Depending on one’s family, a surname can be extremely important, personally. However, for some, a surname can have monetary value. Take, for example, the recent divorce announcement of Bill and Melinda Gates, where Melinda has the choice (presumably) to keep the Gates name or go back to her former name, Melinda Ann French. This has left many wondering that, in a divorce, what keeping the family name may be worth.
Surname goodwill value
The concept of value in a surname is described as “goodwill.” For those that are familiar with business and celebrity valuation, they may be familiar with that term. Goodwill in this context is a term that refers to what one receives simply because one has the famous surname, instead of the prior, non-famous surname. For example, if a large hedge fund got a call from Melinda Gates or Melinda Ann French, which person would get the meeting. Most would agree that Melinda Gates would be much more likely to get that meeting. This is a great example of how surname goodwill value has real, practical value.
Surname value in a divorce
For those that are entering a marriage where one or both spouses have value in their surname, they should discuss what should happen with that name should the marriage end. This is usually done through a prenuptial agreement. In that agreement, the parties decide how a divorce will be conducted when they are at the height of their love, when both parties are being the fairest. At this point, this is when the use and value of a surname should be discussed. Remember, even if a surname at marriage does not have value in itself, if the marriage last for years, that surname will have value if one is expected to change the name post-divorce. For example, imagine a real estate agent who has spent decades building their practice under one name who then has to change their name to another name post-divorce.
Comparison to other monetary-value names
While thinking about a surname in terms of goodwill may not make sense, another way to think about it is as a brand name, like Coca-Cola. The surname is just like that brand name, and the utilization of that brand has value.
For Livonia, Michigan, residents thinking about divorce, this conversation shows how complicated the process can be and why it is so important to contact an attorney. Indeed, these types of conversations should begin prior to marriage with an attorney.