183888526-self-introduction-gettyimagesBeing in the tax season moment, my next few blogs will address some common tax issues and implications resulting from divorce. The first issue/implication I will write about are name changes. It is quite common for a spouse going through divorce to request a name change as part of the divorce process. Requesting a name change can occur for a variety of reasons, divorce being only one. This blog will not attempt to address the reasons but rather focus on actions to take when changing your name. You may be asking yourself what in the world does a name change have to do with my taxes? The answer is plenty. Here are five action steps to take:
  1. Make sure you let your attorney know you want to change your name. It is quite easy for your attorney to order this when filing the divorce decree with the court. There are additional steps you must take to ensure a smooth transition by reporting the change to the appropriate agencies.
  2. The best place is to start with the Social Security Administration. All the paperwork you need occurs when the court enters your divorce decree into the record. This includes the order for the name change. Changing your name with the Social Security Administration is necessary so your new name on IRS records will match up with your Social Security Administration record. Problems arise when processing tax returns and names do not match up. Save yourself some time and headache by reporting the name change to the Social Security Administration immediately upon order of the court.
  3. Be sure to request a new Social Security card by filing Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card. Obtain Form SS-5 from www.ssa.gov or call 1-800-772-1213 to order it. You can also accomplish this by going to your nearest Social Security office. The new card will show your same social security number and your new name.
  4. The next step is to notify your employer. If you have not already done so, complete a new W-4 for claiming withholding exemptions factoring your new tax filing status. Remember you will no longer be filing a joint tax return but rather you will be filing as a single individual or as head of household.
  5. Here is a list of other entities to report your name change
    1. Department of Motor Vehicles for your driver’s license and update voter registration
    2. Passport amendment
    3. Health care exchanges If you purchased health insurance  through one of these, especially if you are receiving any type of subsidy
    4. Financial Institutions where you do business including banks, credit unions, investment companies, insurance companies, loan companies, credit card companies etc.
    5. Other businesses such as utility companies
    6. Notify the Post Office
Requesting a name change due to divorce is easy. It will save you time and money when completed as a part of the divorce process, rather than waiting until time has lapsed after the divorce.
184951937There are few things that distinguish a new phase in life more than changing one’s name. However, one has to do a thorough job of informing the “world” of this change – such as identity providers, business relationships, friends and family. Identity providers – they make it official. An obvious place to start, they include the following:
  • Driver’s license: go to your local Department of Motor Vehicles office, fill out the appropriate form and submit it with the required documents
  • Passport: go to travel.state.gov, fill out Form DS-5504 if your passport is less than one year old or DS-82 if older than one year, and submit it with the required documents
  • Social Security Card: go to socialsecurity.gov, fill out form SS-5 and submit it with the required documents
  • Voters Registration: re-register at www.sos.state.mn.us
  • Veteran’s Affairs: call the DMDC Support Office at 800-538-9552 to update your DEERS information
Certified Divorce Decree Essential to changing your name on the identity documents listed above, is providing a “certified” divorce decree or other legal name change document.  To obtain a certified divorce decree, request one by letter or in person, from the records center at the court where your divorce was filed.  You will need:
  • Names listed in the decree
  • File number
  • Courthouse location
  • County of the court
  • Fee per Copy (typically about $16)
If your divorce was filed in Minnesota, you can find information on where to request a certified divorce decree at www.mncourts.gov. It is recommended that you order several.  Most identity providers will require a certified copy, and often don’t return them. Keep in mind that removing the staple voids your certified copy! Business Relationships Business relationships are also essential. Think about every business, medical or financial professional and financial institution with whom you interact and start making a list. Then, add on utilities, shopping websites, magazines and other publications, as well as charitable organizations.  The sooner you start, the more likely your lights will stay on, your checks will be honored and your will get the packages you ordered. IRS The IRS verifies the names and social security numbers on every tax return with the Social Security database. If you file your tax return before changing your name with the Social Security Administration, use your former name. Any mismatch will result in your return either being rejected immediately or the IRS sending a letter requesting clarification, which will delay any refund you may be due until you reply. Friends and Family Your friends and family are the easiest to inform in the internet age; just send out a mass email. Remember to change your social media profiles too.  Better yet find a way to celebrate this change! Make an event of it and all your friends and acquaintances are more likely to remember that you have moved on to a new phase in your life.
184951937If you changed your last name when you married, you may want to change your name in the divorce. If you choose to change your name after your divorce, it is often easiest to include the name change in the paperwork filed with the court. You would ask the court to include a finding in your divorce papers stating that you will be returning to your former last name. Some women choose to go back to their maiden names after a divorce. Or, you can take this opportunity to create a new last name. Whichever new name you choose, you would submit a request to the judge handling your divorce proceedings to note in the judgment that you are requesting a name change. Then the judge will issue an order that you can use to change your name on your driver’s license, social security card, bank accounts and other financial documents. If you do not have a name change as part of your divorce order, you must file a separate document, called a petition, for name change with the court. However you obtain the order from the Court, you will need to request several copies to keep with you in order to change your name on your accounts and drivers license. Be sure to change your name with the Internal Revenue Service and your state and local tax authorities so that your tax issues are not affected. You should change your name on your social security card and with the Secretary of State so you can vote. If you have a passport, that will need to be changed as well. Finally, you should be sure to update your name in your will, Powers or Attorney, healthcare directives or any trusts you have in place. Let your insurance companies and medical/dental providers know of your new name as well. Your employer should also know of your new name. Know that it takes time to plan name changes so you should give yourself lots of time to figure out the specifics of your name change.