Death Preparation and Procedures

This page is based on information received at the US/Canada Consular Town Hall meeting on January 14, 2020 in Progreso.

Advance Preparation

Step 1Make key decisions about what you want to occur in the event of your passing and share this information with your family and local contacts.

No one likes to think about the ultimate “what if,” but to reduce the amount of anxiety that will be experienced by those you leave behind, it is best that you communicate your wishes to your loved ones so that they do not need to figure out what you might have wanted, especially if they are not already here in Mexico. The two key decisions you need to make and communicate are:

    • Where you want your remains to end up?  That is, do you wish your body to be shipped back to your home country for burial/cremation or do you wish your body to remain here in Mexico?
    • If you wish to remain here, do you wish to be buried or cremated?

The answers to these two questions need to be communicated to those that you have appointed to handle your affairs and it is best if these are in writing.

Step 2Get your documents in order and communicate where they are located to those who will be handling your affairs.  The key documents that are needed in the event of a death abroad are:

  • Your original birth certificate and a copy that is translated into Spanish by a certified translator or is in the form of an “apostille” – more on that in a moment.
  • Your passport (original and and a copy)
  • If you are married, your original marriage certificate and a certified copy or apostille of the certificate. Canadians should provide their “long-form” marriage certificate.
  • If you are a temporary or permanent resident, your original residency card and a copy

If you do not currently have originals of your birth or marriage certificates, these can be obtained from the local or state civil registries where you were born or married. If you were born in a foreign country (that is, outside the US or Canada), you will need to communicate with that country to get your original documents.  For the US, here is a link to the state civil registries to obtain originals of your birth or marriage certificates:
https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/w2w/index.htm

For Canadians, you must request original documents from your province. You can contact your province directly or use a private service that does this for you – here is one that came up on Google:  https://vitalcertificates.ca

Special note for those whose current names do not match the names on your birth certificate: For any number of reasons, some individuals have names on their passports and other current identity documents that do not match the names on their birth certificates. This is most often the case with women who change their names (sometimes more than once) when they get married.

In this case, individuals must obtain an “affidavit of identity” which is a legal document that traces the changes of some one’s name through the legal documents provided (such as birth certificates and marriage certificates) to establish that someone who was Mary Jane Smith born in Nebraska is now Mary Jane Wilson Jones living full-time in Mexico!  A local lawyer can help you obtain this affidavit of identity.


For US Citizens:  Once you obtain your original documents, they either need to be translated into Spanish using an apostille or by a certified translator.  An apostille is an internationally-recognized way of translating legal documents from their original language to the language of another country. Many countries around the world have agreed to this format, including the US, but not Canada. Many processes here in Mexico require an “apostille” copy of birth and marriage certificates, so it’s a good idea for US citizens living here full or part-time to have their vital documents “apostilled.”  Here is a link on how to get that done:
http://www.apostilleinfo.com/usa.htm

For Canadian Citizens:  Canada is not part of the international apostille agreement, so Canadians must FIRST have their documents certified by the nearest Mexican Consulate in Canada to the province that issued the documents. A list of Mexican Consulates in Canada can be found here:
https://consulmex.sre.gob.mx/toronto/index.php/en/servicesforeigners/visas?id=243

Once you have your documents certified by the Mexican Consulate in Canada, then you must get it translated by a translator certified by the State of Yucatan.


Once you have your documents in order, put them altogether in one folder or binder, put them somewhere safe and let others know where they are!  These documents do no good if they cannot be located in the event that you are not around to point someone to them!


Step 3 – Prepare a Mexican Will if you have assets in Mexico

Your will in Canada or the US is not valid in Mexico.  Therefore, if you have assets in Mexico, like a car, the contents of your house or a bank account, you should get a Mexican will.  If you purchased your house through a fidecomiso, you can designate a beneficiary to the property within the fidecomiso document.  You will need to amend your fidecomiso document, which is something the bank or a lawyer can help you with.  (In other words, your house does not go in your Mexican will; the fidecomiso handles disposition of the house in case of your death.)

However, designating a beneficiary within your fidecomiso does not extend to the contents of your house, or any other assets in Mexico.  For that, you need a Mexican will.  Most lawyers who work with the expat community can help you prepare your Mexican will. September is “will month,” and many offer discounts during that time.  Put your Mexican will with the other documents you have prepared in the case of your demise, and make sure you send a copy to your loved ones so they know it exists.

The Mexican will is also used to establish a local executor – someone who can act on your behalf to carry out your instructions. This could be your spouse or a legal representative to whom you have given power of attorney.


Step 4 – Prepare a living will, if desired.

Living wills are documents that provide instructions to health care providers about what to do in the event that you cannot make health care decisions for yourself.  Only some states in Mexico allow for living wills, and Yucatan is one of them.  Without a living will, not even your spouse can instruct a health care provider to disconnect machines that may be keeping you alive.  So if this is an important issue for you, get a living will prepared ahead of time that designates who can make this decision on your behalf.  If this is your spouse, you might want to add an additional person to this document in the event that neither of you are able to make this decision.  Keep this living will with your other documents and let your loved ones know of its existence.  (Note that a living will in the US or Canada is not valid in Mexico!)


Step 5 – Establish a local executor.

Even if you do not prepare a Mexican will because you don’t have any assets here, you should provide power of attorney for someone in Yucatan who can manage the process of dealing with your death.  This could be your spouse, but in the event your spouse is also incapacitated it is a good idea to have one other person designated as your executor here.  If this is not done in your will, then you can prepare a power of attorney ahead of time that is notarized identifying your executor.  A local attorney can help you prepare this document.


What to do when someone dies

If a foreigner passes away in Yucatan, the first call should be to either the US Consulate in Merida or the Canadian Consulate in Playa del Carmen –contact information is at the end of this article.  In both cases, the consulate staff will send you an email with instructions on what to do next.  This is the moment where having all the necessary documents prepared ahead of time can greatly reduce the anxiety, confusion and stress of those who have to deal with your death.  The Consulate staff are here to assist US or Canadian residents or visitors in the event of a death abroad, so they can be a great resource during this difficult time.

The next call will most likely be to a local funeral home, of which there are a couple here in Progreso and many more in Merida.  The funeral home director will handle the entire process of communicating with the civil registry authorities (who are the ones who will issue the official death certificate and will also issue the approval to remove the body from Mexico, if that is the desire of the deceased).  In addition to the legal documents described above, the funeral home will need a form from a doctor identifying the cause of death which will be used on the death certificate provided by the civil registry.

Based on information given to the funeral home, they will arrange for burial or cremation here in Yucatan, or arrange for transport of the body back to the deceased’s home country. An additional form is required from the State Ministry of Health to allow a body to be transported out of the country.

For those who might be interested, the funeral home that was part of the panel discussion offers a “pre-pay” service that allows individuals to contract in advance for burial or cremation services, so that family members do not need to worry about this aspect of the process.  For example, the current price for a “pre-pay” cremation service is $13,000 MX.

After you have contacted the funeral home to begin making arrangements for the disposition of the body, the next call most likely will be to the local executor, who can assist in dealing with the assets left behind here in Mexico.


Contact information for key individuals participating in the January 2020 panel: