Are You Prepared for an Emergency?

Hurricane season is around the corner. That means it’s time to prepare your home, car, and loved ones for any potential emergencies. It's also important to remember to financially prepare for any situation. This goes beyond having a rainy day fund. It means having copies of your most important documents, like your family's passports, birth certificates, bank information, insurance documents, and medical records. Keeping safe copies of these or knowing where to get them after a disaster is one of the most important steps you can take to prepare.

Replace Your Vital Records

Find out how to replace vital documents, such as birth certificates, Social Security cards, and more.

Replace Lost or Stolen Identification (ID) Cards

State-issued Identification

If your driver's license or state-issued identification (ID) card was recently lost or stolen, contact your state motor vehicle agency.

When requesting a state ID, you may need to provide other forms of ID that contain your photo, full name, and date of birth. Contact your state motor vehicle agency to find out what you need to bring with you to prove your identity.

Social Security Cards

If your Social Security card was lost or stolen, contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) to request a replacement card.

Medicare ID Cards

The SSA can also help you replace a lost or stolen Medicare card.

Medicaid ID Cards

To replace a lost or stolen Medicaid card, please contact your state Medicaid office.

U.S. Passports

If your passport was lost or stolen, you must report the loss or theft immediately. Find out how to report a lost or stolen passport and get a replacement.

Permanent Resident (Green) Cards

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can help you replace a lost or stolen Permanent Resident Card (Green Card).

Federal Employee ID Cards (Smart Cards)

The government agency that you work for can help you replace your Smart Card.

U.S. Military ID Cards

Learn how to report a lost or stolen military ID card and how to get a replacement.

Vital Records Issued in the United States

Vital records consist of birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates. State government vital records offices issue these documents. To get a copy of a vital record, contact the vital records office in the state where the event occurred.

How to Replace Your Lost or Destroyed Vital Records

Replacing all important documents that were lost or destroyed in a flood, fire, or other disaster can be overwhelming. Although the process varies from state to state, these general steps can help you get started.

  1. Replace your birth certificate. Find the vital records office in the state where you were born. Check to find out if you can obtain a certified copy of your birth certificate without any identification and follow the instructions. A few states don’t require a government-issued photo ID, or accept other solutions like a sworn statement of your identity. Some states allow your mother or father whose name is on the birth certificate to submit a notarized letter with a copy of their photo ID. If you do need your own government-issued photo ID to get a copy of your birth certificate, start with step 2.

  2. Replace your driver’s license. Get this first if you cannot get your birth certificate. This task varies from state to state. In some states, you can do it online.

  3. Replace your marriage certificate. You’ll need a certified copy as proof if you changed your name when you got married. Contact the vital records office in the state where you were married.

  4. Replace your Social Security card. It's free but you'll need a government-issued photo ID. 

  5. Replace your passport. Report your lost or destroyed passport to the Department of State. To apply for a new passport, you’ll need to fill out a form DS-11 and go to a passport acceptance facility or agency. You’ll need your birth certificate or a certified copy, and a government-issued photo ID.

  6. Replace other important documents. Your state or local election office can tell you how to replace your voter registration card. Contact the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to find out how to replace naturalization or citizenship documents. Learn how to replace other documents including Medicare and Medicaid cards and military and federal employee IDs.

Government agencies usually mail replacement vital documents. But if your home was destroyed in a disaster, you might not be able to get your mail. Contact your local post office and ask if you can pick up your mail there or request to have your mail forwarded to a temporary location.

Get a Copy of Your Birth Certificate

As a U.S. citizen, your birth certificate may be your most important document. It proves your identity and age. You'll need it to:

  • Apply for a passport or government benefits

  • Enroll in school

  • Join the military

  • Claim pension or insurance benefits

If you need a copy, where you were born will determine how to get it.

Birth Certificate Copies: Born in the U.S.

Contact the vital records office in the state where you were born to get a copy of your birth certificate. Follow the instructions for requesting copies and paying fees. If you need a copy fast, ask about expedited service or shipping when you place your order.

Birth Certificate Copies: Americans Born Abroad

If you were born to American parents abroad, they should have registered your birth with the country's U.S. embassy or consulate. If they did, they would have received a Consular Report of Birth Abroad. You can get a copy of this report from the U.S. Department of State. Depending on the country, a vital records office in the nation may also list the birth.

If you were born on a military base abroad, your parents may not have registered your birth with the U.S. embassy. In that case, you may have to contact the hospital where you were born. You can also try contacting the base operator or the public affairs office for the appropriate military branch.

Birth Certificate Copies: Born Abroad and Adopted by U.S. Parents

A child born in a foreign country and adopted by a U.S. citizen will not receive a U.S. birth certificate. The country in which you were born will have issued it. To get a copy, contact the nearest foreign embassy or consulate for that country. If you need an authenticated copy and it's not in English, ask the embassy for help to get it translated.

If you were adopted from another country by a U.S. citizen, you should have copies of your naturalization/citizenship papers. If you don't, submit an application for replacement of naturalization/citizenship form. For help, contact U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Request a Replacement Marriage Certificate

Marriage Licenses and Marriage Certificates

A marriage license is the piece of paper that authorizes you to get married. A marriage certificate is the document that proves you are married. Typically, the person who performs your wedding ceremony submits the license to the county office within a few days of the ceremony. Your marriage certificate is then issued and sent to you, usually within a month.

Obtaining a New or Duplicate Marriage License

Most marriage licenses expire within 30 days to a year, depending on the issuing state. If your license expires before you get married, you can apply for a new one. If your license is lost or destroyed after the wedding, before being submitted to the county, the person who officiated should contact the office that issued your license to obtain a duplicate.

Obtaining a Copy of Your Marriage Certificate

For a certified copy of your marriage certificate, contact the vital records office in the state where you were married for instructions on how to request a copy and information on any fees.

Even though the guidelines vary by state, all requests should include:

  • Full names of both spouses at time of marriage
  • Month, day, and year of the marriage
  • Place of marriage (city or town, county, and state)
  • Purpose for which copy of marriage certificate is needed
  • Relationship to persons whose marriage certificate is being requested
  • Daytime telephone number (include area code)

Request a Certified Copy of a Death Certificate

You may need to provide a copy of the death certificate of a spouse or other family member for a variety of legal reasons.

Tasks Requiring a Death Certificate

You may need a copy of the death certificate to:

  • Claim life insurance

  • Apply for a spouse’s pension and/or Social Security benefits

  • Apply for Medicaid benefits

  • Change joint bank and credit card accounts, utilities, mortgages, vehicle titles, and leases

  • Remarry

Check to see which require a certified copy of the death certificate and which require just a photocopy.

Requesting a Death Certificate for a Death in the U.S.

You can request a certified copy of a death certificate from the vital records office of the state or territory in which the death occurred. See the instructions for that state or territory for details such as:

  • Fees

  • Address to write to

  • The requestor’s required identification

In addition to your state’s requirements, all requests should contain:

  • Full name of the person whose death certificate is being requested
  • Their sex
  • Their parents' names, including maiden name of their mother
  • Month, day, and year of their death
  • Place of death (city or town, county, and state; and name of hospital, if known/applicable)
  • Purpose for which the copy is needed
  • Your relationship to the person whose record is being requested
  • Your daytime telephone number with area code

Requesting a Death Certificate for a Death Outside the U.S.

You will need to obtain a copy of the U.S. embassy or consulate's report of the  death abroad for U.S. legal proceedings. See Death of an American Abroad for details on obtaining a copy of this report.

Divorce Decrees and Certificates

A divorce decree is an official document from the court that grants the termination of a marriage. It includes specific details of the divorce.

A divorce certificate is issued by a state vital records office. It shows that a divorce occurred but does not state all the same information as a divorce decree. You can save time and money by determining which document you need before requesting a copy.

U.S. Divorces

Get a Copy of a Divorce Decree

Contact the "county clerk's office" or "clerk of the court" for the county or city in which the divorce was granted.

Get a Copy of a Divorce Certificate

Contact the state vital records office in which the divorce was granted.

Overseas Divorces

If the divorce occurred in another country and you're in the U.S., contact that country's embassy or nearest consulate. They can tell you how to get a copy of the divorce decree.

United States law does not require U.S. citizens to register a foreign divorce decree at an embassy. But if the country in which your divorce took place is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Authentication of Documents, you may bring your divorce decree to a U.S. Embassy or consulate to have it certified.


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