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Monday, August 23, 2010

Do I put my full legal name on my Will?

You would think that when it comes to Will planning, deciding your own name wouldn't be an issue. But for some people it's more complicated than you might think. For example, many Williams are known as Will or Bill, many Elizabeths are known as Liz, Liza, Bess or Beth. Some have nicknames that don't seem to be a version of their names at all. Others (like me) are known by our middle names rather than our first names. It has to be clear that the Will was made by you and not by someone with a similar name.

You also have to look at the name you have used to register your major assets. For example, how is the title to your home registered? What about the shares of your company? How are they registered at the Corporate Registry? Ideally everything, including your Will, bears the same name so that there is no confusion during the probate process.

To be realistic, most of us aren't thinking of our Wills or about probate at the time we buy our homes. We likely registered the property in the name we use most. If you go by the name "Bill Jones" you probably registered your home that way. However, your birth certificate and driver's license likely say "William Jones" and maybe include a middle name as well.

Women who changed their surname on marriage may have assets still listed in their maiden names, such as real property or an interest in a family trust.

Some lawyers I know insist on always using the full legal name, and others don't. My preference has always been to use the full legal name on the Will, and to add "also known as" if the home or other major asset is registered in a different name. For example, a woman who was born "Margaret Susan Jones" but has always been known as "Peggy Sue Jones" would be described in her Will as "Margaret Susan Jones, also known as Peggy Sue Jones".

By doing this, you can avoid problems with proving that the person who passed away is the same person who wrote the Will, and is the same person who owned the asset. I don't suggest that you run out and change the registration of your assets. However, when doing your estate planning with your lawyer, make sure you let him or her know about assets registered in other variations of your name.

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