Updating Names, Addresses, and Telephone Numbers.

            What’s in a name?  Besides one’s reputation, legal ownership and control over one’s assets and affairs, and who inherits one’s estates involve names.   Your important documents usually include many names, addresses and telephone numbers, in addition your own.  Over time some of these names and contact information will become obsolete due to life changes.  What effects do the disconnects have on the usefulness of the deeds, living trust, and powers of attorney?  Let’s discuss.

            Your title documents, particularly deeds to real property, that use your prior name should be retitled into your current name sooner than later to avoid difficulties should you become incapacitated and when you die.  With real property the owner signs a new deed using the owner’s prior name as the grantor’s name (worded exactly the same as the grantee’s name in the current deed) and transfer title into the owner’s current name as grantee.  Once the deed is recorded the title is updated in the new name.

            Sometimes notarizing a deed that is signed using a prior name is difficult because necessary picture identification in the signor’s prior name that is acceptable for notary purposes may not be available.  In that case, two so-called “credible witnesses” — persons who both have their own valid picture identification and who are willing to swear to (amongst other things) that they know the the signor of the document by the prior name — appear at the notary’s office, take an oath and sign the notary book.  Credible witnesses substitute for the unavailable recent picture identification in the old name.

            If real property is owned by you as trustee of your living trust under a prior name then you will need both to amend the trust to update your name as both settlor and trustee and to retitle the trust assets in the trustee’s current name.  The trust amendment would be signed by you as the settlor under the old and new names and accepted by you as the trustee under the current name.

            What about the obsolete names and contact information of persons you named to act in the future as your successor trustee, agent under a power of attorney or healthcare directive?  The old names should be replaced as part of your regular updating of estate planning documents but do not usually require a special update whenever a name changes. If necessary these persons can execute a “same name as” document should they need to step in as your trustee or as agent using a document that calls them by their prior name. 

            With powers of attorney and advance health care directives it is good practice to attach an up to date information sheet that provides the agents’ current names and contact information.  Changes in a primary address have no legal effect, but the disconnect can make it difficult to contact these persons if someone is relying on the contact information provided in the document.

            Another place where names are relevant is with beneficiary designations, such as with pay on death and death beneficiary accounts (such as life insurrance, annuity and retirement accounts).  A beneficiary whose name has changed will otherwise need to provide proof that they are the same person as named as death beneficiary under a prior name.

            In addition to obsolete names, obsolete account passwords need to be identified and brought up to date.  That is, a master list of account titles and current passwords should be available to whomever will need if they are to act as your agent or successor trustee.  There are companies who for a fee will safely maintain this information on your behalf. 

            Moreover, trust and power of attorney documents should provide specific legal authority to allow the trustee and agent to manage digital (electronic) assets on your behalf.

            Clearly it is a good idea to revisit one’s legal documents and identify the prior (obsolete) names used in the documents and take any necessary action, including to at least keep a current list of people’s names and addresses.  Do not, however, write directly on the legal document.  Instead compile and attach a list of current names and contact information to the document.  Bring them with you to your attorney and financial planner when you next update your estate planning documents.