Estates and Effects of Deceased U.S. Citizens

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

Provisional conservator: The responsibilities of the provisional conservator may include the following:

  • Taking possession of, inventorying, and appraising the deceased’s estate and/or effects.
  • Consular officers may in some cases pay the deceased’s local debts (such as hospital or hotel bills). They do this using funds in the estate or from funds received from the legal representative.
  • Consular officers may also assist in shipping effects to a person entitled to receive them.

The U.S. government does not pay for any expenses related to the storage or shipment of personal effects of a deceased private U.S. citizen.

As provisional conservator, a consular officer may take possession of various small and valuable items found among a deceased U.S. citizen’s estate or effects.

  • Consular officers cannot take possession of large or bulky items. They cannot withdraw funds from a bank, cash checks or convert other monetary instruments. Thay also cannot incur expenses to have effects stored or shipped.

A legal representative of the personal estate may be:  

  • a surviving spouse, child of legal age, parent, sibling, or other next of kin
  • an executor designated in a will
  • an administrator appointed in intestate proceedings
  • an agent of any of these persons.      

Receipt of personal estate: If there is no will and the value of a personal estate is small, then an affidavit of surviving spouse or next of kin may be sufficient to allow the consular officer to release the estate and/or effects to the legal representative or next of kin.  If there are conflicting claims to an estate, then a U.S. or host country court may need to decide who is entitled to receive all or part of that estate.

Shipment of effects: The consular officer may assist with shipping the effects to the United States. This can only be done after the effects are inventoried and proof of entitlement is provided. All shipping costs are the responsibility of the legal representative and/or the estate.

Questions: For more information, you may contact a U.S. embassy or consulate overseas where the death occurred. You can also contact the Office of American Citizens Services in Washington at (888) 407-4747.

Last Updated: January 30, 2024