Social Security Name Change in a Divorce

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Following up the legal name change after a divorce can be a joy or a pain. Whether you're excited to be moving on or saddened by the change, the list of people and places to update can feel intimidating and hard to prioritize. Fortunately for most people, the first step is easily identified and simple to complete: Notify the Social Security Administration of the change and get a new Social Security card.

Function of the Social Security Number

The Social Security number and card are primary identification for most people living in the United States. This number tracks your income, the taxes you have paid and the benefits you and your heirs receive should you become disabled, retire or die. In addition, the Social Security card is used by government agencies and employers as proof of identity for driver's and other licenses, welfare benefits and any number of other services. People keep the same number throughout their lives, regardless of name or marital status. It is important to ensure that name and marital status is kept current to avoid confusion and processing delays.

Significance of a Name Change

In a divorce, the name change of either spouse is declared by the judge as the divorce decree is issued. While the new name becomes legal as of the date of the decree, this change is not automatically sent to the Social Security Administration or any other legal entity. Each individual is responsible to report the change and update any associated records.

Effects of Delaying the Name Change

Failure to properly notify the Social Security Administration of your name change can cause a number of problems, particularly with taxes. You must notify the SSA and your employer of the change so that your tax documents (W-2s or 1099s) match your new name. This will prevent a delay in processing your tax return and miscalculation of your Social Security benefits. You should also notify any entity that may issue you a 1099 or other earnings statement that will be part of the income on your taxes. This includes bank and investment accounts and retirement savings plans.

Procedure

Changing your name with the SSA is a simple process. Start by filling out SSA Form SS-5: Application for a New Social Security Card (see Resources).

You will need proof of your name change -- the divorce decree; proof of your identity -- a driver's license, state-issued identification card or U.S. passport; and proof of U.S. Citizenship -- a birth certificate or U.S. passport. If you are not a citizen, provide current proof of your immigration status.

Take the form and supporting documents to any Social Security office for processing (see Resources). You may also mail the documents -- they will be returned once the processing is complete. Processing may take a few days to a few weeks, and there is no charge for this service.

Warning

All supporting documents must be the original or a certified copy generated at the issuing organization. The SSA does not accept photocopies or notarized copies.

References

About the Author

Nola Moore is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles, Calif. She has more than 20 years of experience working in and writing about finance and small business. She has a Bachelor of Science in retail merchandising. Her clients include The Motley Fool, Proctor and Gamble and NYSE Euronext.