When I was young I did not appreciate my father’s insistence on a simple and short name not easily changed into a nickname. In all “legal” documents I have always used my simple first name “Dana.” But now I realize with the Federal Patriot Act and the necessity of proving one’s identity for so many activities and in protecting one’s assets, what a gift my father gave me by insisting on a simple first name for me when I was born.
I have had a few clients run into problems, for instance, in obtaining assets or government benefits to which they are entitled, because most of their current documentation (such as bank accounts or electric bills) are in their “nickname,” not the legal name on their birth certificate. If your name is really “Melissa Ann Jones” (NOT one of my clients) don’t use “Missy Jones” or “Ann Jones” (even if that is what you prefer to be called) on your legal documents or your financial and other accounts.
Here are some suggestions to make it easier for you and for your family:
1. If you don’t have a certified copy of your birth certificate, get one to keep with your important papers. For women who marry and take their husband’s last name it also gets a bit more complicated.
2. Keep the paperwork you send to Social Security and other entities where you have to change your name, so that you have a personal record of those changes for yourself and your family.
3. Use your legal name on your Will or Trust, as well as your driver’s license, and on at least one bill.
4. If you tend to use your middle name on financial accounts, at least make sure the initial of your first name is included with the middle name on the account (and gentlemen, please include the Jr. if you have the same name as your father).
5. Finally, parents, if you have never shared your real full name with your children, please tell them your full names before it’s too late. Also tell them where you keep your social security card and other important papers. It takes quite a bit of time to correct a death certificate if certain information is incorrect, and uncertainty about legal names could delay administration of your estate or trust after you are gone.