Humans beings are quite complicated characters. Our actions and reactions to the same events under different circumstances are mind-boggling. One of the things humans react very differently to is change.
Change is a part of life; from your body aging to making and losing friends and family members, career, education, etc. Some changes happen due to changing situations and environments around us while others are self-triggered. One of them is our name.
Firstly, most of us are pretty content with our birth names. Those who are not, change their name when they finally step into adulthood. If you remember, Lisa Kudrow’s character in the show Friends, Phoebe Buffay legally changes her name to Princess Consuela Bananahammock. Her motivator is simply the fact that she wanted to do it.
Just like Phoebe, adults in the United States can do that at any time!
Besides that, other instances of the name change are marriages. A few decades ago, the norm was women taking on their new husband’s last name. However, there is a change in trends. While many people still do relinquish their maiden names to take their partners’, hyphening the last names is becoming popular.
Change in name, regardless of the reason behind the change, it affects other areas of your life. For instance, you have to change the name in your IDs, driver’s license, passports, and insurance policies, etc.
What people wonder about is whether this name change also requires a change in their estate plan. Considering the fact that people spend time and money in creating that plan, it’s a valid reason if you wonder how a name change would impact it.
Changing your own name
With you being the principal of your own trust or estate plan, it’s obvious that your name matters. For instance, if you create and sign a durable power of attorney document as George Nelson, it wouldn’t work if your new legal name is David Blake, it won’t work.
Your name serves as the title of a living trust. After a name change, whether it was encouraged by a life-changing moment or marriage/divorce, your trust needs a revisit.
With living trusts, the principal would need to create a new trust. This will also involve changing the titles of all the assets that have been funded into the trust. For instance, a house under your old name will not be transferrable into a new trust that you create under the new name.
Your trust will still be valid under your old name, provided that it is clear that the trust is still yours and the beneficiaries, trustees, POAs, executors, etc. are also aware that it is yours.
If you have more questions or are unsure about whether you need to update your estate plan or not, you should consult your estate planning lawyer. Being aware of the intricacies of your plan, they will be able to guide to better.
Changing other people’s names
Just like you, your beneficiaries, POAs, executors, etc. may also undergo a name change. In estate planning, not every instance of a name change requires you to update your plan.
The reason for this is that estate planning lawyers often add other cues that help with the identification of the people mentioned in your estate plan. For example, if you have an only son, the document will mention “my house on X location will be distributed to my only son, Caleb.”
Since you have only one son, there would be no confusion in identifying which person gets the house. If the indicators can be used to confidently identify the person, there is no need for updating the plan when somebody involved changes their name.
However, there are situations where a document update may be needed. One of these situations is when there are two people in the plan with the same name. Or a beneficiary might have a common name e.g. John Smith?
After you have passed, how does a third party know it’s the right person making the claim and not somebody else? In this case, estate planning lawyers will suggest that you add other details such as your relation and/or a birthday.
Updating the estate plan might be warranted if a person’s name change might cause delays and inconvenience later on. For example, let’s consider you have named your son as the durable POA. Later in life, he gets married and changes his name to a hyphenated version of his and his partners’.
If your son needs to access your medical records or sort your financial affairs, will the opposing party recognize him as your son?
Although they can sort things out by showing a copy of the marriage license or other papers proving the change. But who carries those documents at all times? This may possibly cause a delay.
In the end, not all name changes require representation in your estate plan. But considering that every person’s situation is different, an estate planning lawyer can help determine the right plan of action. And if you do have to make adjustments, it will be worth the peace of mind you’ll get as a result.