How to Replace Important Documents That Are Lost or Missing
Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you tell me what I need to do to replace a variety of important documents? Our house burned down a few months ago, and we lost everything including our home property deed, car titles, old tax returns, Social Security, Medicare and Covid vaccine cards, birth certificates, marriage license, and passports.
I’m very sorry for your loss, but you’ll be relieved to know that replacing important documents that are destroyed, lost, or stolen is pretty easy once you know where to turn. Here are the replacement resources for each document you mentioned.
If you were born in the United States, contact the vital records office in the state where you were born (see CDC.gov/nchs/w2w/index.htm for contact information). This office will give you specific instructions on what you need to do to order a certified copy and what it will cost you – usually between $10 and $30.
Most states offer replacements through a local department of motor vehicles office. You’ll need to complete a replacement title application form and pay the application fee, which varies by state. You’ll also need to show ID and proof that you own the car, such as your vehicle registration or your license plate number and VIN (vehicle identification number). To get an application, go to DMV.org, pick your state, and print it or fill it out on the site.
To access your house deed, contact your county clerk’s office, where deeds are usually recorded – you may be charged a small fee to get a copy.
Contact the vital records office of the state you were married in to order a copy (see CDC.gov/nchs/w2w/index.htm). You’ll need to provide the full names of you and your spouse, the date of your wedding, and the city or town where the wedding was performed. Fees range from $10 to $30.
Social Security Cards
In most states (except in Alabama, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and West Virginia), you can request a replacement Social Security card online for free at SSA.gov/myaccount.
If you live in a state where the online service is not available, you’ll need to fill out form SS-5 (see SSA.gov/forms/ss-5.pdf to print a copy) and take it in or mail it to your nearby Social Security office along with a number of evidence documents that are listed on this form. For more information or to locate the Social Security office that serves your area, call 800-772-1213 or see SSA.gov/locator.
If you are enrolled in original Medicare, you can replace a lost or damaged Medicare card by calling Medicare at 800-633-4227, or by logging into your MyMedicare.gov account. If, however, you get Medicare health or drug benefits from a Medicare Advantage Plan, such as an HMO, PPO, or PDP, you’ll need to call your plan to get your card replaced.
COVID-19 Vaccination Card
Your first step is to go back to your vaccination site and see if they’ll give you a replacement. Bring an ID and try to recall the date you were vaccinated. If that’s not feasible, contact your state health department immunization information system (see CDC.gov/vaccines/programs/iis/contacts-locate-records.html) where you should be able to print out a replacement sheet.
To get copies of old tax returns start with your tax preparer, who usually keeps copies of your returns on file. You can also get copies of federal returns directly from the Internal Revenue Service. You’ll need to fill out and mail in IRS form 4506. To download this form IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4506.pdf or call 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you a copy. The cost is $43 for each return requested.
You can apply for a replacement passport at a Passport Application Acceptance Facility. Many post offices, public libraries, and local government offices serve as such facilities. You can search for the nearest authorized facility at iafdb.travel.state.gov. The fee is $145.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org.
Jim MillerContributing Writer
Jim Miller is the creator of Savvy Senior, a syndicated information column for older Americans and their families that is published in more than 300 U.S. newspapers and magazines. Jim is also a contributor to NBC’s “Today” show and KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, and is the author of The Savvy Senior, The Ultimate Guide to Health, Family and Finances for Senior Citizens.
Jim is frequently quoted in articles about issues affecting senior citizens and has been featured in numerous national publications, including Time magazine, USA Today and The New York Times. In addition, he has made multiple appearances on CNBC, CNN, Retirement Living Television and national public television. Read more from Jim Miller.