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Death: Overseas when the unthinkable happens

When a Family Member Dies Abroad

A  checklist for the most difficult of times.

The passing of a loved one irrevocably alters family life but it can impact an global family way more than you ever thought!

After a death, there is so much to deal with. Some things may be put on hold. But …This must be done, though, and it is better to do it sooner rather than later.

Status of Residency

Check with your embassy on the status of your residency in your host country. If the deceased is the ‘work permit’ holder things might move very quickly on your staus of being legally in that country.

If you are a USA citizen, the Bureau of Consular Affairs assists the family and friends during this difficult time. They can locate and inform the next-of-kin of the U.S. citizen’s death and provides information on how to make arrangements for local burial or return of the remains to the United States. Remember the disposition of remains is subject to U.S. law, local laws of the country where the individual died, U.S. and foreign customs requirements, and the foreign country facilities, which are often vastly different from those in the United States.

Upon issuance of a local death certificate, the nearest embassy or consulate may prepare a Consular Report of the Death of an American Abroad. Copies of that report are provided to the next-of-kin and may be used in U.S. courts to settle estate matters.

Remember to request copies of the death certificate. Depending on where you live, you will have to find ways to get this document and how to report it to your own passport country.  Some countries allow you to phone, email or personally visit the office of the county recorder or county clerk, or report to the vital records department (sometimes called the state registrar or department of health).  Some countries maintain their own registrars of births and deaths departments.

Call the deceased’s lawyer or CPA, they should be quickly notified, along with any business partners and the executor of his or her estate. You must have a say in the decision-making that follows. The goals of protecting family assets, carrying out your loved one’s bequests, and determining the next steps for a family will follow.

Don’t forget to call your loved one’s current or former employer(s). Notify them even if he or she left the work force years ago, as retirement savings or pension payments may be involved.


Hard questions to ask

As hard as it is to talk to your love ones boss or HR department, it is  appropriate to ask about pertinent financial matters – savings that will be inherited by a beneficiary or what will happen to unused vacation time and/or unpaid bonuses.

Certain rules and regulations can make things complicated and this is amplified when you live abroad.

Most financial firms and other institutes might ask you to supply:

*A certified copy of the account owner’s death certificate

*A notarized affidavit of domicile (a document certifying his or her place of residence at the time of death)

Note: Often if the named beneficiary of the retirement plan assets is a minor, his or her birth certificate will be requested. If the named beneficiary is a trust, the financial firm will want to see a W-9 form and a copy of the trust agreement.

If USA residence, you should call Social Security.  You may now qualify for survivors benefits – and you should let Social Security know as soon as possible, as these benefits may be paid out relative to your application date rather than the date of your loved one’s death.

Necessary Paperwork

In all cases, you will need to have some extensive paperwork on hand:

*Proof of the death (death certificate, funeral home documentation)

*Your late spouse’s Social Security #

*His/her most recent W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax return

*Your own Social Security # & birth certificate

*Social Security #s & birth certificates of any dependent children

*Your marriage certificate and or divorce papers

*The name of your bank & the number of your bank account for direct deposit purposes

Call the insurance company. Assuming your loved one had some form of life insurance, contact the policyholder services department of that insurer and confirm the steps for claiming the death benefit. It isn’t unusual for people to own multiple life insurance policies.

In the USA, if the family member was a veteran, call the VA. Your family may be entitled to funeral and burial benefits.

And then the final “Whammy!” A final individual income tax return may be required for the deceased.

Notes:  Other countries will have similiar needs and yet each country is very set in their ways about what needs to be done in the event of a death in your family.  Please take time to read the local information in your host country and make sure you are familiar with the needs of your passport country.

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