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Recently Married? Consider These Steps to Protect your Future

November 13, 2023

Legal Name Change

In Michigan, the process for an individual to take their spouse’s last name is fairly simple, but does require taking action with both the Social Security Administration (SSA) and Michigan Secretary of State.

  • The first step is to change your name with the SSA. Start the process by completing the online application. Take the completed application to a local SSA office with an unexpired state driver’s license or passport and proof of the name change (marriage certificate or court order).
  • After changing the name with the SSA, make an appointment at a Michigan Secretary of State office in order to obtain a new driver’s license. You will need to present your current license, proof of the name change from the SSA, and your marriage certificate or court order.

Generally, a legal name change following marriage does not require action from a court. If additional changes to someone’s name are sought (changing middle name or otherwise), however, court action may be necessary.

Creating a Will and/or Trust

In the absence of a written Last Will and Testament (Will), a decedent’s assets may pass to his or her heirs by operation of Michigan’s laws governing intestate succession. To ensure that your assets pass to desired family members, friends or charitable causes, preparing a Will is recommended. For added privacy and to avoid the need to open a probate estate, consider establishing a trust that can operate to hold your assets and distribute them exactly when and to whom you wish.

Designating Beneficiaries/Retitling your assets

Assets that are not jointly titled, are not titled in a trust and/or do not have a designated beneficiary are subject to probate in Michigan. To avoid probating these assets, ensure that your spouse is named as beneficiary and joint owner on all of your bank accounts (including checking/savings accounts), retirement accounts, health savings accounts, and life insurance policies. Real property like a home or land that was individually owned by one spouse should also be retitled. Assets like real estate that are owned as tenants by the entireties have an additional layer of protection from creditors in Michigan. This means that only a creditor of both spouses has recourse against such jointly held assets in order to satisfy joint debts of both spouses.

For example, consider that a spouse has passed away having not named a designated beneficiary on their work sponsored retirement plan. Even if there is as a will that provides that the plan should pass to the living spouse, the transfer of the plan will require probate court involvement. With your spouse as designated beneficiary, ownership of such accounts would automatically pass without the need for probate.

These steps will provide both security and peace of mind, while also getting a jump start on estate planning. For questions about this or any other estate planning matter, please contact a Kerr Russell estate and trust planning attorney for more information.