Personal Finance 

How To Replace Destroyed or Lost Important Documents

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When I started my new job, I went through a process familiar to anyone who has ever worked – filling out a W-2 W-4 (you know what I meant!). If you have a passport, filling out a W-4 is easy because you only need that one document. If you don’t have a passport then you’ll need two documents – like a birth certificate and a driver’s license. Well, for about two days I couldn’t find my passport or my birth certificate (I found them after all) but I started to wonder what I would need to do if I had to actually replace them – so, off to the internet I go to find the sources.

One thing to consider doing is photocopy all of your important documents. While they won’t carry as much legal weight, having them is infinitely better than not having them and starting from scratch. At least with a photocopy of the document, you know what organization to seek out to get a certified copy.

Birth Certificate – You will have to go to the Office of Vital Records (that’s the name in New York, your state will probably have a slightly different name) of the state (or sometimes the county, depending on how your state does it) you were born in and submit a request. You will essentially have to provide all the information on the certificate in order to prove that it’s you, which can be tricky if you didn’t photocopy it.

Driver’s License – Your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (or Motor Vehicles Administration, whatever it’s called in your state) is the place to go and you’ll need proof of identification. Check with your state’s DMV to see what you’ll need as it differs slightly from state to state.

Passport – You’ll have to get a replacement from the State Department and I wrote up a relatively detail set of instructions on how to get a passport. You’ll need photo ID so get yourself a driver’s license first if you lost that too.

Social Security Card – Go to your nearby Social Security Administration office to reapply for a new one. I wrote a post about replacing a lost social security card that may be of use, note you’ll need a Driver’s License or a Passport so if you lost those you should get a replacement of those documents before the SSN card.

Property Deed – Your county courthouse will have this on record and will be able to provide a certified copy, usually for a processing fee.

Title Insurance Policy – Your real estate agent (or his or her company) will be able to get you in touch with the title underwriter, who will have a copy of the policy. If you already know who your title insurance underwriter is, since you likely talked to someone there, then you can reach them directly.

Mortgage – Your lender will obviously have this and can get you a copy of your loan agreement.

Car Title – If you still owe money on it, don’t worry, you didn’t lose it because you never had it, your lender does. 🙂 Otherwise, you’ll have to visit the great Department of Motor Vehicles in your state and request a new one. (Thanks CK)

Marriage License (and Divorce papers) – These documents are also at the vital records department, the same place as where you’d get your birth records for except in the county or state you were married in (sorry for the confusion), so go back there to get these records. (Thanks NCN)

Diplomas – Hit up your College or University’s Registrar. (Thanks Mapgirl)

US Permanent Resident Card (Green Card, USCIS Form I-551) – Getting this replaced is straightforward and requires you to fill out USCIS Form I-90 (also available via an online form). USCIS Form I-90 has further instructions as does this page. (Thanks KKai)

Can anyone think of any other important documents I should add to the list?

{ 70 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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70 Responses to “How To Replace Destroyed or Lost Important Documents”

  1. CK says:

    How about a car title?

  2. broknowrchlatr says:

    I had a friend who lost the first 4 of these and get them back. Going through the process proved that it is very easy to steal somone’s identity. In my county, you get the birth cirtificate from county offices. Or, for $10, it can be mailed to the address on record (and they will tell you what it is). so, you steal that person’s mail and you have a birth certificate. Take that to the social security office for your SSN. Take them both to get a new copy of everything else you need.

  3. NCN says:

    Great post! I’ve “dugg” it! How about:
    Insurance Policies and Marriage Licenses?

  4. Rob Carlson says:

    Some of us didn’t get married in our hometowns, so it wouldn’t be the same place we got our birth certificates to get a copy of the marriage certificate.

    I believe the marriage license is what you submit to the minister and the minister submits to the county. It’s not proof that you are married. Only the marriage certificate is.

    In Howard County MD, at least, you don’t get the certificate as part of the process so you have to request it by mail or in person when you need it. I know because I went through the process two weeks ago.

  5. Patrick says:

    Great post! This is a great resource people should print and file with their financial documents and other papers.

    Agreed on the marriage license. We had to mail away for ours.

    One hint for Passports: if you recently had a name change (i.e. a woman recently married) you can send in your application for a new passport with your wedding certificate and old passport and you will save money on the application fee. (It’s less work for them).

  6. rob says:

    Think about:

    * scanning then,
    * encrypting them on Blowfish (free) and
    * storing on your e-mail

  7. Orthros says:

    Settlement statements when you sell a house. I’m trying to track mine down as I type so I can pay a lower tax rate. 🙁

  8. snoop says:

    The escrow company usually keeps copies of the settlement statements. Contact them.

  9. Mark B. says:

    There are two forms the government requires when you start a new job: the I-9, which shows that you are authorized to work in the U.S. (and it’s that form which requires a passport–or some combination of other documents); and the W-4 form, a tax form that sets withholding allowances, etc. That form doesn’t require your passport, but the HR folks may require you to show your social security card.

    The W-2 is what your employer gives you at the end of the year, showing your income, etc.

  10. KKai says:

    US Residential Card?
    (Or commonly referred as “Green Card”)

    • john hoyland says:

      trying to get my green card renewed before drivers lisence expires dont know my number, have birth certifict and ss card what do i do

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  12. adam says:

    Hmmm. That didn’t help too much. I’ve been trying to get information on replacing a Birth Certificate. You see, the hospital (and all records) burned down many, many, many years ago, and we don’t have any copies. The fact a driver license exists is remarkable. We’d like the Birth Certificate to be able to obtain a passport* (and maybe prove who’s who if Homeland ever come’s-a-knocking).

    Any idea what to do, or who to talk to, or where to go, if no record of your birth exists anywhere on the planet, and your folks are dead?

    *Unfortunately, you need a birth certificate or an obscene amount of documents to get a passport. Hoping birth certificates are easier to come by.

  13. Posco says:

    YOU the employee had to fill out a W-2 form?? I’m pretty sure you were filling out a W-4 form and an I-9 form, not a W-2 form.

  14. Andy says:

    Divorce papers wouldn’t normally be at the marriage license bureau, nor would that bureau know a marriage has been dissolved or annuled. You go to the clerk of the court where the marriage was dissolved to get a certified copy of the decree.

    If you were married under common law ( ) then there is not necessarily any public record unless you got a declaration from a court. If you were born or married, etc. abroad, then the State Dept. Visa Reciprocity and Country Documents Finder is the place to look:

    For tax records, the IRS can provide transcripts but not necessarily copies of returns:,,id=157643,00.html

    Wills and powers of attorney normally will have to be executed all over again, and if the principal (testator, grantor of the POA) is no longer mentally competent you have a real, probably insurmountable. problem of proof. Almost any other legal paper can be proven by secondary sources or certified copy. (A will can, in principle, too — but if anybody dissents you are likely to be stuck with your state’s intestacy rules.)

  15. Glyph45 says:

    Not sure how you would replace it but military discharge papers; ie dd214. Needed for just about any kind of vetrans benefit; Education benefits, VA services, job preferences etc.

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  17. becky says:

    In a lot of states, you get a copy of your marriage license through the county recorder of deeds, not vital records, of the county in which you were married. There’s a cost for a certified copy, but it’s usually not large.

    Vital records is more of a state-wide office, whereas recorders are county offices.

    You can also get copies of warranty deeds (showing how much is owed on a property), property deeds (showing the owner of the property) and usually subdivision info and timeshares, too.

    (I grew up around a county recorders’ office. Mom was a deputy recorder.)

  18. Dick Manikowski says:

    For detailed info on how to obtain birth, death, marriage, and divorce records in each US state, territory, or protectorate, check out Where to Write for Vital Records (

  19. PT says:

    Thanks for the practical advice. I will file this away next to our important docs in case they are lost/stolen. Oh, but, wait….

    I had to get my birth cert from the state of louisiana 3 mo’s after Katrina….WAS A BEATING!

  20. Cafemonkey says:

    What if you were born overseas?

  21. H Pham says:

    What about change-of-name granting when one becomes US citizen. I list the court issue paper.

  22. Karin Grice says:

    In the first paragraph above you’re talking about filling out an I-9, NOT the income tax form. The I-9 verifies your eligibility to work in the US.

  23. BARRY says:

    If you have small children, immunization records might need to be replaced as well. Go to their pediatricians, even if you are no longer with them, they usually keep that information safely and securely.

  24. Kat says:

    @Glyph45–so right about the importance of the military DD214. My husband misplaced his right as we were qualifying for our VA loan the week we got married. Sheesh. Tore everything apart looking for it. It’s necessary for everything from vets’ benefits to funerals and everything in between. Relatively easy to replace, even though the military beats into you “do NOT lose your DD214 or the sky will fall!!” It may be on file with the county/parish courthouse; more likely, you’d need to go through the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO. They have websites that can walk you through it. But since it’s something you don’t use every day, if you lost everything, say, in a fire, it might take a while to remember it.

    Another I was going to add was any paperwork related to a security clearance, though my husband, who works for Navy, assures me that that’s all on file “somewhere,” and is also fairly easy to retrieve.

    @Barry: my child’s doctor has her records on file, but her actual immunization record is kept at the school. When we evacuated for Katrina and wound up in Maryland, we had NO vital paperwork with us. Fortunately, she was regisered as “homeless,”–a psychic blow, but one that cut through the paperwork like a knife thru butter. We were fortunate not to have to produce the paperwork; it’s all kept in my parents’ fire safe, and in the rush to leave SELA, everything but the oh-so-easily-replaced insurance documents was forgotten. My insurance companies never even asked for paperwork; when I called them, they pulled my files up by name, address and ssn. Made me wonder why I’d been guarding the folder with my life. Go figure!

    On a related note, may I suggest keeping a file with all your pets’ identification and immunization records, as well as any meds they take. Also copies of your own prescriptions, your glasses/contacts prescriptions, etc. We learned from experience that you need these at the worst possible time, and when there’s no phone or electrical service back home, it makes it very hard to obtain needed info.

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