Life happens and things change. Some life changes, such as marriage and divorce, may cause you to change your name. Unless you’re prepared, changing your name with banks and other financial firms can be a pain.

A friend recently asked me to help guide her through the steps of consolidating accounts. She divorced a couple years ago and went back to using her maiden name. She has accounts with multiple companies. Unfortunately, some accounts had her married name on them and others had been reverted to her maiden name. Before she could begin the process of consolidating accounts, she had to get all of them registered in the same name.

Common reasons for changing your legal name:

  • Marriage
  • Divorce

Although a name change seems like a pretty basic action, special care must be taken by financial companies in order to protect the assets of their customers. For this reason, if you have experienced a life change that requires you to change your name, you can expect to be required to complete a number of formal steps to update your records.

Typical steps to change your name with financial companies:

  1. Notify financial company(ies) of desire to change your name
  2. Complete company’s name change request form
  3. Return completed form with proof of name change

Steps 1 and 2 above are pretty straightforward; however, not all companies will have a name change form. If not, they’ll likely provide you with verbiage to include in a letter of instruction. Step 3 is the most critical, and potentially the one that will create the greatest confusion for you.

What is a valid proof of name change?

Two of the most common life events that would result in you needing to change your name are marriage and divorce. Depending on your situation, you will need to provide a certified copy of either a marriage certificate or divorce decree.

Certified is the key word, as my friend found out after sending a photocopy of her divorce decree. It was rejected and returned with specific instructions that an original or certified copy was required.

What constitutes a certified copy?

Here’s where it can get a little tricky. The most straightforward form of a certified copy is an original print provided by the state where your resided when the event occurred. It will usually have a raised seal. Since originals are required, it is not acceptable to fax or email scanned copies.

As an alternative to the original, it is likely that most financial companies will accept a certified copy that is notarized with an attestation clause, indicating that the notary is signing a bona fide copy of the original.

Timing of a name change

Once the financial company has received the items they require to officially change the name on your account(s), you can expect it to take up to a week or two for the change to be applied. Be sure to build in plenty of time for processing, especially if you anticipate running up against any deadlines such as retirement account rollover windows or tax year-end.

The takeaway

Things would be so much easier if we could just call up our bank or investment company and tell them our new name; like we can with an address change. The problem is that would also make it easy for bad guys to wreak havoc. By knowing what to expect and building in time to play by your financial institutions’ rules, changing your legal name in their systems can be much easier.