In 2019, I wrote a post about the Death Café – important information for U.S. citizens living abroad, or for that matter, any foreigner living in another country. I write about my experiences in Mexico, because that is what I know, but the same questions can be applied to any country with answers being according to the laws of your particular country.
Warning – this is a long and detailed description of things to be considered if you plan to spend your life in another country, especially if the official language of that country is not your native language. As long and as dry as this post might be, it is a very important subject and will save your loved ones a lot of grief if you are prepared ahead of time and have these important discussions with them.
For those who didn’t read the previous post, and for those who did but don’t remember the details, I will recap the information here. Every baby born in Mexico has a first name, possibly a second name, and two last names called Apellidos. The first last name is the name of the baby’s father. The second last name is the last name of the baby’s mother. For example, if the father’s name is José Gómez González and the mother’s name is Rosa López Ceja and they have a baby girl they name Maria Guadalupe, her name will be Maria Guadalupe Gómez López. She can be called Maria Gómez for short, but the full name is the one she will carry for her entire life. The same rule applies to boys. When a girl marries, her name doesn’t change.
When a person dies in Mexico, the name on the death certificate is the same as the name on the birth certificate, and therein lies the problem for foreigners who have changed their name. In the United States, it is common for married women to take their husband’s last name, which is what I did. Therefore, my legal name is not the same as the name on my birth certificate.
And so, in order to reduce complications for my family when I eventually pass away, I needed to make sure that my death certificate here in Mexico would be acceptable under my legal name in the United States. The first task was to get a copy of my birth certificate, since my original was so old it was faded and much of it was unreadable. However, it was not sufficient to have a new birth certificate from the Department of Health of my state – an Apostille had to be attached. An Apostille is: ” a specialized certificate, issued by the Secretary of State. The Apostille is attached to your original document to verify it is legitimate and authentic so it will be accepted in one of the other countries who are members of the Hague Apostille Convention.” That involved sending the original new birth certificate to the Secretary of State and for a fee they attached the Apostille to it, certifying that it is legitimate.
After receiving the documents, I then took the birth certificate with apostille, my marriage certificate and divorce decree to a certified translator in order to have certified translated documents. Once all of that was accomplished, I was ready to take my original documents plus my translated documents to a lawyer or a justice. I chose a justice and had him create a document that stated the person listed on my birth certificate, and my current legal name are one and the same person.
I then asked the justice about a Mexican healthcare proxy. There doesn’t seem to be a standardized form, as there is in the United States, so it would appear that I will have to create my own, and that will be another post at some point in the future. Meanwhile, talking about end-of-life wishes is not something that is normally done here, as I realized when the justice said to me, “You think a lot about death.” My answer was that, as a nurse, I have seen too many times the distress and problems caused by people or families faced with a sudden death or critical condition of a loved one when no conversations have been had ahead of time.
So – I have my plot in the local cemetery, my “tomb” has been constructed, my paperwork is in order for the death certificate, and it was time to create a contract with a local funeral parlor. Since I have no idea when, where or under what circumstances my time will come, it will be left to my family to decide on embalming or cremation, but all other services are included in the contract.
With all of that done, I have the originals in a secure locked box and copies of all documents in an easily accessible place in my house, with two close friends aware of where to find them. Included are names and phone numbers of people to contact when the time comes, and since I am in Mexico, I have a bilingual friend who is responsible for notifying my family.
I am very grateful for having attended the Death Café and learning that simply purchasing a plot in a local cemetery is far short of all that is necessary when you pass away in a foreign country. And since I also live in a non-English-speaking foreign country, I have done all that I can do make the burden on my family as light as possible.
A final point that I would like to make is that, even if you reside in your home country, it is always a good idea to discuss with your family, loved ones, or even a close friend what your wishes would be in the event of an accident or illness and where to find important papers and documents that you or your family will need. But, as I said, more detailed information will be in a future post, and so, until next time, stay safe everyone. Nos vemos.