How to Return to a Maiden Name After the Death of a Spouse

By Lee Hall, J.D.

How to Return to a Maiden Name After the Death of a Spouse

By Lee Hall, J.D.

Unlike a divorce decree that declares a divorced person's reversion to a former name, a death certificate makes no provision for a surviving spouse's name change. If you want to take your previous name after your spouse dies, you can follow the steps taken by those who change their names for various other reasons.

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  1. To familiarize yourself with the process of reclaiming your previous name, review general information on legal name changes.
  2. Find or obtain a certified copy of your birth certificate. The court needs this to proceed.
  3. Download or pick up a petition form from the court, and complete it with all required personal information. Some jurisdictions require information on any past criminal convictions. All of them ask for your current, complete name and the name you intend to acquire. They also need to know that you do not plan to change your name to avoid debts or other legal woes.
  4. Obtain from the court a publication order or an order to show cause. This sets your hearing date and begins the public notice period, announcing that anyone objecting to your name change can come to your hearing.
  5. Follow the instructions your court sets forth for advertising your name change in local publications. Not all jurisdictions require publication in every case; check with the clerk of the court.
  6. Submit your petition, cover sheet, and any other required pages, including the final decree to be signed by the judge who orders your name change. Pay any filing fees due. Retain copies of every form you complete and every page you submit to the court, and keep receipts for fees and publication costs.
  7. Wait for the passage of the required length of time between your publication notice and your hearing date.
  8. Attend your hearing, unless the court waives an in-person hearing requirement.
  9. Obtain certified copies of the court's order for your files. The court should also provide you with a checklist of entities that need certified copies of your name change order. These typically include your bank, credit union, or other financial institutions, the Social Security Administration, your state's department of motor vehicles, and others.

Common Law Name Changes

Some states allow common law name changes through ordinary use of the new name. It is still best to have a court order, as some agencies require official proof. A court-ordered name change begins with an online search at your county court website. Depending on the state, name change actions may be filed in the superior court, the orphan's court, or probate court.

Receiving the Order for Your Name Change

You can use the above list of steps as a checklist to get through this process. It takes some time, but at the end is the satisfaction of receiving the court's official order for your name change. This is a simple process—and one that your county frequently handles. The clerk of the court can answer your questions and guide you through the process if you are unable to find or understand everything you need online.

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.