Will Getting a REAL ID be a REAL problem for Seniors Who Can’t Make it to the DMV?

Q. My mother is 73, lives in Virginia and doesn’t have any immediate travel plans, but her driver’s license has expired. She is housebound for the most part due to physical ailments and doesn’t drive. I have been hearing a lot about the REAL ID and she and I are confused about it. What do we need to know about getting a REAL ID, and would someone like my mother even need one? How do I go about getting one for myself?

A. Boarding a plane or entering a military base will be a little more difficult come next October — unless you have a small star at the top of your driver’s license. The star denotes a REAL ID-compliant credential, which means it is up to par with new federal regulations that establish “minimum security standards,” according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). These standards will be enforced starting October 1, 2020.

This compliance is based on The REAL ID Act of 2005, a federal law mandating that REAL IDs are necessary for improving the reliability and accuracy of driver licenses and identification cards. Officials say this change is intended to “inhibit terrorists’ ability to evade detection by using fraudulent identification.”

The REAL ID has generated real confusion for many people, including older adults and their families, particularly around the timing of compliance and how to go about getting one. Hopefully, I can help clear up some of the confusion.

Do Seniors Really Need a Read ID-compliant License?

All applicants for a REAL ID compliant license, including current Virginia license holders, must apply in-person, according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website. This makes it challenging to get one for some seniors and individuals with disabilities who cannot leave their home. The good news is, your mother might not actually need one.

Getting a REAL ID-compliant license is voluntary. If you choose not to upgrade to REAL ID, any standard driver’s licenses issued after October 1, 2018, will say “Federal Limits Apply” instead of having a star. Licenses issued before that date will have neither but will be treated as a “Federal Limits Apply” credential.

If you don’t drive, there are alternatives to driver’s licenses for Real ID if your mother ends up needing to travel. Keep in mind that in Virginia, drivers age 75 or older must appear in person at a DMV customer service center to renew their driver’s license, whether or not it’s a REAL ID. If your mom chooses to travel, she can use a renewed non-REAL ID compliant license or a state-issued photo identity card with a valid passport, a Department of Homeland Security Trusted Traveler card such as Global Entry, or a Department of Defense employee ID card. You’ll find even more accepted documents on the TSA site.

Older Adults Need a REAL ID Only for Certain Situations

Besides commercial air travel, the REAL ID is a requirement for accessing federal facilities. However, it is important to clarify what the Department of Homeland Security means by “federal facilities.” A federal facility generally means a secure federal facility or military base.

The REAL ID is not needed to do any of the following:

• Apply for or receive federal benefits (for example, Veterans’ Affairs, Social Security Administration);
• Enter a post office or other federal facility that does not require identification;
• Ride Amtrak or other public ground transportation;
• Visit a hospital or receive life-saving services.

To reiterate, for older adults, the REAL ID is not needed to apply for or receive federal benefits. So, if your mom doesn’t plan on driving or flying, she likely won’t need a REAL ID. If she does drive or fly, and can’t make it to the DMV, she can renew her license through the mail with “federal limits” as described above and use the additional documentation with it to travel, as described above.

A State ID Card May be Enough

If your mother is no longer driving, she may just need an adult ID card. If the person is infirm, family members of a person suffering from Alzheimer’s or other debilitating illnesses can obtain an ID card for their loved one.

Steps to Get a Real ID

If you are able to somehow bring your mother to the DMV or if you are looking to get a REAL ID for yourself, in Virginia, you’ll have to show up to a Virginia DMV location, pay a $10 surcharge plus any other fees related to obtaining a new license and present the following:

• one proof of identity
• one proof of legal presence
• two proofs of Virginia residency
• one proof of your social security number (if you’ve been issued one)
• a current driver’s license if you are applying to exchange one issued by another U.S. state

A full list documents you can use for those purposes can be found on the Virginia DMV’s website. Your full legal name must be the same across all documents — if your name has changed, you should be prepared to also present documentation such as a marriage certificate or court order.

These are the requirements for Washington, DC.
These are the requirements for Maryland.

What if I no longer have or can’t locate the required documents?

In Maryland, for those 65 years and older there is an exceptions process for those unable to locate their original birth certificate. Customers have the option of presenting a military discharge document (DD214) with full name and date of birth, or a Social Security Benefits statement and one of the following: U.S. Hospital Birth Certificate, U.S. Baptismal Certificate with name and date of birth, U.S. Census Record of birth, or U.S. Veteran ID card with name. Additionally, birth certificates can also be obtained through the Department of Vital Records in the state that you were born. Visit:

Plan in Advance for Your Loved Ones

I hope this was helpful for you and your mother when it comes to REAL IDs. Besides planning to renew a license and/or get a REAL ID before the October 2020 deadline, it is also important to plan ahead for yourself and for your loved ones. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning or Incapacity Planning (or had your planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please contact us to make an appointment for a consultation:

Elder Law Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Law Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Law Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Law DC: 202-587-2797

Print This Page
About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.