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Women changing surname after marriage: Pros, cons

It is common for women in India to change their surnames after marriage. But they must do this comprehensively or face serious issues later.

A name change has to be done in all legal and investment documents to avoid problems. For instance, changing the surname only in PAN and Aadhaar will lead to a name mismatch in Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and bank accounts. To get your money back from such accounts, you will have to update the name and undergo the KYC (know your customer) process again. The updating process may require affidavits and other documents.

Deepika Bharti, AVP-Investments at FinEdge, an online investment and wealth advisory platform, says, “Changing surname after marriage is a personal decision, and there are both pros and cons to consider before doing it. The advantage of name change would be commonality and identification as a family and the disadvantage is that there would be a substantial one-time effort in ensuring that there is uniformity across all important documents.”

Changing surname after marriage does introduce “a complex weave of legal challenges”, says Sonal Alagh, Partner at Alagh & Kapoor Law Offices. The difference in past and present records can complicate background checks, international travel and professional verification, she adds.

Also read: How to prove asset is streedhan legally

Let us look at the pros and cons that a woman must consider before legally changing her surname on official documents.

If woman replaces her maiden surname with husband’s surname after marriage

Replacing one’s maiden surname with the husband’s is legally seen as a change of identity. Alagh says, “The administrative labyrinth of updating official records presents a daunting challenge. The rigidity of educational and governmental institutions in recognising name changes exacerbates these hurdles, leading to potential verification issues.”

If a woman is changing her surname, then she should do it on all her important documents. Updating the name in a piecemeal manner or only in certain documents will lead to complications when travelling, investing or claiming investments where one has been made a nominee, explains Bharti.

Failure to update legal documents like property deeds and insurance policies could lead to difficulties in proving identity or entitlement to assets in legal matters such as inheritance or divorce proceedings, says Meghna Mishra, Partner, Karanjawala & Co.

Changing surname in PAN, Aadhaar, other official documents: The process of changing surnames in documents generally entails submitting a marriage certificate with an application for name change to relevant authorities such as the passport office or Aadhaar enrollment centre. Mishra explains that the essential documents for this process include marriage certificate, identity proof, address proof and an affidavit of name change. “Adhering to the prescribed procedure is crucial to ensure the legality and validity of the updated documents. While this list provides a basic overview of the requirements, it’s important to note that specific requirements may vary depending on the (document) issuing authority,” she says.

Changing surname in Matriculation documents: It is important to note that it is next to impossible to change the details in Matriculation documents. Mishra says, “Education boards like CBSE typically do not allow changes in their certificates, which serve as crucial proof of date of birth for documents like PAN and passport. If there is a different surname on PAN/Aadhaar compared to the CBSE 10th board certificate, women may face problems such as verification issues in official transactions when applying for passport or bank accounts, often necessitating additional documentation for validation purposes. Additionally, maintaining consistency with the maiden name might be essential for professional qualifications or enrollment records, as identity is already associated with that specific name.”

However, Ekta Rai, Advocate, Delhi High Court, has a different view. She says documents such as school certificates, which are largely relied upon till a specific period of time for date of birth, are only relevant to establish that limited information. “They do not matter once other and more important documents such as PAN, Aadhaar, etc, hold the updated surname. It is still advisable that in case the woman is applying for a PAN or Aadhaar after marriage or is planning to pursue higher studies, she should ensure that the marriage is registered and keep her marriage certificate handy. Additionally, an affidavit from the magistrate in her district ratifying her school certificates and attesting to her identity (with changed surname) as being the person mentioned in the academic certificates may also be considered,” says Rai.

In claiming inheritances: Sometimes wills made by elders in the family mention the maiden name of the woman. But the will may come into effect after her marriage, when she would have changed her maiden name. This can create problems while claiming inheritance.

Rai says, “A woman may face challenges in property, ownership or inheritance disputes if her surname does not match the legal documents associated with the property.”

When wills have the maiden name of the person who has changed her name, there is a need for additional proof and documentation, says Alagh.

Mishra says that courts and authorities may consider additional factors, including the intent of the testator and the woman’s changed surname, to determine rightful inheritance. But clear legal documentation will be essential in resolving any discrepancies and ensuring proper distribution of assets, she says.

Applying for visa: At times, a woman may want to update a visa or apply for a spousal visa. Alagh says, “The insistence on extensive proof of marriage due to surname differences underscores a gap in global legal systems’ recognition of diverse family structures. This challenge not only affects those applying for visas but also those seeking to renew or update their status after a name change.”

If a person has changed her surname, applying for a spouse visa with a different surname will require additional documentation to establish the marital relationship. This can delay the process. Visa updation would need documents with the surname to avoid complications during travel or residency. Mishra says, “It is advisable to update the passport to reflect the husband’s name regardless of any change in surname, ensuring alignment with official documentation and minimising verification hurdles.”

Changing name in assets: If the surname is being changed in the official documents, it is important to change it in the physical and financial assets being held by the woman. As mentioned above, changing a surname can lead to difficulty in proving identity in case of property ownership, life insurance policies etc.

Bharti suggests that the update be done on a priority for financial assets after making a list of such assets. “Once the name change reflects on your Aadhaar or PAN, the updation of your financial assets like mutual funds and shares becomes easier,” says the AVP of FinEdge.

Assuming that a working woman would be adept at managing her finances, Rai points out that updating the surname in work-related documents will address the administrative issues. The person can encounter complications related to employment records and taxation if the surname is not updated to match the official documents and records.

Also Read: How single woman can become financially independent

What if a woman does not change surname after marriage

Sometimes, a woman may decide to keep her maiden name after marriage. In such a case, the woman should get a marriage certificate to prove the husband-wife relationship. However, it is important to remember that unlike PAN or Aadhaar, one cannot carry the marriage certificate everywhere. What if there is a need to prove a marriage relationship and the certificate is not handy?

Mishra says, “In cases where a woman chooses not to change her surname after marriage on official documents, situations may arise where proof of husband-and-wife relationship is required, such as during income tax filings, insurance claims, or property transactions. While marriage certificates are typically the primary proof, other documents like joint accounts, shared residence proofs, or affidavits affirming marital status can also substantiate the relationship if needed.”

Alagh says that there is a need for more adaptable identification systems, and for institutions and policies to evolve to recognise and facilitate the diversity of choices individuals make regarding their names.

Different surnames in child’s birth certificate

The birth certificates of children of couples with different surnames will show differing surnames in the parents’ column. Will this create issues? Remember, the birth certificate may be needed to make investments in the child’s name – for Public Provident Fund, Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, etc – and to apply for a passport, for school admission and so on.

Mishra says, “There is generally no issue with the mother and father having different surnames at the time of issuance of the child’s birth certificate.”

Does merely adding husband’s surname as suffix to existing name help?

These days, women add their husbands’ surnames to their existing names. However, does this help? Mishra says, “Adding the husband’s surname to the woman’s surname may simplify identification as a married couple in certain contexts, promote social recognition and familial unity. While it doesn’t inherently resolve all administrative challenges, it can streamline documentation processes and align with societal norms regarding marital status and family identity.”

What if the full name of woman is changed after marriage

In some communities, both the first name and surname of a woman is changed after marriage. This will surely create hassles. Mishra says, “In communities where it’s customary for women to change their names after marriage, challenges may arise due to discrepancies in official records or administrative procedures. However, adherence to legal requirements for name change and proactive updating of official documents can mitigate these challenges, ensuring alignment with both cultural norms and legal obligations.”

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