The Family: What to do Upon the Death of a Family Member

The death of any person with cross border assets and family members is especially challenging.  Many foreign countries impose worldwide inheritance taxes and may apply statutory inheritance laws.  These laws impact how the assets are distributed and taxed.  The US also has a framework for the Tax and Transfer of Assets which will apply to the worldwide assets of any US citizen, resident, or green card holder.

All of these laws can change over time and the below is only meant to be a guide for the family.  Current tax and legal advice should be sought at the time of death.  Rules for domestic partnerships and same sex couples can also vary based on residence and nationality and the surviving partner or spouse should seek the counsel of an advisor and attorney with expertise in that area.

Our team can advise on estate issues and assist with all of the related tax and legal filings, as well as with making claim for insurance and other benefits.   We recommend clients provide their family members with our details as a resource in the event of death or disability.

In the event of death:

1. Contact any current financial, tax, and legal advisors to notify them of the death.  The CPA will be able to assist with any US tax related items.  The family may also wish to contact their church, synagogue, and local advisors at this time for support and assistance.

2. Obtain the original will from the attorney or ask an advisor to assist with this.  If the original cannot be located, ask the attorney for a copy that was witnessed.

3. Obtain a death certificate.  In order to obtain this death certificate, you will need to present both the hospital death record and an identifying document, such as passport.  Different countries may have different requirements.  Obtain several certified copies of the original death certificate for other filings.  If the death occurs outside of a medical facility (such as a hospital), the local police should be notified immediately.

4. Speak with tax or legal counsel before proceeding with any of the following items:

– Withdrawing assets from any foreign accounts

– Transferring assets in or out of the country of residence as well as the US

– Making a claim on a foreign life insurance policy

5. If he / she has an IRA, 401k or other qualified retirement accounts at that time, contact the custodian where the account is held for the necessary paperwork.  IRAs, pensions, 401k, 403b and other similar plans are not governed by a will or a trust.   These pass according to the named beneficiary on file.  If a US citizen spouse is survived by a non-US spouse, the non-US spouse can have his IRA transferred directly into her account or an inherited IRA account, but should seek US tax advice on the matter.

6. If death occurs outside the US, notify the nearest US embassy or consulate, and the local US social security office.  If the surviving spouse is an expatriate in their country of residence, he/she should also contact their local embassy or consulate for support.

7. If he / she has earned US social security benefits, his spouse and children may be entitled to survivor’s benefits and the local social security office in the US or through the US Embassy can advise on this.

8. Notify employer and any group or personal health, disability, or the life insurance plans he / she owned.  The family may be entitled to a death benefit.  Request the claim form from any life insurance policies that he / she may have had but seek tax and legal advice before filing any claim forms, as there may be tax related factors that influence how and where insurance benefits are paid.

9. If he / she is a US resident at the time of death, seek the advice of a probate attorney in the state in which he / she resides.  His / Her financial advisor or CPA can help the family locate a qualified probate attorney.   A final US income tax return and estate tax return will need to be filed, and an inventory of all his / her assets will need to be made.