Legal Documents to Complete
First, have your fingerprints taken by a local law enforcement agency. There will be a fee for this service. You also need a certified copy of your birth certificate. If you don’t have a copy of your birth certificate, you can use the Birth Certificate Request Letter. Then, fill out the legal name change documents. For the purpose of this name change, you are the petitioner. Fill in the civil case cover sheet. There is no defendant for this case; leave those boxes blank. Fill in the Petition completely except for the right side of the heading. The clerk will fill this in at the time you file your Petition. Fill in your name on the Verification. Fill in the Notice with your name and the date you file the Petition. Leave the Order and the Decree blank. The judge will fill in these forms. Sign your name to the Petition, Verification, and Notice. The judge will sign the Order and Decree if your name change is granted.
Next, file the cover sheet, Petition, Verification, Order, Notice, certified birth certificate, fingerprint card, and Decree with the Court of Common Pleas for the county where you live. These documents must be filed with the Court of Common Pleas that has jurisdiction over the county where you live. Take two copies and the originals to the court clerk’s, or Prothonotary’s office. They will file the documents. Ask for a stamped copy to be returned to you. There will be a fee for this service.
After one month, and less than three months, after you file the Petition, you should receive a copy of the filled out Notice from the court by mail. This Notice should list the hearing date, time, and place. If you do not receive a Notice by mail shortly after one month has passed, call the clerk’s office to check on the progress of your Petition.
Publish the Notice
Once you receive your Notice by mail, have the Notice published in two local newspapers that are regularly circulated in the county where you live. Typically, there is an official paper for the publication of legal notices. You must have your Notice published in the official paper and one other paper before your hearing date. Mail the letter, a stamped copy of the Notice, and a self-addressed stamped envelope to the two newspapers. You should specify in your request that you need a proof of publication returned to you in the stamped envelope.
After your Notice has been published, you should receive a proof of publication from each newspaper. You will need this proof of publication in your name change hearing.
Certificate of No Judgments
In Pennsylvania, you must obtain a certificate stating that you have no judgments or liens pending against you. Some courts will perform this service themselves. Other jurisdictions, like Philadelphia, require you to perform the search yourself. There are various agencies in each county that will check with the offices in charge of judgments and liens and provide you with a certificate. There is a fee for this service and you must have a certificate from each county where you have lived for the past five years. If you cannot locate one of these agencies, the clerk of court may be able to direct you to a similar service or the office locations so that you can check for yourself. Ask the clerk which procedure your court requires.
These checks must be completed within the 30 days prior to the hearing. The closer your certificate date is to the hearing, the better. If you can complete these check in the week prior to your hearing, that would be best.
Name Change Hearing
On the date of your hearing, take the stamped copy of all the documents you have previously filed with you to court. This includes the Petition, Verification, etc. You will also need to bring your two proofs of publication, and a Certificate of no judgments pending for each county where you have lived for the past five years.
If anyone has a legal objection to your name change, the judge will hear their arguments. If the judge decides that your name change is not for the purpose of fraud, and that it does not harm the greater society in any way, the court will grant your name change and sign the Decree.
File the signed Decree with the clerk of court and get several certified copies back from the clerk. You will likely need one certified copy for each identification office like the DMV and Social Security Office. You should also get one certified copy for your records.
Complete Your Name Change
The Decree will grant you the legal right to change your name. Now, it is your responsibility to change your name with the government agencies like the Social Security Office and the Department of Motor vehicles. To save time, you may fill out Social Security form SS-5 in advance. Take the form, along with your proof of identity (like your current driver’s license or passport) and proof of age (like your birth certificate) to your local Social Security Office. The staff there will verify your personal documents and give you a certificate showing that the Social Security Office has approved your name change. Alternatively, you can mail form SS-5 to your local Social Security Office with a certified copy of your proof of identification, name change Decree, and proof of age and your documents will be returned to you with your new social security card by mail.
The certified Decree can also be used at the Department of Motor Vehicles to change your name on your driver’s license while you wait for your new social security card. You have to do this step in person at your nearest Pennsylvania Driver License office. Your new license and Social Security Card should be mailed to you within six weeks. These new forms of identification and the certificate from the Social Security Office may be used to change any further legal identification, like your passport.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.