Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you tell me how to go about replacing important lost documents? My wife and I recently downsized to a retirement community, and somewhere in the move we lost our Social Security and Medicare cards, birth certificates, marriage license and passports.
Replacing important documents that are lost, stolen or damaged is pretty easy if you know where to turn. Here are the replacement resources for each document you mentioned, along with some tips to protect you from identity theft, which can happen if your documents end up in the wrong hands.
Birth certificate: If you were born in the United States, contact the vital records office in the state where you were born. This office will give you specific instructions on what you need to do to order a certified copy and what it will cost you. Birth certificate fees range between $9 and $30.
Social Security card: You can replace a lost or stolen Social Security card for free, and if you live in the District of Columbia, Michigan, Nebraska, Washington or Wisconsin, you can do it online at ssa.gov/ssnumber.
If, however, you live outside these areas, you'll need to fill out Form SS-5 and take it in or mail it to your nearby Social Security office, along with your U.S. driver's license, or a state-issued non-driver ID card or a U.S. passport (photocopies are not accepted). Any documents you mail in will be returned to you. To find the Social Security office that serves your area, call 800-772-1213 or see ssa.gov/locator.
You also need to be aware that losing your Social Security card puts you at risk for identity theft. If you find that someone uses your Social Security number to obtain credit, loans, telephone accounts, or other goods and services, report it immediately to the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov (or 877-438-4338). This site will also give you specific steps you'll need to take to handle this problem.
Medicare card: To replace your Medicare card for free, just call Social Security 800-772-1213 or contact your local Social Security office. You can also request one online at ssa.gov/myaccount. Your card will arrive in the mail in about 30 days.
By losing your Medicare card, you also need to watch out for Medicare fraud. So check your Medicare Summary Notice for services you did not receive and, if you spot any, call the Inspector General's fraud hotline at 800-447-8477 to report them.
Marriage certificate: Contact your state's vital records office to order a copy. You'll need to provide your full names for 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.
Note: Divorce certificates can also be ordered from your state's vital records office (fees range from $5 to $30), and divorce decree documents can be obtained from the county clerk's office for the city or county in which the divorce was granted.
Passport: A lost passport also puts you at risk for identity theft, so you need to report this as soon as possible to the U.S. State Department. Go to travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/lost-stolen.html and fill out Form DS-64. You'll receive an e-mail acknowledging that your report was received. Within a couple of days, you'll receive another e-mail (or letter, if you request that option) confirming that your passport has been entered into the Consular Lost or Stolen Database.
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 for a replacement passport is $135.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.