Monday, January 21, 2008

When a Relative Dies Abroad - What to Do

I recently had to set up arrangements for someone who died in Nairobi. It is relatively easy to arrange to repatriate the remains, or alternatively to arrange for cremation.

The United States Embassy Citizen Services -- at least the one in Nairobi, Kenya -- has an entry on its web site for: Assistance to U.S. Citizens who are incarcerated or have relatives who die in Kenya.

In my case, while there was an eight hour difference between Washington DC and Nairobi, and it was a Sunday before a holiday, a very nice, cooperative and helpful duty officer took down all of the relevant facts and said he would get back to me with information, which he did half an hour later.

He gave me a list of funeral services that could make all of the necessary arrangements. As I learned these include transporting the body from the hospital to the funeral home, obtaining an autopsy from a pathologist (required), embalming and packing the body in a body bag which is placed in a metal lined casket which is then placed in a crate.

The cost is around $10,000 and half of that is the airplane ticket. The airlines insist on protecting themselves from the possibility that the fluids from the deceased might, in case of some accident, flow onto all of the rest of the luggage in the hold and contaminate it. I was assured that such an eventuality is virtually impossible, but the airlines have the opportunity to take advantage of the situation and exercise stochastic pricing.

The steps to take are:

  • Arrange with the funeral home to take the steps you want, repatriation or cremation, or hold the body while family members and the legally responsible person are able to sort through the decision.
  • Pay the hospital bill so the hospital will release the body to the funeral home.
  • Assure that the funeral home has all of the relevant information for the death certificate (names of parents, birthplace and birth date).
  • Obtain a Consular Report of Death Abroad. This last is important to assure domestic entities (Social Security, life insurance companies, etc., etc.) that the death occurred as stated on the death certificate. The consulate or embassy will issue the CRDA on presentation of the death certificate and passport of the decedent.
The hardest part is often getting agreement among family members as to what course of action to take. Don't underestimate the difficulty in finding agreement among family members. Repatriating the remains involves not only transport but then the funeral, which can easily double the cost.