SSA. Name.

SSA. Social Security Administration.

Thank God for my willingness to plan and not wait until the last minute to do things that need to be done. I have friends who laugh at the fact that I am such a long term planner.  Yes I plan, and it works for me. Why? I discovered the hard way if I wait until my back is up against a deadline, I have very little wiggle room in the event an unforeseen problem arises.  If I plan for the contingency, and it occurs, at least I have Plan B and room to fix the problem, often with time to spare.

Those skills came in handy recently. As some of you know, I have been getting notices about Medicare and steps to take as I approach my 65th Birthday. Last week I went onto the social security administration website to look up my information only to discover I couldn’t get into to the system. I tried to access my account, until it locked me out, which was after about 5 or 6 tries.  I then attempt to call. But, due to wait times in excess of 45-minutes, I found myself calling back several times.  Finally, I got someone who was able to assist me. This was only the beginning of the nightmare.

The third agent I spoke with informed me that my name was not the name in the system.  That in fact, my name was not my name.  As you can imagine, this came as a surprise to me, because for 64 years I have used my name.  She said, “In our system your name is Francine Ward Lipfield.” I told her she was incorrect. She said, “Sorry, but this is what we have.”  I told her when I got married in 1998 for about 30-days, I changed my name, but then reclaimed it. I changed it everywhere e.g., my passport, drivers license, NY bar license (the only one applicable at that time), credit cards, IRS, CA Franchise Tax Board, Deeds of trust, and assumed (albeit incorrectly), that when my federal passport and the taxes were changed, anything I might have unknowingly missed was put on notice.  Boy was I wrong!  Then getting into solution, I asked what was I to do.  She said, “Take your passport and other ID to the nearest SSA office and they will fix it.” Wrong again!

Wanting to take care of this immediately,  I gathered my documents and the next morning went to the SSA office. I was there 45 minutes early to make sure I could get in and out before the crowd. Wrong again! There was a long line of folks, who seemingly had been there since the wee hours of the morning.  One person actually had a little tent. After being there for over two hours, I got to the agent’s counter only to be told I needed a court decree.  I told him the woman on the phone said,…..  he said, in his most haughty angry tone, “I’m here and she’s not; she was wrong and you need to listen to me.” I shut up knowing that in that moment, he had the power and I didn’t. So, I said thank you and left frustrated.  I get that civil servants deal with a lot of different types of folks, but my God, it was only 10am in the morning; he had been there for only 90-minutes. I could not imagine his mood by the end of the day.  What most frustrated me was the contradictory messages from folks who  work at the same place.  What is the average person to do?

Fortunately for me, I was willing to stay the course.

I quickly went back to my office and prepared the five documents I needed to file with the court to get the name I had been using for 64 years.  Kind of funny, for 30 days out of 64 years, 19 years ago, I used my married name. Every other agency got the memo, and yet, after all these years SSA did not.

Not only was it a hassle, but it was costly. I paid $435 for the court filing to use my own name, plus $150 to have my name published in a local newspaper for four weeks. Now I must go to court to get the name I have used for 64 years.

Frustrating as this experience has been, there is much to be grateful for:

  1. I did not wait to the last minute to find out there was a problem;
  2. I had the money to pay for the filings and I had a check and credit card on me;
  3. I knew which documents to file and where to find them;
  4. I knew how to prepare the documents and when in doubt, I was willing to ask for help;
  5. I knew where the courthouse was and how to get there;
  6. I knew how to file the documents, and
  7. That I was able to change my schedule to accommodate this situation.

Further, I write this post as a cautionary tale, particularly for those who wait for the last minute and don’t plan ahead.

Here is what you need to do if you are approaching Medicare age, and even if you are several years away, it’s still a good idea to check.

  1. Go into the SSA website (www.ssa.gov) and sign up for an account.
  2. If you have trouble call SSA for help immediately.
  3. Depending on what the problem is, ask what you need to do to correct it. If your situation is like mine, where your name does not match the name on your existing social security card, you will need to file a petition with the county where you live. You can attempt to do this yourself, hire a lawyer, ask a knowledgeable friend, or go to the self-help center at your local court building. The key is to get knowledge help. I was able to prepare my own documents because I am a lawyer, and for the most part I knew what I was doing. Even so, I made a mistake, but because I was nice to the county clerk on the day I filed, she helped me out.
  4. If you do it yourself, which I really do not advise, go to your county’s website and look up Name Change. The rules will be different in different states and counties, so make sure you read and understand state rules, as well as any local rules that may apply.
  5. If you reside in Marin county, CA, you will need five documents: petition, (with instructions), Info sheet., consent decree, cover sheet,
  6. You will need an original and two copies when filing with the county clerk in room 113 (check to make sure the room number has not changed)
  7. You will then need to schedule a court date at least 6-weeks into the future.
  8. You then need to select a newspaper where the legal notice will appear for four weeks.
  9. Show up for court.

All of this, in my case, to use a name I have used since 1953, with the exception of one month in 1999.

Bottom line is, if you are the type of person who waits until the last minute to do things, I say, do so at your peril. The choice is yours.

Hope this was helpful.

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