If you are an ex-pat, especially if you are living in a country where English is not the official language, I strongly urge you to find and attend a Death Café meeting.
No, it is not a brand of coffee, nor does it have anything to do with Day of the Dead. Rather, it is a way to gather essential information in case you die or expect to be buried in a country that is not the country of your nationality.
I am going to talk about this in general, since requirements probably vary from country to country, along with some specifics about Mexico, since that is where I live.
The people speaking at this gathering were from a local funeral home. This was good, because they could give us information about what documents were necessary in case of death, who would be responsible for signing a death certificate and what arrangements would need to be made with the deceased’s body. This is important information which may vary from country to country; in Mexico, the body needs to either be buried or cremated within 24 hours of death.
Up until this point of the meeting, I thought I was covered – I paid for a plot in the local cemetery, I have both an American and a Mexican will, and I have designated beneficiaries in all documents that require beneficiaries.
As the meeting continued, I realized that I was woefully unprepared and need to do a lot more work and investigation before everything is actually in order.
First order of business to consider, in a country whose official language is not English, is to have important documents translated into the official language of the country. Birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce decree, all must be translated into Spanish by a certified translator here in Mexico.
If you use a different name than the name on your birth certificate, you need to find out if that will cause problems in your adopted country. Here in Mexico, your birth name consists of: Your given first or first and middle name, your first last name (apellido) is your father’s last name and your second last name is your mother’s last name.
An example is: John Jones and Sarah Smith have a daughter. They name her Mary Katherine. Her full name will be Mary Katherine Jones Smith. That will be her name throughout her entire life, even if she marries. So all documentation from birth through death will have the same name for her.
In the United States, probably most women take their husband’s last name when they marry. Even after divorce, they have a choice to keep that name or change it back to their maiden name. And here, after death, it will cause major problems if your birth certificate name does not match the name you have been using, since the primary document they use will be your birth certificate.
I am currently trying to discover a way to reconcile these facts so there will be no problems after I am gone. I can update my blog with new information as I discover it, but currently I believe that a justice of the peace can legally resolve the issue.
There are two types of legal counselors with which I am familiar here: notarios and justices of the peace. Notarios are not the same as U.S. notaries. Notarios are lawyers and can draw up documents, such as wills, but their documents, such as name changes, might not be accepted by all officials.
Justices of the peace can also draw up documents, such as name changes, and their documents are accepted by officials. They may also charge less for their services, which is an added benefit. Also to be considered, what documentation do your family members need to prove they are your family.
I am continuing to investigate the particulars about Mexico and the U.S., and, as I stated before, rules and regulations may vary according to country, so this post is less about specific details and more about giving a nudge to those who are ex-pats or snowbirds to investigate what you would need to know if you should give your last breath while outside of the country in which you wish to be buried.
Better to be prepared than to leave your loved ones to deal with a bureaucratic nightmare involving two countries while in the midst of their grief.
Until next time – ¡Adiós!