations and the efficiency of the institutions involved. Typically, the process can take three (3) to six (6) months.
Q. Can I change my name to an entirely new name?
Yes. While this article focuses on returning to a maiden name, you can choose a new name if you desire.
The process and legal requirements for changing to a completely new name are the same as returning to a maiden name.