Can there be value in a last name?

On Behalf of | May 19, 2021 | High-Asset Divorce and Property Division |

While a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, what about a person? The recently announced divorce between Bill and Melinda Gates has many people wondering if there is value in keeping an ex-spouse’s last name post-divorce, and whether that value should be factored in during a divorce’s property division phase.

The value of a last name

Experts call the value of a surname as “goodwill” value as the surname may have an effect on how one is treated, i.e., the amount of goodwill (positive actions) a surname brings to a person. Of course, a surname like, “Gates” brings a huge amount of goodwill, but that value may not be present for every surname.

The Gates divorce as an example

For example, if Melinda Gates goes back to her pre-marriage name of Melinda Ann French, will she loose opportunities or goodwill as she will no longer be associated with the Gates’ fortune and credentials? Maybe. There’s little doubt that the Gates name would likely open up more doors. But, how should that surname be valued in the over $145 billion divorce.

Surname customs

The issue of surname value may be an issue that is or should be more common as it has been a tradition for centuries for a spouse to take on the surname of the other spouse. Indeed, in some states, there is actually a legal presumption that the spouse’s surname is changed. In decades past, this would mean the wife taking on the husband’s surname, but that tradition is changing, especially with the legalization and normalization of LGBTQ+ marriage.

Pre- and post-marital agreements

Prior to or during a marriage, through a pre- or post-marital agreement, spouses can decide how a surname will pass after a divorce. This could mean giving that surname a value that reduces some other monetary award, should a divorce occur. And, in a high-asset divorce, where one or both spouses may have significant goodwill attached to their surnames, which makes deciding this issue prior to or during a divorce extremely important.

For Georgetown, Texas, residents that are looking to get married or get a divorce, calling an attorney now is a good idea. This surname issue shows how complicated marriage and divorce can become, and getting an attorney involved early can help avoid costly issues later.