Estates of Deceased U.S. Citizens

Notification of Next of Kin:  When a U.S. citizen dies abroad, a U.S. consular officer usually notify the decedent's next of kin by telephone. The consular officer arranges for the disposition of the remains and the deceased’s belongings or personal estate based on instructions from the legal representative or other qualified party.

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: 

  • jewelry
  • convertible assets such as money
  • Luggage
  • clothes
  • personal documents

As provisional conservator, the consular officer may take possession of, inventory, and appraise 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 to deliver effects to the person entitled to receive them. The U.S. government has no independent authority to 

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       

Entitlement to Receive Personal Estate: A U.S. or host country court must decide who is entitled to receive a particular estate if there is a conflict or question over ownership. 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.

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