How to Legally Change a Name Without Cost

By Edward A. Haman, J.D.

How to Legally Change a Name Without Cost

By Edward A. Haman, J.D.

If you would like to legally change your name but are afraid you can't afford the cost, it might be possible to get the fees reduced, or even eliminated.

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This article concerns name changes that are not connected with other legal procedures. If you are getting married, no special procedures are required to take your spouse's last name. If you are getting divorced, most states allow you to resume a former name as part of the divorce process. In cases of adoption, the child's name change is part of that process.

Free Legal Help

If you meet certain financial requirements, you may be able to obtain assistance from a legal aid organization in your area. Not all such organizations handle name changes, but it's worth a phone call to inquire. Also, if there is a law school in your area, there is a small chance it may have some type of legal-assistance clinic run by law students.

Basic Name-Change Procedures and Fees

Most states follow the same general procedures:

  1. File a petition for change of name with the appropriate court.
  2. Obtain a criminal background check.
  3. Publish a legal notice of the proposed name change.
  4. Attend a court hearing and obtain an order for change of name signed by the judge.

The fees most often involved in a name change are those for filing, criminal background check, notarization, and publication.

Determining Which Court

To determine which court handles name changes, the best place to start is with the website for either your local court clerk's office or your state's court system. You can also call your local court clerk's office and ask which court handles name changes.

Depending upon the state, name changes are usually handled by the Superior, District, Circuit, or Probate court. In a few states, it is the County or Family court, or the Court of Common Pleas. It is the Court of Justice in Kentucky, Chancery Court in Mississippi, and Civil Court in New York City. In Hawaii, name changes are filed with the Office of the Lieutenant Governor.

Court-System Help

Many states offer varying degrees of assistance to those seeking to use the court system without a lawyer. Most often this consists of having standardized forms and instructions available. Check the website for the court where you live or for your state's court system, your local court clerk's office, the law library in your local courthouse, or even your public library.

Preparing and Filing Forms

The number, type, and title of the forms vary from state to state. Generally, the types of forms you are most likely to encounter include:

  • Request for Waiver of Fees. This form asks the judge to waive some or all of the costs of the name-change procedure. You need to provide information about your financial situation, including your income. Depending on the practice in your court, this form may need to be filed before you can file your petition for name change, or it may be accepted by the clerk along with the petition.
  • Order for Waiver of Fees. If the judge approves the waiver of the filing fee, he or she signs this form and the court clerk accepts your petition without cost.
  • Petition for Change of Name. This is the basic document that asks the court to change your name. The type of information required varies widely from state to state. It may be a single form or there may be other forms that need to be filed with the petition. You may need to submit documents to prove your identity, such as a certified copy of your birth certificate.
  • Publication Notice. This form is sent to a local newspaper to publish as the announcement of your name change. It may also be called by other names, such as Notice of Hearing or Order to Show Cause. The Order for Waiver of Fees may not apply to the cost of publication. Rather than using a major newspaper, it is cheaper to use a local newspaper that specializes in legal notices.
  • Order for Change of Name. This is the document the judge signs to officially approve your name change.

Some of the forms may need to be notarized, which can usually be done by the court clerk.

Background Check

Many states require a criminal background check before a name change is granted. This is usually done through a local or state law enforcement agency, and there is a fee. The fee waiver mentioned above may or may not cover this fee.

The Court Hearing

After your papers are filed, the background check is done, and the newspaper notice has run as required, you must appear before the judge on an appointed date scheduled through the court clerk or the judge's administrative assistant.

After the Hearing

Once the judge signs the order for name change, you should obtain several certified copies from the court clerk. These will be needed to get your name changed on official documents, such as your driver's license, Social Security card, and other important paperwork.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.