Estate Planning: Is Your Name Legal?

Is Your Name Legal?*

Recently one of my clients got a new Iowa driver’s license.  Instead of renewing her license in the name of Susan Ann Gannon, the Iowa Department of Transportation issued her license in her “full legal name” – Susan Ann Miller.  She was really surprised because she had been using the name Susan Ann Gannon before, during and after her marriage to James Miller, and she had been divorced from him for more than eight years. The name Susan Ann Gannon was not only on her previous driver’s license, it was also on her social security card, all credit cards, her passport, her Blue Cross Blue Shield card and any other type of identification she had.  Apparently, when she got married, her legal name had changed to Miller and she had not requested that her name be returned to Gannon as a part of her divorce.

Another client had a similar problem.  She had been hyphenating her maiden name and her married name and using the hyphenated name as her last name.  Again, her new driver’s license was issued in her legal name which is only her married name.

A problem with a person’s legal name doesn’t just come up in issuing drivers licenses.  It comes up when preparing legal documents.

I recently prepared documents for the sale of real estate held in a trust.  The trustee’s name was shown as Sandra Sue Smith.  Sandra informed me, in no uncertain terms, that her name is Sandra Jones Smith – she used her maiden name as her middle name.  In fact, she had gone to court to get her name legally changed to Sandra Jones Smith.  In order to clean up the documents for the sale of real estate, we first transferred the property from Sandra Sue Smith to Sandra Jones Smith and then changed all of the closing documents to show the trustee’s name as Sandra Jones Smith.  What a mess!

This attention to legal names is a result of 9/11 and particularly of The REAL ID Act of 2005, a federal law pertaining to securityauthentication, and issuance procedures standards for state driver’s licenses and identification cards, as well as various immigration issues pertaining to terrorism.

This Act requires that a person’s legal name be used on driver’s licenses.  Then this Act calls for the linking of databases so that a person’s legal name can be identified.

What should you do, if your name is not legal?  First, you should decide which name you want to use – your legal name or some other name?  If you want to use a name other than your legal name, you can legally get your name changed.  If you want to use your legal name, you should start using it.  In either case, all your documents should be in the same name!

*All names used in this article have been made up.

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