Estate Planning: Name changes and the estate plan
Estate planning

Estate Planning: Name changes and the estate plan


Q: We named our daughter health care representative several years ago. She is now married. Do we need to update the document or can she just provide a marriage certificate? It doesn’t help that our daughter-in-law has the same first name but with different middle names.

A: This question comes up quite a bit, but usually in regards to the will or trust.

The fact is people’s names change from time. People get married and divorced or sometimes just legally change their names. This change doesn’t just relate to the creator of the estate plan but also beneficiaries and even those that we nominate in the documents as fiduciaries.

Normally when this issue comes up in a will or a trust it’s not that big of a deal. Like I said, people’s names change. It’s fairly common to include additional identifiers in the documents. For example, the will may say the house to my daughter Jane Smith. Even if Jane gets married and changes her name, we can confidently identify her. As long as we can confidentially identify the individual, it’s usually OK to leave the document the way it is.

Sometimes we will take it a step further and actually identify the difference and explain it away. I’m sure a lot of you have come across the acronym AKA. AKA stands for Also Known As. We use AKA in documents when a person’s name is different for some reason. For example, the deed may name the owner as Mary Smith when her name is actually Mary L. Smith. In that case we simply state Mary Smith A/K/A Mary L. Smith. We also use it when we need to correct an error. For example, when the deed says Mary L. Smith rather than Mary L. Smyth.

Sometimes when a person’s name has changed completely, we use the acronym NKA, or Now Known As. An example might be when Mary L. Smith marries or perhaps divorces and her name is now Mary L. Doe. In that case we could use the phrase Mary L. Smith N/K/A Mary L. Doe.

Your question is a little different because it doesn’t really affect a testamentary device. Theoretically, it’s the same. You may need to affirm under oath that you are the same person but the document should be OK.

However, two things have me a little spooked in your situation. First, you have a daughter-in-law that likely has a similar name. Honestly, I doubt that anyone would think that you intended to name the daughter-in-law rather than the daughter, but I suppose it’s possible.

The second thing that has me a little nervous is that this the document is a healthcare representative designation. When that sort of document comes up, it’s usually kind of an emergency. Now I doubt that any doctor would make your daughter prove that she is the person named in the document, but I suppose they could, and really, who carries their marriage certificate around with them.

In most cases when there is a name change, I don’t usually advise that a change is necessary. However, your unique circumstances might at least need a second look. Like I said, it’s pretty unlikely that a doctor is going to ask your daughter if it’s really her but why chance it. Maybe in your case, you consider updating the document.

Christopher W. Yugo is an attorney in Crown Point. Chris’ Estate Planning Article appears online every Sunday at Address questions to Chris in care of The Times, 601 W. 45th Ave., Munster, IN 46321 or to Chris’ information is meant to be general in nature. Specific legal, tax, or insurance questions should be referred to your attorney, accountant, or estate-planning specialist.


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