A simple answer to this question is that you should use your real name. However, not everything in life lends itself to simple answers. It is not uncommon for a person to have a legal name which is entirely different from the name he or she actually goes by.  Your birth certificate and driver’s licence may say “Charles”, but everyone since you were in diapers has called you “Chuck”.

It’s actually very common for people to go by their middle names. Someone who holds herself out to the world as “Mary” may actually be an “Elizabeth” when you look at her passport. Then there’s the odd inexplicable case of a “Clinton” who goes by something like “Scooter”.

To be clear, these are not people living lives of mystery and intrigue in the style of Jason Bourne. They are accountants and soccer moms and Rotary Club members. At least, I assume they are when I’m doing their wills. Maybe some of them are secret operatives with Swiss bank safety deposit boxes storing handguns, massive stacks of unmarked bills, and forged passports. As a lawyer, I sometimes live vicariously through my clients, but I certainly don’t need that kind of excitement in my life.  But I digress.

So what should you do when you go by one name, but your birth certificate lists another? A good rule of thumb is to list all your legal names – first, middle, and last. Sometimes people have multiple middle names, and if that’s the case, list them all. In the case of an alias that is much more commonly known than your actual legal name, you’ll likely want to include that in brackets. For example, a Korean expatriate who goes by “Philip” may be “Youngki (Philip) Lee” for the purposes of his will.

Finally, if you’ve changed your name in the past, you may, in some cases, want to include that information in your will. This may be a good idea, for example, for a woman who has changed her name during marriage, and then perhaps changed her name back to her maiden name following a divorce, and then changed her name again after a second marriage. Some bank accounts and property may still be listed under the former names. You could write something like “Jane Helen Smith (formerly known as Jane Helen Johnson)” in such a case. This may be unnecessary if a person has been known most of his or her adult life by a particular surname, with all property being registered under that surname.

The idea is to be as comprehensive and unambiguous as possible. If you follow the above guidelines, things should go smoothly for your executor and beneficiaries.