Creating a Life Documents File Guide - Free

A Life Documents File is a collection of important documents, including legal documents, such as your will, Birth Certificate, etc.

This page explains how to create this file and how to replace lost or destroyed documents. This document is offered as a public service and a public license to link to this document is granted. Likewise, you may print and distribute this document for other than "for profit" purposes.

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By: U.S. Legal Forms Staff Attorney

Many of us don't like to think about the need to sit down and write a will, or procrastinate on the assumption that the need for certain legal documents will arise at a future date. However, no one can predict when an emergency or disaster situation will occur, and if caught unprepared, a person often faces a much greater burden and expense in resolving their legal affairs. Creating a Life Documents File can help us to not only organize our legal affairs, but also to preserve our wishes, make sure our loved ones are cared for, and enable us to plan ahead for life's unforeseen events.

This guide is divided into seven parts. Part I - contains an overview of what is meant by the term "Life Documents File." Part II - offers a guide for replacing lost or destroyed legal documents. Part III - contains information on how to prepare certain legal forms that would be beneficial to maintain in your Life Documents File. Part IV - recommends specific legal documents for different population segments. Part V - provides information to help you be better prepared for natural disasters. Part VI - offers information on protecting yourself and your documents against identity theft. Part VII - includes useful links to additional resources.


A Life Documents File is a collection of our important legal papers from identification records and major contracts we have signed to legal documents we have prepared or have had prepared for us by an attorney.

Examples of documents we should keep on file include the following:

Legal Papers to Keep on File

   Birth Certificate or Adoption Certificate
   Social Security Card
   Marriage Certificate
   Divorce Decree
   Loan documents
   Insurance Contracts - life, health, home, auto
   Military Discharge or Military ID
   Naturalization Papers

Legal Forms to Prepare and Keep on File

   Letter of Instruction
   Living Will
   Power of Attorney
   Name Change (if applicable)

Once you have compiled all of your important legal papers into a Life Documents File, you will need a safe place to keep them. Find a location at home where you know they will be secure, yet readily accessible in case you need to leave your home in a hurry and take your file with you. A personal home safe is best. You can also keep a copy of your Life Documents File at local bank by renting a safe deposit box. If you have an attorney, make sure he or she has a copy of your life documents file too. If you don't have an attorney, make sure a family member or close friend has a copy or knows about the location(s) of your file so they will know where to obtain your legal documents in the event you are unable to communicate with them.


This section provides details and instructions for how to go about replacing common legal documents that may have been lost or destroyed.

Birth or Adoption Certificate

There are various entities that house birth and adoption information. They are, but are not limited to:

* Court that granted the adoption (court records)
* State Department of Health-Bureau of Vital Statistics (original birth certificate)
* Child-Placing Agency, if one was used (agency record)

Requests for birth or adoption certificate forms are often submitted to the county office in charge of vital statistics records, such as the Department of Public Health or Bureau of Vital Statistics. Procedures vary by jurisdiction for requesting a copy of an adoption certificate. Requests may need to be made at the local court where the adoption was finalized. If an adoption agency was used, records may also be obtained there.

Some of the information that may be required includes:

1. Full name as listed on the birth certificate and proof of identity (acceptable proof of identity varies-driver license, non-driver photo-ID card, passport, employment ID, military ID, etc.)
2. Date of birth
3. Mother's name and maiden name (her name prior to first marriage)
4. Father's full name (if available)
5. Hospital name
6. Check or money order for processing fees


The following steps need to be followed in order to replace a lost or missing passport:

   Make a report of missing or lost passport by applying in person for a new passport.
   Complete form DS-11 Application for Passport. If your most recent passport was issued less than 15 years ago and you were over 16 years old at the time of issuance, you may be eligible to use Form DS-82 (mail-in application).

   Complete form DS-64, Statement Regarding a Lost or Stolen Passport to U.S. Department of State if passport was still valid.

   Submit forms to a clerk of a federal, state, or county court of record or a judge or clerk of a probate court accepting applications; a designated municipal or county official; a designated postal employee at an authorized post office; or an agent at a Passport Agency in Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Norwalk CT, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, or Washington DC; or a US consular official at a US embassy or consulate, if abroad. To find you nearest acceptance facility, visit the U.S Department of State website or contact the National Passport Information Center.

The passport application form requires the following items to be submitted with it:

4. FEES (As explained on reverse of form.)

Social Security Card

The following documents are required to obtain a replacement social security card. The documents must be originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. Uncertified or notarized photocopies will not be accepted and will be returned.

1. "Application for a Social Security Card" Form SS-5 is available for download at: Here . You can also obtain Form SS-5 by calling 1-800-772-1213 or visiting your local Social Security office.

2. Identity: Proof of identity in the name you want shown on the card must be provided. The document must be recently issued and should contain a photograph. A non-photo identity document might be accepted if it has enough information to identify you (e.g.,your name as well as your age, date of birth, or parents' names).

A birth certificate or hospital birth record is not acceptable as evidence of identity. Some documents that can be accepted as proof of identity are:

   Driver's license
   Marriage or divorce record
   Military records
   Adoption record
   Life insurance policy
   Health Insurance card (not a Medicare card)
   School ID card

3. U.S. Citizenship: Most documents that show you were born in the U.S. are accepted as proof of citizenship. If you are a U.S. citizen born outside the U.S., a U.S. consular report of birth, a U.S. passport, a Certificate of Citizenship, or a Certificate of Naturalization can be submitted.

4. Alien Status: You must present an unexpired document (not an application receipt) issued to you by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), such as Form I-551, I-94, I-688B, or I-766. If you are not authorized to work in the U.S., you can be issued a Social Security card if you are lawfully here and need the number for a valid nonwork reason. Such cards are marked to show you cannot work and DHS will be notified of violations. If you're a noncitizen, your documents will be verified with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) before a SSN card is issued.

Marriage Certificate

Requirements for obtaining a copy of a marriage certificate vary according to local law. The county office of vital records (marriage, death, and birth certificates) where the marriage license was obtained may require applications to be made in person or may also allow applications to be made by telephone, mail, email, or fax. A processing fee and valid proof of identity (preferably with a photo) is typically required.

For example, in one county, individuals appearing in person will be permitted to receive an authorized copy, after presenting a valid government form of identification and signing a statement sworn under penalty of perjury that the requester is an authorized person. Those who are not authorized by law to receive a certified copy will receive an authorized certified copy marked "INFORMATIONAL, NOT A VALID DOCUMENT TO ESTABLISH IDENTITY."

In another county, the following requirements apply to a request for a marriage certificate:
Marriage records that are less than 50 years old can only be released to:

1. The husband or wife

2. Person presenting written authorization from either the husband or wife. The written authorization must be an original. No facsimiles or photo copies will be accepted.

3. Attorneys in cases where such records are required as evidence (when making a request, attorneys, on their official stationery, must indicate the party or parties that they represent, the nature of any pending action, and make an affirmative statement that such records are required as evidence in such proceedings).

3a. If you are an attorney appearing for the purpose of obtaining Marriage Records be prepared to provide in addition to the standard identification, proof of your profession. Such proof may be the standard court issued identification or a business card which matches your identification. Attorneys making a request in person should be prepared to sign a sworn statement attesting that the marriage records are needed as evidence in a legal proceeding. For attorneys using a messenger, your letter, which should be on your official stationery, should identify the messenger by name and the messenger should be prepared to present one of the standard forms of identification.

4. Persons without written authorization can request and pay for Marriage Records in person. However, such records will be mailed to the address of the husband or wife and will not be given to such person.

5. Children of deceased parents will be provided parental Marriage Records upon presentation of the death certificates of both parents.

Divorce Decree

Requirements for obtaining a copy of a divorce decree vary according to local law. The county office where the divorce was obtained may require applications to be made in person or may also allow applications to be made by telephone, mail, email, or fax. A processing fee and valid proof of identity (preferably with a photo) is typically required. In many states, the persons eligible to obtain a divorce decree are the wife, the husband, or a person authorized by court order.

Loan Documents

The borrower should write a letter to the lender requesting one or all of the below documents and/or information. Federal laws, such as the Consumer Credit Code and Privacy Act of 1998 apply to loan documents in many cases.

Under the Consumer Credit Code, a borrower, mortgagor, or guarantor can request certain documents and information from the lender for loans regulated under the Consumer Credit Code. The documents and information that can be requested by a borrower, mortgagor, or guarantor are:

I. Copies of:

1. The loan contract.
2. Any credit related insurance the lender possesses.
3. A copy of any notices previously sent or given to your client under the Consumer Credit Code.

II. A statement of the following:

1. Current balance of the loan account(s).
2. Any amounts credited or debited during the term of the loan contract(s).
3. Overdue amounts and when they became overdue.
4. Payable amounts and the date that it became due.

III. A loan payout figure with itemization of the amount, such as interest and fees.

Download our Personal Planning Forms Package and begin the process. Includes a Will, Living Will, Power of Attorney and other forms.

The Privacy Act 1998 applies to a very wide range of situations not covered by the Consumer Credit Code. It is recommended that all requests for information under the Consumer Credit Code also cite the Privacy Act as the basis for the lender providing the requested information.

The Privacy Principles contained in the Privacy Act allow borrowers to obtain copies of information contained in their "personal file" held by the lender. The Privacy Act governs the handling of personal information of consumers by the government and business.

The types of information held by a lender in the consumer's "personal file" are:

* A copy of the loan document
* Correspondence and notes
* Loan account statements

Insurance Contracts - home, auto, life, health

A copy of the relevant contract can be obtained by submitting a written request to the issuing agent or company, detailing as much of the pertinent information as possible, such as the name of the insured, details regarding property insured, policy coverage dates, etc. Forms and applicable fees vary by company.

It is advisable to have a list of policy numbers and relevant information stored in a safe location for reference in an emergency.


Requirements for replacing lost titles vary by jurisdiction and type of property. In many cases, only the current owner is eligible to receive a duplicate title, and must submit an application and applicable fees.

Real property titles are typically obtained from the recorder's office of the county in which the property is located. The recorder's office will usually require you to provide the owner's full name, location of property, and what year the property was purchased. It helps if you have the County Tax Parcel Number (usually available from the County Tax Assessment Office or similar office).

A car title application typically must contain the vehicle identification number, the owner's name and address, and the signature of the registered owner. The vehicle identification number can be found on your registration card, or on the vehicle itself. The current odometer reading may also be required.

For example, to obtain a replacement title for an automobile in Georgia, the state Motor Vehicle Department website explains that the following requirements apply:

   If the original title was issued showing joint ownership, each owner's full legal name and signature is required. The record owners are the owners shown on the face of the Georgia title and on the vehicle's current title record.

   A replacement title cannot be issued in a deceased person's name. In this case, comply with the requirements for obtaining a title after inheritance. If your name has changed since the title was issued, complete the application in your new name and attach a certified copy of the legal court document authorizing the name change, i.e. certified copy of your marriage certificate, divorce decree or other court document.

   If the missing or damaged Georgia title was assigned to you instead of issued in your name, the record owner, as shown on face of title and on the vehicle' current title record, must apply for the replacement title.

   Enter the vehicle's current odometer reading as of the date of application for vehicles requiring an odometer disclosure. Check the appropriate box when the vehicle's odometer does not reflect the total distance the vehicle has traveled: Exceeds the mechanical limits of the odometer (99,999 on a five-digit odometer or exceeds 999,999 on a six-digit odometer) or the vehicle's odometer does not reflect the total distance the vehicle has traveled (i.e. odometer broken, repaired or incorrect). Enter "exempt" only when the vehicle is exempt from the odometer disclosure requirements.

   If all owners go in-person to their county tax commissioner's office with their valid Georgia driver's license or Georgia identification card showing their current name and address, any required supporting documents (i.e. original lien release, powers of attorney, etc.) the required fees and the vehicle's current odometer reading (when required), this application can be completed online and printed for your signatures and processing requirements. Please be sure to bring a complete description of the vehicle (year model, make of vehicle, and the vehicle's identification number) with you when applying for a replacement title in person.

   Original lien or security interest release, Form T-4, from each lien or security interest holder recorded on the original title that has now been satisfied or paid.

   Do not record satisfied or paid lien or security interest information on the application.

   Do record new or unsatisfied security interest information in the order perfected. Enter the full legal name and current address for each lien or security interest holder in the order their interest was perfected.

    Important: If your financial institution released their interest in your vehicle on the vehicle's title and and you did not apply for a clear title, then the lien or security interest is still recorded on the state's title records and a new release is required.

   If the recorded security interest has not been satisfied, the security interest holder may apply for a replacement title for their customer.

   Mutilated (damaged) title, when applicable.

   *$8.00 replacement title fee. Pay with cash, check, or money order payable to the office processing your application, Office of the Tax Commissioner or Department of Revenue. Please do not remit cash through the mail! Some counties accept credit cards."

Military Discharge

If you are a veteran, obtain copies of your Military DD214 - the documents for veterans' benefits and enhanced Social Security entitlements. Copies may be obtained by contacting the U.S. National Archives & Records Administration at 1-866-272-6272 or 1-86-NARA-NARA or by accessing Veterans Records online at:

The Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. 552a) requires that all requests for records and information be submitted in writing. Each request must be signed and dated by the veteran or next of kin. If you are not the veteran or next of kin, you must complete the Standard Form 180 (SF 180).

Requests for the issuance or replacement of military service medals, decorations, and awards should be directed to the specific branch of the military in which the veteran served. However, for Air Force (including Army Air Corps) and Army personnel, the National Personnel Records Center will verify the awards to which a veteran is entitled and forward the request with the verification to the appropriate service department for issuance of the medals.

Generally, there is no charge to a veteran for medal or award replacements, but only one replacement may be issued. There may be a small fee charged for replacements requested by family members of deceased servicemembers.

The Standard Form (SF) 180, Request Pertaining to Military Records may be used for requesting medals and awards. After completing to the fullest extent possible, make sure you specifically request medal/decoration replacement in the remarks, and send the form to the appropriate address below:


National Personnel Records Center
Medals Section (NRPMA-M)
9700 Page Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63132-5100

Air Force (including Army Air Corps& Army Air Forces)

National Personnel Records Center
Air Force Reference Branch (NRPMF)
9700 Page Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63132-5100

Navy/Marine Corps/Coast Guard

Bureau of Naval Personnel Liaison Office
Room 5409
9700 Page Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63132-5100

Current Military I.D.

Military members are issued ID cards (DD Form 2) upon entry on active duty and may obtain replacement or corrected cards at most service installations. Copy both sides of your military ID when filing your important documents in a safe location.

For ID card locations, visit:

Alternative ID Card Locations

Naturalization Documents

On September 7, 2005, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it will not bring sanction actions against employers for hiring individuals lacking personal documentation of naturalization status due to being evacuated or displaced as a result of Hurricane Katrina. However, this policy of non-enforcement of civil sanctions under Section 274A of the Immigration and Nationality Act will only be effective for 45 days. After 45 days, enforcement of required identification and proof of eligibility to work may resume. Employers will still need to complete the Employment Eligibility Verification (I-9) Form as much as possible. See Press Release

Naturalization documents are the only acceptable proof of citizenship for individuals not born in the United States. Section 264 of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides that, "Every alien in the United States ... shall be issued a certificate of alien registration or an alien registration receipt card in such form and manner and at such time as shall be prescribed under regulations...." It also states, "Every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him.... Any alien who fails to comply with [these] provisions shall be guilty of a misdemeanor" and may be subject to fine and/or imprisonment upon each conviction. The specific requirements and procedures for applying to replace a permanent resident card are included in the Code of Federal Regulations [CFR] at 8 CFR 264.5.

If you are a permanent or conditional resident, who needs to replace your card, you may apply for a replacement card by filing a USCIS Form I-90. A Form I-90 can be downloaded from , or ordered by calling the USCIS Forms request line at 1-(800) 870-3676, or by submitting a request on-line at After receiving Form I-90, read it carefully. Detailed information is provided in the instructions for Form I-90. Applicants may also file Form I-90 on-line using an Internet connection.

If you are outside the U.S. and have lost your alien registration card, contact the nearest American Consulate, USCIS Office or Port of Entry before attempting to file a Form I-90. If your Form I-90 application is approved, you will be mailed a replacement Permanent Resident Card, Form I-551, which is valid for ten years from the date of issuance.

Previous Year Tax Returns

Tax returns from the previous year may be required to apply for new loans and verify eligibility for income-restricted entitlements. You may request copies of your federal tax return information in the form of tax return transcripts and tax account transcripts by phone or by mail.

   Transcript can be requested by phone at 1-800-829-1040, or ordered by mail using IRS Form 4506T (Request for Transcript of Tax Return). There is no fee for transcripts. Allow two weeks for delivery.

   A tax return transcript shows most line items from your tax return (Form 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ) as it was originally filed, including any accompanying forms and schedules. It does not reflect any changes you, your representative, or the IRS made after the return was filed. In many cases, a return transcript will meet the requirements of lending institutions, such as those offering mortgages and for applying for student loans.

   A tax account transcript shows any later adjustments either you or the IRS made after the tax return was filed. This transcript shows basic data, including marital status, type of return filed, adjusted gross income, and taxable income.

Stock Certificates

To avoid the cost and burden of safeguarding certificates, investors may choose to have their brokerage firm or another company hold their securities for them. In many cases, certificates for many securities are not even issued. These are referred to as book entry securities, in which your ownership is reflected on the books of a company.

   If you have lost your stock certificate, you should first contact the issuing company to advise and ask for replacement instructions. Call the corporation's headquarters and ask for their "investor relations" department. If they can't assist you, you may be referred to the company's transfer agent. A transfer agent is a large bank or other service company used by many large companies to handle the record keeping and issuance of new certificates when stock changes hands. In smaller companies, the corporate secretary can be contacted.

   If your securities certificate is lost, accidentally destroyed, or stolen, you should immediately contact the transfer agent and request that a "stop transfer" be placed against the missing securities. Your broker may be able to assist you with this process.

   The "stop transfer" helps to prevent someone from transferring ownership from your name to another's. The transfer agent or broker-dealer will report the certificates missing to the SEC's lost and stolen securities program.

Before issuing a new certificate, corporations usually require the following:

1. The owner must state all the facts surrounding the loss in an affidavit;

2. An indemnity bond must be purchased by the owner to protect the corporation and the transfer agent in the case that the lost certificate is presented later by an innocent purchaser. The bond usually costs between one or two percent of the current market value of your missing certificates; and

3. The request for a new certificate must be made by the owner before an innocent purchaser acquires it.

An Affidavit of Lost Stock Certificate is used when a stockholder loses his or her stock certificate. Upon receiving the affidavit (along with a bond if required), the company should issue a replacement certificate. Some companies, especially those with publicly traded stock, may have their own affidavit form for you to use.


The wealth of information and options available for handling basic legal matters now makes it very easy and affordable for people to organize their legal affairs and to keep and prepare legal documents. Whether you prepare forms on your own, go through a document preparation service, or hire an attorney to do the work for you, you should create and keep the following legal forms in your life document file: Letter of Instruction, Will, Living Will, Power of Attorney, Trust, and Name Change (if applicable).

The first type of legal form you should consider preparing is a letter of instruction. A letter of instruction is not a formal legal document, but simply a list of instructions for people to follow when you are sick or have died. A letter of instruction will save the executor a lot of trouble and save on accountant and attorney fees in administering the estate, leaving more money for your loved ones.

A letter of instruction includes, but is not limited to, the following:

1. Locations of documents - A list of legal documents, such as wills, trust documents, and powers of attorney, etc., and their location. Be sure to include the location and instructions to computer programs (financial software) and file names where this information may be stored.

2. Contact list - A contact list of names and phone numbers of close family members.

3. Remains - Description of prepaid funeral arrangements, or an indication of a preference for one funeral home over another. A statement of the type of desired funeral and whether burial, cremation, or body donation is preferred. The location of a pre-purchased burial plot or preference.

4. Charities - A preference for charities to receive donations in your honor.

5. Hospitals - Preferences for certain hospitals.

6. Financial status - A relatively current list of assets and debts.

7. Insurance - A list of insurance policies including life, medical, disability, long-term care, and property insurance.

8. Investments - The location of all investment account statements.

9. Titles - The location of all deeds to property.

10. Taxes - The location of copies of tax returns.

11. Personal resources - The name, address and telephone number of the following people:

* The family doctor
* The family attorney
* The family accountant
* The family stock broker(s)
* The religious leader and house of worship.

1. Will

A will is vital to ensure that the wishes of the deceased are carried out. A will is used to distribute personal property, real property, money, and particular items to the intended beneficiaries. A will helps you protect items of family or sentimental value from being sold in the estate administration process.

Without a will, a deceased's property will be distributed according the state intestacy statute, which vary by state, or may escheat (be forfeited to) the state. This may take longer and cost more than if there is a will, and can also mean that your possessions and belongings may not be distributed as you would have wished. Your estate might wind up being administered by a total stranger appointed by the court. A will is the only way to ensure that your loved ones and favorite charities aren't deprived of your generosity.

Even if you are married, living with a partner or have children, it is wrong to assume that they will automatically receive your estate should you die. For example, suppose you die in a car wreck caused by a drunk driver. Even if you have no assets, your estate might have a wrongful death suit that recovers millions, all of which will be divided up by the state if there's no will. Should both parents of a child or children die without a will, a court-appointed guardian takes custody of any minor children and of the parents' estate.

Other advantages of making a will, among others, include:

   It is only through making a will that you can choose individuals you trust to act as your own personal representatives, who will take charge of your estate, wind it up and distribute it according to your wishes.

   With a will, you may make arrangements for the guardianship of any dependent children and so ensure that they are cared for as you would have wished.

   Many people also use their will to give specific instructions for their burial, cremation, or possibly for the donation of organs for medical research.

   A will also can avoid tax consequences that may result in its absence. A properly prepared will can greatly reduce estate tax liability.

   A will can save your family from the burdens of intestate distribution procedures and avoid family disputes.

See: Wills

2. Living Will

A living will legally expresses what you want to occur if you are terminally ill or unable to speak for yourself. It also states who you would put in charge of making final decisions if need be. This would allow doctors to know whether to use artificial means to keep the body alive. The Terri Schiavo case recently highlighted the importance of having a living will in order to have a voice in deciding your fate when you are unable to speak. Expressing your wishes through a living will can save much additional trauma to your loved ones.

See Living Wills

3. Power of Attorney

   A power of attorney allows your spouse, a parent, or another competent person to act for you in your behalf. They are required in certain situations when a person is unable to act on their own behalf, such as being disabled or away on military service or other duties. The main purpose of a power of attorney is to appoint someone to make decisions, sign documents, and carry out other important acts when you are unable.

   Disability can strike any of us at any time. If a person becomes incapacitated and failed to appoint an attorney-in-fact, then no person may sign deeds, make gifts, or make other decisions without court intervention. A power of attorney may be needed to access joint accounts and conduct other transactions. Without a power of attorney, the spouse, parent or other interested party must petition the appropriate court to be appointed as guardian of the incapacitated person. This process usually costs between $2,500.00 and $5,000.00. By signing a durable power of attorney prior to incapacity, a guardianship proceeding can usually be avoided and the attorney-in-fact can usually act on behalf of the incapacitated person in all regards.

4. Trust

A trust is an entity which owns assets for the benefit of a third person, called the beneficiary. A living trust is an effective way to provide lifetime and after-death property management and estate planning. When you set up a living trust, you are the grantor; anyone you name within the trust who will benefit from the assets in the trust is a beneficiary. In addition to being the grantor, you can also serve as your own trustee (original trustee). As the original trustee, you can transfer legal ownership of your property to the trust. This can save your estate from estate taxes when you die. However, you are still liable for income tax obligations

See Trusts

5. Name Change

The need for a legal name change may result from marriage, divorce, adoption or simply a desire to have another name. Proof of identity has also become an increasingly important issue since the passage of the federal REAL ID Act in May 2005. Under the new law, your birth certificate must match your social security card in order to obtain a new drivers license, unless you can show evidence of a legal name change - done through a court proceeding.

   The REAL ID Act will require proof of a legal name change in order to obtain or replace a state driver's license, so it is prudent to go through proper court proceeding in your state today for legal name change and to keep proof of the court order for name change in your legal file.

   Under the REAL ID ACT, if you live or work in the United States, you'll need a federally approved ID card to travel on an airplane, open a bank account, collect Social Security payments, or take advantage of nearly any government service starting on May 11, 2008. Your driver's license likely will have to be reissued to meet federal standards. The REAL ID Act requires states to demand several documents of proof from driver's license applicants, including proof of name, date of birth, Social Security number (SSN) or verification that the person is not eligible for an SSN, principal residence, and that they are lawfully in the United States.

Download our Personal Planning Forms Package and begin the process. Includes a Will, Living Will, Power of Attorney and other forms.


(a) you cannot change your name for a fraudulent purpose, such as avoiding debts,
(b) other people's rights cannot be affected such as celebrities,
(c) use of a curse word as a name would not be recommended, and,
(d) when a minor is involved, the court looks to the best interest of the minor.

Means of changing your name generally include:

(a) Usage - In some states, using a name as your own has the affect of making it your legal name.
(b) Court Order - A court order is recommended to change your name and is required by most states.
(c) A marriage certificate serves as proof of name change.

After you have changed your name you may need to change records including:

   Social Security Card
   Drivers License
   Post Office
   Voter Registration
   Credit Cards
   Insurance Companies
   State Tax Authority
   Employer; and,
   Retirement plans.

You will also need to consider changing your (a) Will, (b) Health Care Proxy, (c) Living Will, (d) Trust, (e) Power of Attorney; and, (f) Contracts .


We start collecting legal documents from the time we are born - with a birth certificate. The need for legal documents will stay with us throughout our lives, whether we prepare or not. Events that may require new legal documents, among others, include going away to college, employment, traveling abroad, marriage, military service, medical illness or accident involving yourself or a family member, divorce, widowhood, new baby, etc. Examples of some specific documents needed due to life events are:

College students: Proof of identity and income to obtain a student loan. If relocating, change of address notifications, birth certificate, social security card, and proof of residency to obtain an i.d. card, obtain a new driver's license, change vehicle registration, and register to vote in another state.

New hires: Proof of citizenship and social security card to fill out required tax and federal reporting forms. If relocating, change of address notifications, birth certificate, social security card, and proof of residency to obtain an i.d. card, obtain a new driver's license, change vehicle registration, and register to vote.

Newlyweds: A will, living will, general power of attorney, estate planning documents, and financial statements.

Overseas travelers: Proof of identity and citizenship to obtain a passport.

Military personnel: A will, living will, financial statement, general and specific power of attorneys.

Newly widowed: An heirship affidavit, revocation of power of attorney, general power of attorney effective immediately, and living will.

Newly divorced: A will, revocation of prior will, general power of attorney effective upon disability, living will, and name change notifications.

Injured/ill persons: A living will, power of attorney effective upon disability, and will.

New parents: A parental permission and medical consent form, power of attorney for care and custody of children, general power of attorney, living will, and will.


USLegalForms hopes to counter the common misbelief that "there is nothing I can do about disaster" and to motivate people and communities to take the steps necessary to better protect themselves, their assets, and financial and legal affairs. According to the National Weather Service, the United States is impacted every year by an approximate average of 10,000 thunderstorms, 2,500 floods, 1,000 tornadoes, and 10 hurricanes. The need for disaster preparedness has increased in importance due to the alarming rate at which the number of disasters in the United States is rising. This increase is not necessarily because these natural hazard events have become more frequent, but because of population increases and the development of new communities in floodplains, along oceanfronts, and in areas subject to earthquakes, landslides and wildfires. People in disaster prone areas need to create a life documents file and prepare essential legal forms, such as a will, living will, power of attorney, and letter of instruction, to help minimize the difficulties faced in dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Some of the steps you can take to protect your important documents' and information's vulnerability include:

   Raising computers above the flood level and moving them away from large windows.

   Storing vital documents (plans, legal papers, etc.) in a secure off-site location, such as a safety deposit box or attorney's office. Generally, originals of wills should not be kept in a safe deposit box since the box may be sealed temporarily after death. Keep originals of wills with your local registrar of wills or your attorney.

   Regularly backing up vital electronic files and storing backup copies in a secure off-site location.

   Buying a lockable, durable "evacuation box" you can quickly access and grab in the event of an emergency. Put copies of your life documents and a safe deposit key into the box in sealed, waterproof plastic bags.

Some of the most common disasters that necessitate the need for a life documents file include floods, earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, landslides, terrorism, thunderstorms, and tornadoes.

    Earthquake - People often assume that they will be protected from financial losses in an earthquake due to federal disaster aid. However, federal disaster aid does not protect the individual homeowner from loss. The most common federal aid after a disaster is low-interest loans, but you still need to pay the loan back.

Standard homeowner and tenant insurance policies do not cover losses that result from earth movement .

However, you can purchase an earthquake endorsement to your standard homeowner's or renter's insurance policy. An earthquake endorsement generally excludes damages or losses from floods and tidal waves - even when caused or compounded by an earthquake. However, loss caused by landslide, settlement, mudflow and the rising, sinking and contracting of earth may be covered if the damage resulted from an earthquake. Earthquake insurance primarily covers major losses, and a deductible typically applies. Some earthquake policies cover dwelling contents and structure separately.
This means the deductible amount applies separately to the:

   Total amount of the loss for contents
   Total amount of the loss for the structure
   Total amount of the loss for unattached structures like garages, sheds, driveways or retaining walls

Therefore, if your deductible is 10%, a $200,000 home with $100,000 contents would only exceed the deductibles if structural damage exceeds $20,000 and contents damage exceeds $10,000.

Factors to weigh in considering whether to purchase earthquake insurance include:

   how close you live to active earthquake faults
   the frequency of seismic activity of the region
   type of building. and foundation construction and materials used
   quality of workmanship
   whether earthquake resistance was factored into the building's design
   type and condition of soil at the site and slope of the land
   fill material
   geologic structure of the earth underneath
   annual rainfall
   value of the building and its contents
   cost of the insurance, amount of the deductible, and restrictions on coverage
(i.e. living/relocation expenses may not be covered)

* Fires and Tornadoes - Fire damage losses due to accidental fire, wildfire, or lightning, tornadoes, and windstorms are typically covered as basic perils under a standard homeowner's policy. A mortgage lender will often require you to have fire hazard insurance to protect their investment.

Some tips for insuring your dwelling from loss include:

1. The most common difficulty faced by those insured when filing a claim is proving the value of the dwelling contents. It is recommended that you videotape your home and valuables and store the tape somewhere it will be safe from destruction.

2. Local ordinances may require partially damaged older dwellings to meet new building code requirements when rebuilt, even if the area wasn't damaged by the event. There are insurance policies that will cover those extra costs, so ask your insurance agent about the specifics of your policy.

3. Review your property value and insurance coverage every few years. The housing boom has increased the cost of building materials, which increases the cost of rebuilding a burned home. If insurance has not been upgraded to meet the market conditions, you may not be entirely covered.

* Flood - Rain entering through wind-damaged windows, doors or a hole in a wall or the roof, resulting in standing water or puddles, is considered windstorm damage and is covered by your homeowner's policy, rather than flood insurance. A flood is defined as "a general and temporary condition during which the surface of normally dry land is partially or completely inundated". Flooding can be caused by heavy rains, melting snow, by inadequate drainage systems, failed protective devices such as levees and dams, as well as by tropical storms and hurricanes.

It is important to understand that a homeowner's policy does not cover flood damage. Flood damage must be covered under flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Disaster relief only applies in certain situations, requiring your property to be presidentially declared a disaster area. Federal aid relief is funded through taxpayer dollars and often must be repaid with interest.

In 1968, Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in response to the rising cost of taxpayer funded disaster relief for flood victims and the increasing amount of damage caused by floods. Nearly 20,000 communities across the United States and its territories participate in the NFIP by adopting and enforcing floodplain management ordinances to reduce future flood damage. In exchange, the NFIP makes federally backed flood insurance available to homeowners, renters, and business owners in these communities. Flood insurance is available to any property owner located in a community participating in the NFIP.

Homeowner coverage limits are up to $250,000 for the home's structure and up to $100,000 for its contents. Renters can purchase a contents policy. For commercial buildings, coverage limits are $500,000 for the building and $500,000 for its contents. In some states, a separate hurricane deductible applies for a hurricane loss. This deductible is often a percentage of the insured value of the home or a dollar deductible that is higher than for other causes of loss. For example, if a house is insured for $100,000 and has a 3 percent deductible, the first $3,000 of a claim must be paid out of the policyholder's pocket. Companies usually offer a range of hurricane deductibles. The NFIP encourages people to purchase both building and contents coverage for the broadest protection.

* Terrorism - Terrorism is the use of force or violence against persons or property in violation of the criminal laws of the United States for purposes of intimidation, coercion, or ransom. High-risk targets for acts of terrorism include military and civilian government facilities, international airports, large cities, and high-profile landmarks. Terrorists might also target large public gatherings, water and food supplies, utilities, and corporate centers. Terrorists are also capable of spreading fear by sending explosives or chemical and biological agents through the mail.

* Dwellings - Acts of terrorism which cause damage to property and personal possessions are generally covered under a standard homeowners insurance policy. Even though the policy doesn't specifically reference acts of terrorism, the damage due to explosion, fire and smoke caused by a terrorist attack would be covered. In the case of condominium or co-op owner policies, damage to personal possessions resulting from acts of terrorism would be covered. However, the condo/co-op board would have to separately purchase terrorism coverage to insure against damage to the common areas of a building like the roof, basement, elevator, boiler and walkways. Similarly, renters' policies would cover damage to personal possessions caused by a terrorist attack, but the landlord would need to purchase terrorism coverage for the apartment complex itself.

* Automobile and Life Insurance - In order to insure against an auto getting damaged or destroyed in a terrorist attack, a policyholder has to purchase "comprehensive" coverage. Most people who have loans on their cars or lease are required by lenders and leasing companies to carry this optional form of coverage. If you have liability coverage only, you are not covered in the event your vehicle is damaged or destroyed as the result of a terrorist attack.

Life insurance policies do not contain terrorism exclusions. If the insured is killed due to an act of terrorism, proceeds will be paid to the beneficiary as designated on the policy.

Both personal and commercial insurance policies restrict coverage for nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological (NBCR) events from acts of war. No formal declaration of war by Congress is required for the war risk exclusion to apply. Under the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (see below), if some NBCR exclusions are permitted by a state, an insurer is allowed to excluded coverage.

In 2002, President Bush signed the U.S. Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), which provides federal insurance backup for insurers, so that they will share the risk of loss from future terrorist attacks with the U.S. government. On December 22, 2005, President Bush signed into law the Terrorism Risk Insurance Extension Act of 2005, which extends TRIA through December 31, 2007. Under TRIA, owners of commercial property, such as office buildings, factories, shopping malls and apartment buildings, must be offered the opportunity to purchase terrorism coverage. For an event to be covered as an act of terrorism under TRIA, it must be certified as such by the Secretary of Treasury, in concurrence with the Secretary of State and the Attorney General. To be certified, damage must result from international terrorism committed on behalf of any foreign person or foreign interest on U.S. soil (however, damage to an air carrier or vessel outside the U.S., or to a the premises of a U.S. mission is covered by TRIA). Acts committed by domestic terrorists or in the course of war as declared by Congress (except as covered for purposes of workers' compensation), are not covered under the bill. The aggregate losses resulting from the terrorist act must exceed $5 million in order to be subject to the program


Identity theft is a pervasive and fast-growing crime that affects millions of Americans each year. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that 43 percent of all complaints received in 2002 were based on identity theft. Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity thieves steal your personal information to access your financial resources, obtain your identification documents, or obtain your benefits. A person also commits identity theft by obtaining goods or services through the use of your identifying information, and by obtaining identification documents in your name. Victims of identity theft may lose job opportunities, be refused loans for education, housing, or cars, and even get arrested for crimes they didn't commit.

In the fall of 1998, for example, Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. This legislation created a new offense of identity theft, which prohibits knowingly transferring or using, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law (18 U.S.C. 1028(a)(7)). This offense, in most circumstances, carries a maximum term of 15 years' imprisonment, a fine, and criminal forfeiture of any personal property used or intended to be used to commit the offense.

Acts committed in connection with identity theft or fraud may also involve violations of other statutes such as identification fraud (18 U.S.C. 1028), credit card fraud (18 U.S.C. 1029), computer fraud (18 U.S.C. 1030), mail fraud (18 U.S.C. 1341), wire fraud (18 U.S.C. 1343), or financial institution fraud (18 U.S.C. 1344). These federal offenses are felonies that carry substantial penalties in some cases, as high as 30 years' imprisonment, fines, and criminal forfeiture.

In the unfortunate event that you experience identity theft, offers a comprehensive guide to dealing with identity theft and the essential forms you'll need to remedy your credit and restore your good name at /criminallaw/identitytheft/

Download our Personal Planning Forms Package and begin the process. Includes a Will, Living Will, Power of Attorney and other forms.


The following links on provides additional information on legal documents mentioned above:

Please use the following links on to view form packages specially designed to meet the specific needs of different population segments and deal with identity theft:

   For newlyweds:

   For new parents:

   For baby boomers:

   For newly widowed persons:

   For newly divorced persons:

   For military members:

   For victims of identity theft:

Some additional links for further information include:

    Social Security Administration information for replacing a lost Social Security card:

    Department of State information for reporting a lost or stolen passport:

    Department of State passport homepage:

List of links to each state's vital records custodian, addresses, and other information for obtaining birth, death, marriage and divorce records- Go

Information on receiving a certified copy of a consular report of a birth abroad- Go

Samples of military ID cards- Go


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