Estates of Deceased U.S. Citizens
Notification of Next of Kin: When a U.S. citizen dies abroad, the consular officer usually notifies the decedent's next of kin by telephone. On the basis of instructions received from the legal representative or other qualified party, the consular officer arranges for the disposition of the remains and the deceased’s belongings or estate.
A legal representative for these purposes may be:
(1) An executor appointed in intestate proceedings;
(2) An administrator appointed in intestate proceedings;
(3) An agent of the executor or administrator, qualifying by power of attorney;
(4) A surviving spouse;
(5) A child of legal age;
(6) A parent;
(7) A sibling; or
(8) Next of kin.
If no legal representative is in country, a consular officer will act as a provisional conservator of the deceased’s personal effects.
Consular officers will usually take possession of:
- Convertible assets such as money
- Personal documents
Consular officers cannot:
- Withdraw funds from a bank or cash travelers’ checks
- Incur expenses to have the items shipped or safeguarded
- Take possession of large, bulky items
The responsibilities of a consular officer as provisional conservator include taking possession of, inventorying, and appraising personal effects, paying local debts such as hospital and hotel bills from funds available in the estate or from funds received from the legal representative, and delivering effects to the person entitled to receive them. The U.S. Government has no independent authority to pay for any expenses incurred relating to the effects of a deceased private citizen.
Entitlement to Receive Personal Estate: If there is a conflict or question as to who is the owner or who is entitled to a particular estate, that will need to be determined in a court of law, whether it be in a U.S. court or the host country courts. Often if the value of a personal estate is small, an affidavit of surviving spouse or next of kin is sufficient to allow the consular officer to release the estate.
Shipment of Personal Effects: After the personal effects have been inventoried and documentary proof of entitlement has been furnished, the consular officer can assist with returning the effects to the United States if the claimant wishes.
Questions: For additional information, you may contact a U.S. Embassy or Consulate or the Office of American Citizens Services at (888) 407-4747.
Familiarize yourself with local conditions and laws: While in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws. Check out our country-specific safety and travel information about the places you will visit.