What happens when someone dies while traveling abroad

Young Caucasian woman in hat looking at scenic view of Gordes village in Provence

Fortunately, the world has gotten smaller and deaths abroad are no longer the logistical disaster of some years ago. When you’re planning on traveling out of the country you should make sure you have your estate planning documents in place.

The first issue is the practical one of disposing of the mortal remains. Different countries have different levels of organization in this area, with Europe paralleling the system in the US. Less developed countries will require you to coordinate with informed local folks, usually the police. And all countries have either an American Embassy (in the capital) or Consular Office in larger cities. These offices are well versed with the local culture.

It is difficult to remember everything but the decedent will probably have had personal items such as a watch, wallet, jewelry, etc. These may be inventoried locally but should be released to the traveling companion. If there are problems, consult with the local Embassy or Consular Office.

A threshold decision would be whether the mortal remains will be brought back. That is doable but expensive. This can be organized locally or by folks in the US. Bringing back “cremains” is clearly easier and most airlines have rules that can be easily accessed. Generally, they want to know in advance, require that the container be permeable by X-Ray and want some statement from the funeral home.

While abroad, you must make arrangement for a death certificate. In the US, each state issues the document but in other countries, the custom varies, for example, it may be issued by a municipality (Germany) or municipal court (France). This is very important for use in the US and should not be postponed as the process may take some time. Additionally, the US Embassy or Consular Office will prepare several documents called the Consular Report of Death Abroad. This is also very important as it is in English and has the formality of a US-produced document.

It goes without saying that whether you travel or not, you should also let your kin know where you keep your legal documents (powers of attorney for finances, an advance directive for health care and will) and that you should make sure your health insurance covers you abroad. Many policies cover only emergency services and one might consider supplementing it with a temporary international policy.

Call an attorney at the Law Offices of Nay & Friedenberg to discuss planning for you and your loved ones.