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How to Handle an Expat Death in Mexico

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Doctor rushing down a hospital hallway
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Spencer McMullen blogs on legal matters on Expats In Mexico
Spencer McMullen

Most expats come to Mexico to live a relaxed lifestyle, but at some point you need to know how to handle an expat death in Mexico. As Benjamin Franklin said, “ The only two sure things in life are death and taxes.”

Planning ahead will allow your heirs, whether family, friends or charities, to have fewer hassles when administering your estate.

Planning ahead also means having a will as well as beneficiary clauses for your assets wherever possible, and know who will handle things when you are gone. You should also have your cremation or burial prepaid and have a good relationship with a doctor who will issue the death certificate.

For real estate in the state of Jalisco, you can have a beneficiary clause included to avoid probate and make the property transfer easier. The only restrictions are that you can only name as beneficiaries your spouse or parents, grandparents or children and grandchildren.  You will have to prove this relationship when you want to change the deed by providing marriage or birth certificates along with apostilles or legalizations, depending on where the certificates are from.  Other states in Mexico do not have provisions for beneficiary clauses in property deeds, so you will need to leave a will.

Most banks in Mexico allow you to leave your account to beneficiaries if you die.  It is a good practice when designating beneficiaries to name replacements because things happen and you may live a long life, longer than the first person you named as beneficiary.

A will serves to dispose of your assets, the assets you have now and others you may later acquire.  Another important part of having a will is the naming of an executor.  Many people put off making their will because they have beneficiary clauses or have few assets. But an important part of a will is an executor who will fight for you when you are gone, since powers of attorney expire upon your death and the will takes over.

If someone steals your property or embezzles your funds or if your death was related to an auto or other accident, the executor of your estate will be the legal representative to pursue your case with the insurance companies and in the courts.  While naming your children as executors may make you feel comfortable, do they speak Spanish and will they be able to travel to Mexico to properly take care of your affairs if needed, especially if there is a prolonged legal matter?

A Mexican will, if done through a Notary Public, is registered in the national will registry so nobody can change it after the fact.  A will made in Mexico in front of a Mexican notary is valid in Mexico as well as in other countries.  The only requirement may be an apostille and translation, although we work with notaries who do dual column wills in both English and Spanish so all involved will know exactly what each part of the will says.  You may choose that your will is only valid in Mexico or worldwide.  Generally speaking, it is best to have a will in each country where you have property to avoid having to validate a foreign will. It is also better when having to transfer real estate.

When naming people as beneficiaries or heirs, leaving them bequeaths or other items or assets, please be sure to check their full legal name to avoid problems when they are to receive the asset.  Mexico is very strict with names and Billy Smith is not the same person as William James Smith.  In wills and property deeds you can place name variations to clarify that a person is one in the same, such as Ana Valeria Salas, also known by her married name of Ana Valeria MacGregor.

Also, if you wish to leave property to a charity or legal entity, it is best to ask them for their corporate documents to see their exact legal name.  Many people know entities by their nicknames or names in English but do not know their true legal registered names in Spanish.  Be sure to specify which office or branch will receive the money. Merely naming the Red Cross may cause problems as there are several: the national Red Cross, Mexican Red Cross and Jalisco State Red Cross with one office in Chapala and another in Ajijic.  Being specific will avoid disputes later on.

After preparing a will you will need to have a personal doctor.  This will prevent being taken to a morgue for an autopsy if you are found dead alone, unless foul play is suspected. Then, the police will need to be called.  Your doctor can confirm if you died from natural causes, avoiding having to make others fill out forms to claim your body.  Your doctor should also know your full legal name (best to give him/her a copy of your birth certificate and passport) as well as your parents’ names and spouse’s name.  This will ensure that there are no errors on the death certificate, which is harder to change after the fact and could cause problems or delays in the probate process.

Your doctor will need to do something with your body, so it is best to get a prepaid cremation plan with one of the funeral homes in your area so no person or authority has to store your body until someone comes to claim it and pay the fees to take it to the funeral home.  We have seen cases where the family or friends went on vacation and the body went unclaimed for weeks and had to be taken out of refrigeration.

A prepaid plan where family, friends and neighbors know about it will make sure the doctor knows where to have the body sent and will not have to pass the collection plate around in order to pay for it.  The funeral home will usually coordinate with the doctor, the consulate in your home country and the civil registry for the death certificates and the report of citizen death abroad.

As soon as possible after the death, the legal representative, executor and family need to be notified in order to secure the deceased’s valuables and important papers. Locks should be changed immediately and all property photographed and inventoried. No one should be left unattended inside the property.

To recap, here is a checklist to follow:

Preparation

  • Make sure you have beneficiary clauses on your bank accounts and home.
  • Have a properly done will for each country you have assets naming substitute heirs and executors.
  • Have a family doctor who knows you.
  • Have a prepaid arrangement with a funeral home.
  • Have recently issued and apostilled legal copies of your birth and marriage certificates and adoption papers, as well as documents for any biological children who will receive property.
  • Let your executor/family/representative know where a copy of your will and other legal papers are. Also, let those close to you know whom these people are so they can be notified immediately as to what you want done with your body or ashes.
  • Make sure you register with the local consulate of your home country so they will have your emergency contact information.

Upon Your Death

  • Have somebody immediately notify your executor/family/ representative/family doctor.
  • Have your executor/family/representative notify your attorney and home country consulate.
  • Have your executor/family/representative secure your property and assets and bar entry to everyone (except police and MP) to avoid theft of items or claims of possessory/squatters rights.
  • Have your executor/family/representative obtain copies of the death certificate, ashes, certificate of cremation and consular report of death abroad (first 20 copies are free, so always request 20).
  • Have your executor present copies of the death certificate to all banks with a request to freeze all accounts to avoid embezzlement and use of ATM cards, credit cards and checks tied to the accounts.
  • Prepare any probate filings and if necessary ask for a provisional designation of executor to fight legal battles in the courts.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent article, excellent advice. Clearly stated and I appreciate the step-by-step instructions. Important exercise for all of us expats who don’t want to be a burden on family/friends.

  2. This is tricky. I am a residente permanente in Mexico. I have this older camper van which is in good shape but I cannot sell it in Mexico without a big hassle. Will my death nationalize my vehicle since none of my beneficiaries will want it and will sell or donate? No speculation please, can someone answer this?

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