MY daughter and her husband recently applied for a passport. They took their birth certificates and required photos with them to the meeting. Unfortunately, the Post Office wouldn’t accept their birth certificates, they were told they were copies and originals or certificates reissued by the appropriate state vital records office were required.
It’s important to have vital records available when needed such as an official marriage license to apply for survivor’s benefits or a service member’s DD-214 record to receive burial benefits for a deceased veteran. Now is a good time to review the records you have on hand and to take the necessary actions to either replace lost documents or obtain official copies for future use.
It’s frustrating when confronted with a lost or stolen document or when discovering the documents you have are unacceptable copies. Even today, with so much information online, everything from driver registration and Medicare cards to marriage certificates and passports must be readily available. If you find documents missing take the following actions to replace them now and when they arrive store them somewhere safe. Either in a fireproof home safe, at your lawyer’s office, or in your bank’s safety deposit box.
Birth Certificates, Marriage Licenses, and Divorce Records
These documents are used to obtain benefits, apply for passports, and for other purposes. Those born in the United States must contact the vital records office in the state where they were born to obtain a new birth certificate. The vital records office will provide official replacements for a small fee. If you intend to apply for a passport or will need your birth certificate for some other purpose in the near future start the process as soon as possible. It can take several weeks or longer for your replacement to arrive. Use the following web site to find the appropriate office:
- Vital Record’s Office Directory  (Provided by the CDC)
Note: The government site listed above will direct you to your State’s vital records office and website. Many states allow you to complete an online form, print it out and send it in with the fee or even pay online in some cases. However, you will need to supply them with forms of identification such as a valid government photo ID or driver’s license. If you don’t have a photo ID you must supply two alternative forms of identification that you will find listed on the application.
You will have to provide additional information when requesting marriage licenses and divorce records including date of the wedding or divorce, full names of both parties, and the county and city where it took place. These documents are filed at county offices initially by the minister or official that presided over the event. In my case I was married while serving on active duty and returned home to marry my childhood sweetheart. Since we flew to Mississippi several days after the ceremony, I never received a copy from the county. Our priest gave us a religious wedding certificate the day of the wedding. I need to request an official copy for our records.
If you lost any of these documents contact your state’s vital records office. Generally, with a divorce  you can get a copy of the divorce certificate from your State’s vital statistics office. A divorce certificate can be used to change your name on a driver’s license. To obtain a copy of a divorce decree, often needed when someone applies for Social Security Benefits  based on an ex-spouse’s record, you must obtain a copy from the county clerk’s office in the city where you filed for a divorce.
You will need an official birth certificate and valid photo ID to apply for a passport along with a closeup headshot photo. To locate a facility near you use the State Department’s Passport Facility Search Page .
If your passport is lost or stolen you can report the loss and apply for a replacement by contacting the State Department . It’s important to notify the State Department immediately to report the loss either online, by email, or phone. Regardless of which method you use to report the loss you must fill out a DS-64 (Statement Regarding Lost or Stolen Passport)  if you require a replacement. The DS-64 form must be submitted with your DS-11 Application for a new U.S. Passport.
There are times when you need your replacement passport expedited for emergencies and for upcoming travel over the next two to six weeks. You can apply in person at designated locations nationwide  to file for expedited service.
Military Discharge DD-214 Forms
The DD-214 form verifies military service and they are needed when applying for benefits and for other purposes. I recently used a copy of my DD-214 form to receive a $400 military discount  when I purchased a new Kia Soul recently and had to take it into Lowes to have my service record added to their rewards program. Lowe’s gives all military members and honorably discharged veterans a 10% across the board discount on all purchases. It is also needed if a veteran applies for a VA loan or at the time of death to take advantage of the VA’s generous death benefits . When I was discharged from active duty in Topeka, Kansas they advised us to file the document at the local court house, which I did.
To obtain a copy of your DD-214 record you will have to contact the Federal Records Center  or if you filed a copy at the city court house where you were discharged you can contact them for a copy. It is good to have several copies available. I’ve used mine many times over the years.
Social Security and Medicare Cards
In today’s world the Social Security Card still has its uses. Some States ask for your card when applying for a driver’s license. If you should lose your card Social Security will replace it at no cost and you may be able to obtain a replacement online, depending on the state you reside in, at www.ssa.gov . You will need an active Social Security online account to request a replacement or you can file a Form SS-5  at your local Social Security office in your area.
Today, a child’s Social Security number is applied for at birth. When our two children were born in the 1970s that wasn’t the practice. They didn’t apply for their card until they started to work. The Social Security web site is user friendly and it is easy to set up an account. With an account you can review your detailed Summary of Benefits and work record, apply for benefits, and search their site for needed information about your benefits. Setup your account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount . I’ll be collecting benefits when I reach my 70th birthday and the sign up is automatic since I filed and suspended my SS benefits  when my wife turned 66 so she could collect my higher spousal benefit. All I have to do is add my bank account information so they know where to send the monthly check.
If you just lost your Medicare card, new ones are on the way. The original cards listed our social security number on the card with an appropriate prefix identify the program we are on. Medicare is no longer using Social Security numbers so if you haven’t already received the new one, a new card should arrive shortly. My wife and I received our new cards last month.
To request a replacement for a lost or stolen Medicare card log on to your Social Security account. There is a box on the right side of the screen with options, select “Replacement Documents” then select “Mail My Replacement Card.” It typically takes 30 days to receive your new card. If you need it now for a doctor’s appointment you can request a “Benefits Verification Letter” that Medicare providers will accept until your new card arrives.
Car License Plates
This happened to me several years ago when I was 700 miles away from home in South Carolina. It was spring break in Myrtle Beach and college kids stole a number of license plates off of the parked cars at our hotel. The Canadians who lost a plate still had one remaining to make it home, they require two plates on their cars, front and back. I contacted AAA immediately and they could not help and couldn’t provide any guidance on how to proceed!
I reported the theft to the local police and they issued me a letter that I could use if stopped on the trip home. We weren’t going home for several weeks and during the fist day I was stopped twice. Fortunately, I contacted my car dealer back home that I recently purchased the car from, they sent a new plate overnight and didn’t even charge me for it. Upon returning home I researched the replacement license plate process and published http://www.stolenplates.com  to provide others with the guidance they needed to replace a stolen or lost license plate. If your plate is lost or stolen follow the guidance on my site to fast track a replacement.
Additional Document Replacements
There are many other valuable documents that you may need to replace such as property records, insurance policies, paper savings bonds, vehicle titles and so much more. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) publishes a comprehensive Fact Sheet titled “Replacing Lost Documents ” that you will find helpful.
Request a Federal Retirement Report™  today to review your projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.
Helpful Retirement Planning Tools / Resources
Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement
- Retirement Planning Guide 
- Financial Planning Information 
- Thrift Savings Plan 
- Master Retiree Contact List  (Important contact numbers and information)
- 2018 Leave and Schedule Chart  (Excel chart tracks all leave balances. Use this chart to set target retirement dates.)
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein by the author are not an investment or benefit recommendation and are not meant to be relied upon in investment or benefit decisions. The author is not acting in an investment, tax, legal, benefit, or any other advisory capacity. This is not an investment or benefit research report. The author’s opinions expressed herein address only select aspects of various federal benefits and potential investment in securities of the TSP and companies mentioned and cannot be a substitute for comprehensive investment analysis. Any analysis presented herein is illustrative in nature, limited in scope, based on an incomplete set of information, and has limitations to its accuracy. The author recommends that retirees, potential and existing investors conduct thorough investment and benefit research of their own, including detailed review of OPM guidance for benefit issues and for investments the companies’ SEC filings, and consult a qualified investment adviser. The information upon which this material is based was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but has not been independently verified. Therefore, the author cannot guarantee its accuracy. Any opinions or estimates constitute the author’s best judgment as of the date of publication, and are subject to change without notice. The author explicitly disclaims any liability that may arise from the use of this material.
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