With 3 adopted kids including two born overseas and different parental last names , we suffer when it's time to renew our passports. For reference, here's the procedure we follow as of Nov 2011. Average adults might try renewal by mail, but I don't trust that process.
Note government web sites are usually outsourced to contractors. Every time a contract changes all the links break. You'll usually need to search on key words to find current links.
Recommendations and notes
- Use a regional passport center or other dedicated Passport service. Don't use anywhere else for photographs, don't use the Post Office to renew unless you have to. This is not well documented. If you go to the State Department site you'll find a short list of regional centers. However, we use a local Passport Center that's not on the list: Roseville, MN - Passport Services. We know of that center because I saw it when renewing a driver's license. It is walk in only, there doesn't seem to be a way to reserve an appointment. We know they do photos because we saw them do it. Yes, this is crazy.
- Always pay the expedited service fee, you need it to use the regional passport center anyway. Yes, it's expensive.
- When you have current passport you can use it as proof of citizenship and identity. So never let your passport lapse.
- If renewing a child and parent's passport, do them both in person at the same time and place or else you'll run into catch 22 problems.
- When you go to renew bring checkbook, VISA and Cash. You never know what you'll need.
- Print out the renewal forms and complete them beforehand. If you read the inept State department web site carefully you'll realize that it's not clear if you need DS-11 or DS-82 for an adult renewal. Print them out and complete both in black ink. Minors need DS-11.
- When renewing an adopted minor's passport bring everything you can think of, not limited to:
- Proof of citizenship: Mercifully, an undamaged US passport will qualify, probably even a not-current passport.
- Driver's licenses: Just in case
- Proof of marriage :(esp. if Parents last names differ )
- Adoption documents (evidence of relationship)
- Birth certificates (evidence of relationship)
- Adoption related citizenship documents (in theory only need for initial passport)
- Bring originals and bring photocopies of everything following the strict photocopy rules
- When applying in person you must be patient, reasonably but not excessively friendly, and compliant.
- Bring books for the kids to read, you can't use electronic devices at passport sites.
- Show up at an off-time of day, but not a time when everyone is on break.
- Kids will usually have to miss school to get a passport renewed.
- Even with expedited service, assume a two month turnaround. During that time you won't have a passport.
 America really, really, really wants women to adopt the last name of their husband. This is not changing.