How to Die in Mexico

How to Die in Mexico

While many focus on coming to Mexico to live a relaxed lifestyle, nothing lasts forever and old age and bad fortune can befall us all one day. As Benjamin Franklin said the only two sure things in life are death and taxes.

The reality is that the narcos won’t get you (loose animals in the road at night are a bigger danger) and the vast majority of the deaths I see are from illness and a few auto accidents.
Planning ahead will allow your heirs, whether family, friends or charities to have fewer hassles when administering your estate.

Planning ahead means having a will as well as beneficiary clauses for your assets wherever possible and know who will handle things when you are gone as well as have your cremation prepaid and have a good relationship with a doctor who will be able to come and issue the death certificate.

Here in Jalisco for real estate people can put a beneficiary clause in their deed to avoid probate and make the property transfer easier, the only restrictions are that you can only name as beneficiaries your spouse or parents, grandparents or children and grandchildren, if you want to name others you will have to do so in a will. You will have to prove this relationship when you want to change the deed by providing marriage or birth certificates along with apostilles or legalizations depending on where the certificates are from. Other states do not have provisions for beneficiary clauses in property deeds so you will need to leave a will.

Most banks allow you to leave your account to beneficiaries if you die. It is a good practice when designating beneficiaries to name replacements as things happen and you may live a long life, longer than the first person you named as beneficiary.

A will serves to dispose of your assets, both assets you have now and others you may later acquire. Also an important part of having a will is the naming of an executor. Many people put off making their will as they say they have beneficiary clauses or have few assets but an important part of a will is the executor who will fight for you when you are gone, as powers of attorney expire upon your death and the will then kicks in. If someone steals your property or embezzles your funds or if your death was related to an auto or other accident, the executor of your estate will be the legal representative to pursue your case with the insurance companies and in the courts. While naming your children as executors may make you feel comfortable, do they speak Spanish and will they be able to travel down to Mexico to properly take care of your affairs if needed and if there is a prolonged legal matter?

A Mexican will, if done through a Notary Public is registered in the national will registry so nobody can change it after the fact. A few US and Canadian attorneys living in Mexico offer to make wills but they are not registered and suspiciously in many cases the heirs never find the wills and later find out that friends and families of the attorneys now have the deceased’s property. A will made in Mexico in front of a Mexican notary is valid in Mexico as well as in other countries. The only requirement may be an apostille and translation although we work with notaries who do dual column wills in both English and Spanish so that way all involved know exactly what each part of the will says. You may choose that your will is only valid in Mexico or worldwide. Generally speaking it is best to have a will in each country where you have property to avoid having to validate a foreign will and it is also better when having to transfer real estate.

When naming people as beneficiaries, heirs, leaving them bequeaths or other items or assets, please be sure and check their full legal name to avoid problems when they come to receive the asset. Mexico is very strict with names and Billy Smith is not the same person as William James Smith. In wills and property deeds you can place name variations to clarify that a person is one in the same such as Ana Valeria Salas also known as her married name of Ana Valeria Mac Gregor. Also if you wish to leave property to a charity or legal entity, it is best to ask them for their corporate documents to see their exact legal name. Many people know entities by their nicknames or names in English but are ignorant of their true legal registered names in Spanish. Be sure to specify which office or branch will receive the money, merely naming the Red Cross may cause problems as there is the national Red Cross, Mexican Red Cross, Jalisco State Red Cross and one office in Chapala and another in Ajijic. Being specific will avoid disputes later on.

After having a will you need to have a personal doctor. This will prevent your being taken to the morgue for an autopsy if you are found dead alone unless foul play is suspected then you will want to call the police. Your doctor can come to where you are found and see if you died from natural causes, avoiding having to make others fill out forms to claim your body. Your doctor should also know your full legal name (best to give him a copy of your birth certificate and passport) as well as your parents names and spouse´s name. This will ensure that there are no errors on the death certificate which are harder to change after the fact and which could cause problems or delays in the probate process.

Your doctor will need to do something with your cadaver so best to pay a prepaid cremation plan with one of the funeral homes so that way no person or authority is storing your body until someone comes to claim it and pay the fees to take it to the funeral home. We have seen cases where the family or friends went on vacation and the body went unclaimed for weeks and had to be taken out of refrigeration. A prepaid plan where family, friends and neighbors know about it will make sure the doctor knows where to have the body sent and will not have to pass the collection plate around in order to pay for it. The funeral home will usually coordinate with the doctor, your home country´s consulate and the civil registry for the death certificates and the report of citizen death abroad.

As soon as possible after the death the legal representative / executor / family needs to be notified in order to secure the valuables and important papers of the person. Police, “friends”, neighbors and others many times feel it is their right to steal property of the deceased or that it is not unethical. Locks should be changed immediately and all property photographed and inventoried and nobody should be left unattended inside the property. It is amazing how many people abscond with property saying oh Joe told me if he dies to take all his jewelry and sell it. Getting it back is harder and if they bring items back, usually things are missing. Make sure nobody is left alone in the home and that it is properly secured and if police or others need to enter the home that it is on a strictly necessary basis and at no times should anybody be left alone in the home.

To recap to die properly in Mexico you need to do the following:

1) Make sure you have beneficiary clauses on your bank accounts and home (if your legislation permits)
2) Have a properly done will for each country where you have assets naming substitute heirs and executors.
3) Have a family doctor who knows you
4) Have a prepaid arrangement with a funeral home.
5) Have recently issued and apostilled / legalized copies of your birth / marriage certificates / adoption papers as well as those of any biological children who will receive property.
6) Have your executor / family / representative know where a copy of your will and other legal papers are as well as let those close to you know who these people are to notify them immediately. Let them know what you want done with your body or ashes.
7) Register that you are living abroad with your home country´s local consulate so they will have your emergency contact information.

Upon your death:
1) Have somebody immediately notify your executor / family / representative / family doctor
2) Have your executor / family / representative notify your attorney and home country consulate
3) Have your executor / family / representative secure your property and assets and bar entry to everyone (except police and MP) to avoid theft of items or claims of possessory / squatters rights.
4) Have your executor / family / representative obtain copies of the death certificate, ashes, certificate of cremation and consular report of death abroad (first 20 copies are free so always request the 20).
5) Have your executor present copies of the death certificate to all banks with a request to freeze all accounts to avoid embezzlement and use of ATM cards, credit cards and checks tied to the accounts.
6) Prepare any probate filings


About the Author:

Litigating Attorney and Official Court Translator in the State of Jalisco, Mexico