American citizens need multiple forms of government-issued IDs to prove who they are, where they live, and what kinds of benefits they are entitled to receive. It's important to keep these documents safe from damage or theft, but accidents happen. This article will offer some insight into what American citizens can do if they lose their birth certificates, licenses, marriage certificates, passports, or social security cards.
Replace a Lost or Damaged Birth Certificate
Birth certificates are issued when a baby is born, but people need to use them throughout their lives to prove their identity and age. It's always easier to keep an original birth certificate in a safe place than it is to replace it if it gets damaged or lost, so find a laminating machine to prevent wear and tear to this important document and make sure to keep it someplace where it can be found easily when needed. If the original is already lost or damaged, a certified copy must be requested through the person's city, county, or state of birth.
To obtain a new birth certificate, people must have access to several forms of information. They must know the full name listed on the birth certificate, both parents' full names, the gender, and the birth date. They must also know the mother's maiden name and the name of the hospital where the baby was born.
Those requesting replacement birth certificates should include all this information, along with an explanation of their relationship to the person whose document is being requested and the reason for needing it, in a request letter to the state agency where the person was born. Make sure to call first, though, as some states also require other documentation or a small processing fee.
Replace a Lost or Damaged License
Replacement licenses can be obtained through the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), but there are a few steps drivers should take before heading to the DMV in person. First, call the police if there is any chance that the license was stolen or could have fallen into the wrong hands. This will help to prevent some of the potential issues associated with identity theft and, in some states, may allow driers to obtain new licenses without paying a fee.
Next, check the state DMV's website to find out if the damaged or lost license can be replaced online. Drivers who go this route don't have to worry about making arrangements for transportation to the DMV and they can download temporary licenses from the website that will reinstate their driving privileges until their new documents arrive by mail. Just keep in mind that temporary licenses don't count as a form of identification.
Those who are unable to replace their licenses online must head to a DMV office in person. Bring along proofs of residence and identity such as letters from a utility company and documents proving the applicant's name and date of birth. Whether they apply online or in person, most drivers will have to pay a fee to get their licenses reprinted.
Replace a Lost or Damaged Marriage Certificate
There are many reasons that an American citizen may need to show a copy of his or her marriage certificate, including changing names, applying for some social benefits, settling an estate after a loved one's death, and providing a record of family history. As with birth certificates, copies of marriage certificates must be certified. Couples can contact the county office that issued their marriage licenses to obtaining a certified copy.
In some cases, couples can also contact the vital records office to place a request. Each state's guidelines are a little different, but couples can expect to be required to provide full names for both spouses, the exact date of the marriage, the place of marriage, and an explanation for why they are placing the request. Fees can range from $5 to $25.
Replace a Lost or Damaged Passport
If an American traveler loses his or her passport, the first step to take is always to report the loss or potential theft immediately. American citizens can report lost passports online, by phone, or by mail. The next step they take will depend on how soon they need to travel.
Americans planning to travel abroad will have to apply for a replacement passport in person at a regional passport facility. They'll need to bring along proof of citizenship, a current ID, copies of forms DS-64 and DS-11, a passport photo, proof of impending travel dates, money to pay all the fees, including a $60 fee. If the passport was damaged, not lost, its holder should also bring the damaged passport to the regional facility.
Those who don't plan on traveling abroad immediately can replace their passports by mail. They'll need all the same documents but can simply bring them to a post office that does passport processing.
Replace a Lost or Damaged Social Security Card
Social security cards are one of the easier documents to replace if they are lost or stolen. Most U.S. citizens can simply put in a request online through SSA.gov and receive a new social security card by mail at no cost.
Residents of Alabama, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Utah, Connecticut, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, and West Virginia are not eligible for online replacements, though. They can print out their forms online then take them, along with proper identification, to a local Social Security office to request a replacement.
The Bottom Line
Replacing legal documents can be stressful, time-consuming, and expensive. In some cases, all those hassles can be avoided by storing important documents in safe places an ensuring they don't get damaged or stolen. In others, there's little that residents can do to avoid having to replace their documents.
Lost documents aren't the end of the world. Just follow the advice above and make sure to leave plenty of time for new documents to arrive in the mail. When in doubt, call the government office responsible for issuing the replacement documents in advance to double-check what information they need.