Digital records are convenient, but they can’t replace everything. Certain vital records and paperwork — such as a Social Security card or birth certificate — may be only accepted as original, physical documents (not photocopies), and they can be a pain to replace.
Here’s what you need to know about replacing important documents that may have been damaged, destroyed or lost. And once you do, consider keeping your essential paperwork in a document safe.
1. Social Security card
Issuing agency for this type of document: U.S. Social Security Administration
Depending on your situation, you might be able to request your replacement Social Security card online. Answer questions about your identity and have an unexpired state ID (such as a driver’s license), and you can apply online for a new card. However, you might need a government site login to finish your request.
It’s also possible to go into a local office with a completed Form SS-5 and an acceptable and original form of ID, such as an unexpired driver’s license, birth certificate or passport, to prove your identity.
Issuing agency for this type of document: U.S. State Department
If you lose your passport, you can report it as lost or stolen online. Once you do that, it will be canceled, and you won’t be able to use it.
Once you report it lost, you need to apply for a replacement in person. You’ll need two forms: Form DS-64 and Form DS-11. Take those to a local center that can accept them, along with identification and proof of U.S. citizenship. A birth certificate, state-issued ID and a passport photo should be brought along with the forms. Be prepared to pay the cost for a passport, whether you’re getting a book or a card.
3. Birth certificate
Issuing agency for this type of document: The state where you were born
Each state has its own process for issuing replacement birth certificates. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers links that provide information about how to get a birth certificate from each state as well as links to the appropriate department, whether that’s the office of health and welfare or vital records. You’ll likely have to pay to receive a new birth certificate.
4. Marriage certificate
Issuing agency for this type of document: The state where you were married
You might need a marriage certificate to prove a name change or take some other action. As with a birth certificate, you’ll need to go through the vital records department of the state where you were married. If you were married abroad, you might need to go through a consulate or embassy.
The link offered by the CDC for birth certificates also includes information about getting a replacement marriage certificate.
5. Divorce certificate
Issuing agency for this type of document: The state where you were divorced
As with many other important arrangements overseen by the states, you’ll need to go through a local government to obtain a copy of your divorce certificate. In this case, you’ll likely need to contact a county or city clerk. When replacing any of these documents, it’s important to have a state-issued ID ready, such as an unexpired driver’s license or a passport, to confirm your identity.
6. Death certificate
Issuing agency for this type of document: The state where the death occurred
Death certificates are issued by the state so you’ll need to contact the vital records office. In many cases, you’ll need to know where and when the death occurred. You might also need to provide information about how you’re related to the deceased person and why you’re interested in having a death certificate. Depending on the state, you might need to prove your identity and relationship to the person.
7. Vehicle title
Issuing agency for this type of document: The state where the title was registered
In general, states issue vehicle titles. However, if you bought your car with a loan, there’s a chance your lender can help you get a copy since they usually keep the title until the car is paid off. You can also contact your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles for a copy of the title.
You usually need the car’s VIN — vehicle identification number — along with the make and model. This information can be found on your car insurance card or on the car itself. You might also need the license plate number, and finally, you’ll probably need ID to prove your identity.
8. Property deed
Issuing agency for this type of document: County where the property is located
If you lose a property deed, you should contact the local county recorder’s office. The county recorder has all of those records and can issue a certified copy if needed. Find out from the county recorder’s office what documentation you need to make a request.
Issuing agency for this type of document: School that issued the diploma
The record of your achievements can be important, and you might want to replace a lost diploma. Contact the registrar of the school that issued the diploma. You might need to pay a fee and provide some form of identification. Some schools allow you to request the replacement online and pay the fee with a credit card.