How to Replace Seven Vital Documents

U.S. PassportIt doesn't take a flood or fire to put you in need of new copies of your birth certificate, Social Security card or other vital documents. How many times have you gone to look for an important document only to realize you have no idea where you put it? Replacing such information can be a daunting task -- unless you know where to start. WalletPop is here to help.

Birth Certificate

The piece of paper that proves when and where you began life on earth is necessary for everything from Little League sign-ups to getting married or applying for work.If it's gone missing, the Office of Vital Records in your county or state is the place to request a replacement. The process varies from state to state.

Although some areas -- New York City and Texas, for instance -- offer online processing and even expediting, most require written letters via mail. Other states, such as Massachusetts, encourage in-person visits by charging $10 less for walk-ins than online processing.

In spite of a few minor differences, the information required for obtaining a replacement copy of your birth certificate is basically the same. Be prepared to supply: a photo ID (clearly photo copied), your full name, gender, date of birth, place of birth (town, county, state and name of hospital, if known), and full names of both of your parents. New Jersey also requires applicants to prove their relationship to the person for whom they're requesting a birth certificate.

Replacement costs vary from a budget-friendly $7 in North Dakota to a pricey $25 in Georgia and $28 in Massachusetts if requested through the mail. Acceptable payment methods differ nationwide (money order, cashier's check, personal check or major credit card).

Several states, such as Oregon and Alaska, also offer Heirloom Birth Certificates, ranging in price from $45 to $50, artfully rendered and suitable for framing.

For those interested in paying more for convenience and not calligraphy, VitalChek provides copies of government-issued birth, death, marriage and divorce certificates via online request. The first copy of a document will cost $16, plus $6 for processing as well as additional shipping fees -- but you won't need a stamp. In fact, VitalChek boasts their process takes less than 10 minutes (far less time than driving to your state's vital records office and waiting in line) and lets consumers select express courier service when time is of the essence.

In addition, VitalChek allows a variety of payment options, including major credit cards.

Marriage Certificate

First came love, then came marriage -- then came the document that changes your tax status until death (or divorce, but more on that later) do you part.

Official marriage certificates (not the keepsake kind) register a couple's new status for public record and must be furnished when requesting name changes for passports, licenses, bank accounts and Social Security cards.

Similar to birth certificates, copies of marriage certificates can be obtained from the Office of Vital Records in the county or state where the event took place. Most states require a written letter of request, a fee and information to help locate the correct document (for instance, names of the participants, town or city where license was issued and date of marriage). The vital record websites of some states will also provide request forms than you can download, print and mail. Photo identification may also be required.

Fees for a copy of a marriage certificate range from $5 in Illinois to $26 in Michigan, with the rest of the country falling somewhere in between. It should also be noted that some counties charge less for replacement documents than the state offices supplying the same replacement copies -- it's worth looking into.

The entrepreneurial state of Alaska also offers Heirloom Marriage Certificates (gift idea!) to have and to hold for $60.

None of the 50 states offers Heirloom divorce certificates (although there's a business idea in there somewhere). However, a copy of the document sans calligraphy can be obtained by contacting the Office of Vital Records and following the instructions specific to the county and state in which the dissolution took place.

Again, VitalChek is another resource worth considering when looking to save time and order the documents online.

Social Security Card

Social Security cards contain the magic number of your personal financial fingerprint and are often required to open bank accounts, take out loans, and apply for work, college or credit. In an age of identity theft, these cards should be closely guarded.

Unfortunately, the flimsy paper cards are easy to lose or misplace. The good news is, replacements are free and we're entitled to three free cards per year, or 10 within our lifetime. To get yours, contact your local Social Security Office, fill out an application, and bring one of the following forms of ID: U.S. driver's license, state-issued identification card or U.S. passport. You will also need one proof of citizenship in the form of: U.S. birth certificate, U.S. consular report, U.S. passport, certificate of naturalization, or certificate of citizenship.

Since this is one document you don't want getting lost in the mail, it's recommended you head down to the office and apply in person. It'll be time well spent.


Replacing a passport that's been lost or stolen is a two-step process. First, if you believe there is a possibility the document has been stolen (as opposed to just misplaced in a jumble of boxes in your garage), you should report the theft immediately by calling the National Passport Information Center at (877) 487-2778.

Next, whether your passport's been lost or stolen, make an appointment at the passport agency office or acceptance facility nearest you. To make the process more efficient, print out and bring the following completed forms: Form DS-11: Application for a U.S. Passport (must be signed in the presence of the passport agent) and Form DS-64: Statement Regarding a Lost or Stolen Passport.

Be prepared to show identification and proof of citizenship (the same as required to obtain a Social Security card) and supply two regulation passport photos.

If you need a replacement in a hurry, make the agent aware of the situation when you schedule your appointment. In addition to regular application fees, you can choose to pay $60 to have the document expedited; current estimated delivery times for this are two to three weeks from the date of order. Routine service delivery estimates it should take approximately four to six weeks from the date of application.

An adult passport book and card replacement will cost $140. Replacing a minor's passport book and card will cost $95. Expediting costs and overnight mail fees will be extra.

For passports lost or stolen while traveling abroad, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Car Title

You know that car title is knocking around somewhere, but a frantic search of the family files yields only dust and a few choice words. Don't panic -- just contact your state's department of motor vehicles to get a replacement.

To obtain a replacement, fill out a form at the DMV, pay a fee (which varies by state) and show a photo ID, such as a driver's license. In addition, be prepared to supply proof of ownership in the form of a license plate number, vehicle registration or vehicle identification number.

Necessary when selling, trading or donating a car, your car's title is a must-have document, but a little time spent at the DMV will have you back on the road to a happy ending in no time.

Property Deed

Required for selling, refinancing or transferring ownership of a home or property, a property deed is a necessity for important real estate transactions.

The county clerk-recorder's office at the county courthouse is the place to start your search. If the county clerk's office in your neck of the woods is not the receptacle for public records and property deeds, someone there should be able to tell you where it can be located.

You'll need the property address and possibly the tax map identification number (or parcel number assigned to the property through the city) in order to search and locate the deed. Once you've tracked down the documents, it should be fairly simple and affordable to request copies.

If you'd rather hire a local title company to facilitate the search on your behalf, expect fees ranging from $100 to $200.

Tax Return

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) suggests that saving records and tax returns not only assists in filing future tax returns, or amended returns, but can also be helpful to your survivors, executor or administrator of your estate. Death and taxes -- there's just no getting around them.

If you can't find or no longer have copies of previous returns, copies and all attachments can be requested from the IRS by filling out Form 4506, Request for Copy of a Tax Return and paying a $57 fee per tax year.

Tax return transcripts can be obtained for free, however, by completing the Request for Tax Return Transcript form. The main difference between a transcript and an actual copy of a tax return is the way the information is formatted. A transcript will not provide a breakdown of the revenue generated from each source of income, or separate out how much was paid in state taxes. Neither will it reflect payments, penalty assessments or adjustments made to original return. In addition, a transcript will not include a copy of W-2s or other attachments.

If you hired an accountant to prepare your tax return, you should contact that person, who should have a copy in his or her records as well.

Now That You've Got New Copies ...

Once you have your vital documents in hand, it's time to make certain you don't have to track them down again. Ever.

O, The Oprah Magazine suggests making three sets of copies of your vital documents and storing them in three, separate, secure locations: "1, in a clearly marked folder in your home or office; 2, with your attorney, a close friend, or a family member; 3, in your safe deposit box." You might also scan the documents onto CDs and then store the CDs in each of the three above locations.

Whatever you do, just don't lose that safe deposit key.
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