You are retired and content, living alongside tens of thousands of U.S. citizens who call Thailand home. Have you given thought to the last piece of the puzzle: having your final wishes carried out?
Every year, the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, and U.S. Consulate in Chiang Mai, assist hundreds of bereaved families whose U.S. citizen relatives pass away in Thailand. We have seen the peace of mind that comes from them knowing what their loved ones wanted – and the hardship that comes from confusion and lack of preparation. Below, we share hard-earned lessons to help you care for your heirs and have your wishes met. Above all, this means writing a will and ensuring someone knows you have one.
Notifying Loved Ones – Help Us Help You
When we learn of a U.S. citizen’s passing, we endeavor to find the next of kin and help them work with Thai authorities on next steps like cremation or burial. Though Thai law governs this process, Thai police and hospital representatives frequently rely on the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate for confirmation and to relay instructions from the next of kin.
Sometimes U.S. citizens do not have close family members who can serve as legal next of kin. Your will should clearly designate who you wish to act on your behalf, so we can make sure your wishes are followed quickly. The emergency contact you designate on passport renewals or in your STEP registration should also have this information.
Do You Want to be Cremated, Buried, or Sent Home to the United States?
When you pass away, do you wish to be cremated, or buried? In Thailand or in the United States? Or elsewhere? Who will pay for the funeral arrangements?
In our experience, decisions on funeral arrangements are among the most difficult, emotionally fraught, and frustrating for friends and family. Death overseas adds another layer of complexity. Frequently, the deceased’s remains are held in a hospital morgue in Thailand pending directions from the next of kin or the decision maker designated in the will. This individual may be asked to pay storage fees, or costs associated with final medical care, before their loved one’s remains are released. They must then arrange for cremation or burial, and it gets more complex (and expensive) as they contemplate repatriating the remains to the United States. (The U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate can provide information and help to coordinate with local hospitals and police, but has no funds to assist with funeral arrangements or repatriation of remains.)
You can help your family or other designee by indicating your wishes and setting aside sufficient funds to cover any necessary arrangements. Most importantly, make sure they can access those funds by providing them with a power of attorney.
Who Will Inherit Your Assets in Thailand and in the United States?
Thai and U.S. probate processes are separate and are governed by the laws in each country; your will should address both.
Are you separated or estranged, but not divorced? Do you have a long-time boyfriend or girlfriend, but aren’t married? Do you have multiple children, or numerous siblings? Are you the last living relative?
If you die without a clear primary next of kin, there can be long delays in the settlement of your estate. Worse still, your intended beneficiaries may find they have no recourse if Thai or U.S. law points to a different next of kin and you have not indicated your wishes in a will. And remember, a Thai partner in a “common law” marriage with a U.S. citizen is not recognized by the United States as next of kin – unless he or she is specified in the will.
Do They Know What You Have?
It is also very important you make a detailed list of your possessions and how you want them to be disbursed. While we have found the probate process in Thailand is typically sufficient to safeguard real property (land, condos, houses, etc.), it can be very difficult to account for other items between the time of death and notification of next of kin. This includes bank book information, cash and jewelry, and objects of sentimental value.
The U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate can serve as provisional conservators for your estate if your loved ones are not in Thailand, but we are limited in our ability to immediately secure your possessions. Thai authorities can and frequently do assist at our request, but the surest way you can guarantee your loved ones receive what you bequeath to them is to spell it out in a will. You may wish to have the will translated into Thai and share it with Thai friends, as well.
Who Will Ensure Your Will is Recovered?
Once you have a will, have a strategy for making it known. Thai officials, the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate, and loved ones must all make consequential decisions immediately after a U.S. citizen passes away. Even when we make contact with friends or family members, they frequently do not know if the deceased U.S. citizen had a will.
Make sure your will is stored in a safe, secure, and readily accessible location – such as filed with a law office – and that friends and family, especially the designated administrator, know where it is. You should give them an electronic copy and ensure they know to contact the U.S. Embassy.
Time Now to Sit Back and Enjoy
Thailand has long been a welcoming and gracious host to U.S. citizen retirees. We at the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate are committed to serving your community and helping you to enjoy your well-earned retirement. We hope that you will take the time to ensure your final wishes are articulated and your loved ones are cared for afterwards. Peace of mind, after all, is the goal of the Third Chapter in Life.
This article was drafted by the American Citizens Services unit of the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, part of an advice column for U.S. citizens permanently living in Thailand. For more information that could assist you in planning for your family’s future, please visit our website: https://th.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/death-of-a-u-s-citizen/.