What to do When a Floridian Dies in a Foreign Country
Dealing with death is never a pleasant experience. The emotional trauma can quickly take a toll on the family. If the decedent died in a foreign country, the next-of-kin, Personal Representative or Successor Trustee may encounter additional logistical, language, bureaucratic and cultural challenges
Who Can We Trust?When a loved one dies overseas, you need to protect yourself and your family. There are unscrupulous individuals who prey on families in grief. You should contact the attorney who prepared the Will and Trust, if any, to begin the necessary steps to appoint a legal representative who can deal with the overseas authorities. In addition, you should contact the US State Department.
When a United States citizen dies overseas, the United States Department of State Bureau of Counselor Affairs assists the family and friends with navigating the procedures in the country of death. The local US embassy or consulate can serve as an initial point of contact.
The first thing to remember is that the Decedent's body*but not the Estate and/or Trust*will be at the mercy of local laws. Upon notification of a death abroad, you should immediately contact the embassy, consulate or Bureau of Counselor Affairs and request that they provide you with guidance on how to expeditiously deal with the Decedent's body. This is because foreign laws may mandate an autopsy unless waived or direct immediate burial or cremation unless otherwise advised by the next-of-kin or legal representative, such as a Personal Representative, Executor, Administrator or Successor Trustee. If the local authorities suspect foul play, a police investigation may be required.
These foreign laws exist for many reasons such as religious customs, fear of contagion or lack of adequate facilities to preserve remains. Failure to promptly initiate the process of claiming the body with the assistance of Bureau of Counselor Affairs could compel local authorities to conduct a burial or cremation in the foreign county without notification to the family.
You should expect the local funeral home, morgue, or records office to require advance payment of charges but ask the Bureau of Counselor Affairs to verify these are legitimate expenses prior to making payment. If required, the Bureau of Counselor Affairs can also direct you to local attorneys, mortuary services and professionals to assist.
Regardless, the first step is for the Personal Representative, Successor Trustee or next-of-kin immediately contact a Florida Probate and Trust attorney and coordinate with the State Department Bureau of Counselor Affairs to follow local procedures.
How Do I get a Foreign Death Certificate?The Bureau of Counselor Affairs will assist the next-of-kin, Personal Representative, Successor Trustee with obtaining a Death Certificate. However, a local Death Certificate does not always comply with Untied Stats law. Fortunately, the United States government has a form that does.
Upon request, the Bureau of Counselor Affairs will provide up to 20 Counselor Report of Death of a US Citizen Abroad at no charge to the Personal Representative, Successor Trustee or next-of-kin. The Counselor Report of Death of a US Citizen Abroad is issued by the US Government official, contains a seal, and includes important information that permits it to function as a Death Certificate. If the Decedent was a Florida Resident, list his or her Florida address on all official government documents regarding death, including the Counselor Report of Death of a US Citizen Abroad and foreign Death Certificate. Failing to do so could result in a loss of homestead and forfeiture of protected assets. Additional copies of the Counselor Report of Death of a US Citizen Abroad are expensive, $50.00 each, and the estate or Trust could end up paying hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars if they fail to acquire the maximum number of free Counselor Report of Death of a US Citizen Abroad. A local death certificate is usually provided, however, this may not be translated into English, issued by a funeral home, or lack necessary information that would otherwise be required for Probate, Estate and Trust Administration in Florida and the United States. The Counselor Report of Death of a US Citizen Abroad is necessary for a Personal Representative or Successor Trustee to resolve post-mortem Probate, Estate and Trust Administration legal matters.
What About Repatriating Remains?The US government will not pay to repatriate remains or ashes to the Untied States. The Bureau of Counselor Affairs will assist with the preparation and translation of the appropriate mortuary certificate to transport the body or remains but any costs and expenses are the responsibility of the family. In some cases, prepaid funeral services may cover costs incidental to the repatriation of the body or remains. Certain credit cards and emergency evacuation insurance also provide repatriation expense reimbursement. If a family member or friend covers the repatriation expenses, an experienced probate attorney can have any out-of-pocket repatriation charges reimbursed from the estate.
The Transpiration Security Administration (TSA), US Customs, and the Public Health Service may need certain documentation depending on the cause of death and whether the remains are embalmed or cremated. Most of the time, the next-of-kin, Personal Representative or Successor Trustee will simultaneously coordinate with a funeral home in the United States to navigate the US authorities.
When Can We Schedule the Funeral?The smart answer: not until the remains are in the United States and released to the family. The process of repatriating a Decedent's remains is different in each country. If the cause of death is other than natural*such as homicide or communicable disease*then delays should be anticipated. Some countries will move quickly; other bureaucracies move at a glacial pace. The Bureau of Counselor Affairs may be able to provide more information. However, for these reasons, it is best to defer any service until after the remains are stateside.