Mary’s widowed father, John, is a world traveler. He has circled the globe many times as V.P. of marketing for a major technology firm. Now retired, John travels a minimum of eight months of the year. John has heart disease and wants to see and do everything he can while still physically able. Mary worries about her father and wants to develop a plan if the worst should happen; her father is seriously ill or dies while overseas.
Mary has developed a list of questions. John has used the internet, a contact at the United States Bureau of Consular Affairs, and his attorney to answer each of Mary’s questions. If you or a family member like to travel, you may have similar questions.
- How will I be informed if my father is unconscious or dies while overseas? John will carry contact information for Mary and his attorney and a copy of his passport when he travels. If foreign authorities report a death to a U.S. embassy or consulate, the United States Bureau of Consular Affairs in that country will attempt to notify John’s next of kin. The Bureau of Consular Affairs confirms the death, identity, and U.S. citizenship of U.S. citizens who die outside of the country. Carrying the contact information for Mary and his attorney will help facilitate this process. John can also enroll in step.state.gov to receive alerts and ensure he can be located in an emergency.
- How can John get help if he needs it while traveling? According to the Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. citizens in an emergency can call +1-202-501-4444 or navigate to travel.state.gov John will also carry the contact for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
- How will I pay for John’s medical expenses if he should die overseas? The Bureau of Consular Affairs will guide Mary on safely transferring money to pay for John’s expenses, including hospital, burial, and related costs. The Department of State has no funds to help pay for any expenses for U.S. citizens who die abroad or assist with funding to transport the remains home. Mary will need a copy of the death certificate and establish herself as John’s legal representative. Once she has this authority, she can pay John’s bills and take care of other overseas financial matters. Having the legal authority to handle overseas matters does not necessarily translate to having the same authority in the U.S. John’s estate may still need to go through probate.
- How will I arrange for John’s body to be shipped back to the U.S.? The Bureau of Consular Affairs will coordinate with Mary, as John’s legal representative, to arrange for transporting his remains and personal effects. If the foreign country determines an autopsy is required, there may be a significant delay.
Additional considerations: If an infectious disease caused death, additional permits might be required by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before the remains can be brought home. They may also require the remains to be embalmed. The Bureau of Consular Affairs can help navigate these situations. Many commercial airlines work with families to help them transport their loved ones home and offer special bereavement fares.
- Can John be buried in the country in which he dies? The Bureau of Consular Affairs can provide information on making arrangements for local burial or returning the remains to the U.S. They caution that the disposition of remains is subject to U.S. and foreign (local) law, the U.S. and foreign customs requirements, and the foreign country’s facilities.
- How will I get a death certificate issued for John? The Bureau of Consular Affairs may be able to help Mary get a death certificate. After receiving a foreign death certificate, the nearest embassy or consulate may prepare a Consular Report of the Death of an American Abroad. Copies of this report can be provided to Mary. She cannot make insurance claims or claims on property or file probate without this critical document.
- What are the legal ramifications if John has an accident that causes his death? John would be subject to the laws of the country in which he had the accident. There may be civil liabilities as a result of the accident. John or his representative can contact the Bureau of Consular Affairs for help in finding local legal counsel. Since John’s previous employer was a global company, they might also have contacts who can help in a legal situation overseas. Mary has the contact information for a human resources representative at John’s former employer.
- What paperwork should we have prepared in advance? A copy of the will can help document Mary’s legal authority to decide John’s burial arrangements. The will may need to go through probate in Mary’s home state before a foreign country recognizes it. John should also consider naming a power of attorney and completing healthcare directives.
- What happens to John’s personal effects until Mary can establish herself as next-of-kin and legal representative? A U.S. consular officer has statutory responsibility for the personal estate of a U.S. citizen who dies abroad, with no representative in that country. The U.S. consular officer follows local law and takes possession and prepares an inventory of all personal effects. Then the instructions of the next-of-kin or legal representative are followed.
Having answers to these questions before traveling can help you feel more secure that there is help available if your loved one has an emergency while traveling. John has met with his estate planning attorney to ensure that he has his revocable living trust, power of attorney, healthcare directives, passports, and will all up-to-date. He made copies for Mary, and she has the contact information for his attorney.
John has the option of purchasing traveling insurance to help with unexpected costs. He can provide Mary with a copy of the policy and the contact information for the places he is staying, contacts in the foreign country, and the local U.S. consulate office.
If you are planning an overseas trip, we can work with you to review your existing estate planning documents and create any new ones that you might need, for more information, contact us today.
Reference: U.S. Department of State-Bureau of Consular Affairs. (n.d.). Death Abroad. Retrieved from travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/while-abroad/death-abroad1.html
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