Estates of Deceased U.S. Citizens

Notification of Next of Kin: When a U.S. citizen dies abroad, a U.S. consular officer attempts to notify their next of kin or other legal representative. If no legal representative is in the country, the consular officer will then assist in arranging for the disposition of the remains and the deceased’s personal effects, per instructions from the legal representative. The consular officer may also act as provisional conservator of the deceased’s personal effects.

Provisional Conservator: The responsibilities of the provisional conservator include taking possession of, inventorying, and appraising personal effects. Consular officers may also pay local debts (such as hospital and hotel bills) from funds available in the estate, or from funds received from the legal representative, and may assist in shipping the effects to the person entitled to receive them.

The U.S. government is not able to pay for any expenses related to the personal effects of a deceased private U.S. citizen.

As provisional conservator, a consular officer will may take possession of: 

  • jewelry
  • convertible assets, such as money
  • luggage
  • clothes
  • personal documents

A consular officer 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    

A legal representative for the personal estate may be: 

  • an executor appointed in a will, to whom letters testamentary are issued;
  • an administrator appointed in intestate proceedings;
  • an agent of the executor or administrator, qualifying by power of attorney;
  • a surviving spouse;
  • a child of legal age; 
  • a parent;
  • a sibling; or
  • next of kin.

Entitlement to Receive Personal Estate: A U.S. or host country court must decide who is entitled to receive a particular estate if there are conflicting claims to the personal estate. If the value of a personal estate is small, an affidavit of surviving spouse or next of kin is often sufficient to allow the consular officer to release the estate.

Shipment of Personal Effects: After the personal effects are inventoried and proof of entitlement is provided, the consular officer may assist with returning the effects to the United States if the claimant wishes. All shipping costs are the responsibility of the claimant.

Questions: For additional information, you may contact a U.S. Embassy or Consulate or the Office of American Citizens Services at (888) 407-4747.

Last Updated: November 20, 2018