What Happens if a Loved One Dies Out of the Country?

Many people opt to travel more after retiring because they have much more free time. This raises the question of what happens if someone dies while out of the U.S. 

Of course, there are the more obvious obstacles, such as notifying their family and getting their remains back to America. But what impact can this have on their estate? If a loved one recently died out of the country, call an experienced Rosenblum estate planning attorney for advice on how to handle these and other questions.

In this article, we briefly discuss the actions that should be taken if someone dies out of the country. We then explain procedures to ensure that the decedent’s estate is properly administered.

Initial Matters

When someone dies, the family should be notified immediately. If the deceased was traveling with others, they may be able to inform the deceased’s relatives in the U.S. 

The U.S. government will not pay to return someone’s body or remains. However, the government will help the deceased’s relatives contact relevant officials to obtain funds and communicate their wishes for disposition of the body. 

If the decedent has family members in the country where they died, then one of them could become their personal representative. If the decedent does not have a relative or other named personal representative in the country where they died, a U.S. official may assume the role, at least temporarily. 

This is why it is best to name a spouse or another frequent travel companion as an executor. This will ensure that there is someone who can tend to these matters should it become necessary.

What Happens to the Decedent’s Estate?

The deceased’s estate may be handled in different ways depending on where their assets are located. What happens to the estate mostly depends on where the deceased’s assets are located.

If the decedent does not have any assets outside the U.S. aside from what they brought on the trip, then a vast majority of their estate will be handled by the executor that the decedent named in their will. Mind you, in this instance, we are assuming that a vast majority of their estate consists of assets in the U.S.

If the decedent does have major assets outside the U.S., then a personal representative must be chosen to help handle those assets. If no personal representative is named in the decedent’s will, then a U.S. official in the country where the person died will attempt to find a personal representative who can take possession of the property and try to distribute it as the decedent may have wanted.

This underscores the fact that it is always in someone’s best interest to have a valid will or trust in place for every jurisdiction in which they own assets. Creating a will or trust allows someone to specify exactly who they want to handle their assets after they die and how those assets should be disposed of.

Once someone dies, it is too late. It is best to take care of this as soon as possible so that one can rest assured that they are always prepared for the worst.

Returning the Decedent to the U.S.

After someone dies overseas and their relatives are notified, it is time to get the decedent and their belongings back to the U.S. Again, the U.S. government will not pay for this, so that responsibility will fall on the deceased’s personal representative. 

Most thorough estate plans state that the executor, trustee, or other personal representative is not responsible for paying expenses associated with the death of the decedent, including returning their body to the U.S. Rather, the estate plan should provide for the estate to pay these expenses. 

After the decedent and their belongings are back in the U.S., the executor can begin the probate process.

How Does an Estate Plan Play into This?

An estate plan can provide direction and efficiency because less time will be wasted trying to locate potential representatives. That is because the estate plan should name someone that the decedent previously chose. The estate plan also should direct the disposition of their assets.

While dying outside of the country invites some government intervention, dying without an estate plan invites even more. A proactive estate plan allows someone to account for all of their assets around the world, while also planning for any unforeseen instances. The more information and planning that is done ahead of time, the less time will be spent tending to issues that could already have been sorted out.

Aside from creating an estate plan, it is important to clearly plan out what relatives should do in the event you pass while out of the country. If at all possible, it may be best to bring trusted individuals to handle one’s affairs should they be needed.

Call a Rosenblum Law Estate Planning Attorney for a Free Consultation

At Rosenblum Law, we have decades of experience in creating estate plans that are carefully tailored to the individual needs of our clients. While we can address all of your domestic affairs, we can also provide some information about the limitations of estate planning when it comes to foreign assets. 

Either way, we assure you that you will leave this process with a clear understanding of how your estate plan works and how it can best serve you and your loved ones. For a free estate planning consultation, give us a call at 888-235-9021.

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