(The following article can be found in Volume II of the Wedding Belles magazine. The magazine is available for purchase at Dollar General stores and the Times Virginian newspaper office at 589 Court Street, Appomattox)

So you plan on getting married? Congratulations! Marriage can be a lovely but very stressful time. One of the most daunting tasks is changing your last name. This guide can help you through the process.

The first step to changing your name is making sure you include your married name on your marriage license. You could always keep your name the same, but if you decide to change it in the future, the process will become much more involved since you would need to file a petition to change your name through the court system.

When deciding on your name, make sure it’s what you want. A marriage certificate is a legally binding document, after all. When you take your spouse’s last name, you can keep your maiden name as your middle name or not, or hyphenate your last name with your significant other.

To receive a marriage license, you will need to visit a local government clerk’s office. In Virginia and North Carolina, you can get your marriage license in any county in your state (or city in Virginia) for a fee, and the license is valid for 60 days. If you live outside of these states, you may be required to take a blood test and/or get your marriage license in a specific county. Don’t forget to bring proof of ID.

Once you are joined in matrimony, you will receive a marriage certificate that is needed to change your name on legal documents. These documents includes your social security card, driver’s license, vehicle title/registration, passport, and voter registration. To make the process easier, there are private companies online that can auto-fill these name-change forms for a fee. If doing it on your own, keep the following in mind.

Social Security

You must change your name on your Social Security card. To do this, you have to either mail in your application or visit a local Social Security Administration office. You cannot apply online, but you can print the application from the Social Security website at www.ssa.gov if you don’t want to go in person. Your number will stay the same, but your name will be different, and there is no charge to do this.

Driver’s License/Driver’s ID

The next step most people take is changing their name on their driver’s license or ID card. To do this, you must visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in person. Bring your marriage certificate, new social security card, current license/ID card and money to obtain a new license/ID card with your new name. If in North Carolina, make sure to get this done within 60 days of changing your name and at least 24-36 hours after changing your name with the Social Security office.

Vehicle Title/Vehicle Registration

If you own a vehicle, you’ll also have to change your name on your vehicle title/registration. Obviously, you’ll need to update your driver’s license first. Changing your vehicle title/registration involves another form and yet another fee. In addition to the aforementioned documents, you’ll need to bring your vehicle title. If you are still making payments on your vehicle and the title is held by a lien holder, let DMV know who holds the title so the lien holder can be contacted.

Bank Accounts/Credit Cards

Depending on how many bank accounts and credit cards you have, as well as whether you share joint accounts, changing your name on bank accounts and credit cards can be tedious. Each bank, credit union, or credit card company may do things different, so you will need to contact each company to find out what you must do. Proof such as a marriage certificate and driver’s license/ID will likely be requested. You may have to pay fees as well and be issued new checks, debit cards, and/or credit cards.

Passport

If you travel out of the country, don’t forget about your passport. If your passport is less than one year old, there is no fee, and you will need to mail in Form DS-5504, which can be obtained online at travel.state.gov. If your passport is older, you can mail in form DS-82 and pay a fee to obtain a new one. Depending on your circumstance, you may have to go in person to a U.S. embassy or consulate and fill out form DS-11. 

Voter Registration

If you are registered to vote, you’ll also have to fill out a form to change your name. You should do this at least a month before a primary or election, as Virginia has a 22-day deadline and North Carolina requires 25 days in advance. If you are a North Carolina resident, you will need to mail a signed voter registration application with the name change to your county board of elections office. If you live in Virginia, you can make the change online at www.elections.virginia.gov, complete the name change notification at your local DMV, send in a letter to your General Registrar, or mail, fax, or deliver in person the application.

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There’s much more to consider. Think about what other places require your name. If you have a job, you’ll need to notify your employer, if you pay rent or mortgage on a home, you’ll need to let your landlord or mortgage company know. Then there’s insurance companies that provide health, home, auto, and life insurances. Others include the post office, utility companies, medical professionals, school or alumni associations, investment accounts (such as individual retirement account or brokerage account), professional agencies that you are affiliated or licensed with, attorneys, airline loyalty programs, library card, subscriptions to magazines and newspapers, store discount cards, memberships, and online accounts and profiles.

The whole name-changing process may seem overwhelming. Make a list of all the places where you need to change your name. Order your list from most important to least important and take on each task one at a time or what you are comfortable doing. If you want the process to go a bit easier, contact a service that fills out the most important forms for you.

Most important: Enjoy your wedding first.