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When a Person Dies in a Foreign Country

What happens when someone dies in a foreign country? How does this impact documentation such as a death certificate?

Multi-Lingual Death Certificate

Many foreign countries, such as those in the European Union, provide a multi-lingual death certificate. Our experience has been that the Clark County District Court accepts the original of such a death certificate just as if it had been issued by an American state. A problem may arise, however, with banks or other financial institution.

Documents & Bank or Financial Institutions

Typically, after a personal representative has been appointed in a probate case, a bank or other financial institution will demand to see certified copies of the Order appointing the person, and of the Letters Testamentary or of Administration and an original death certificate.

Apostille

If it is a foreign death certificate the bank may demand that an “apostille” be obtained. This is a certification by some government agency that the death certificate is authentic. Obtaining such an apostille can be challenging.

Reed & Mansfield Case Example:

We had a case where the Decedent died in Germany which issued a multi-lingual death certificate which the Clark County Court readily accepted. However, Wells Fargo Bank, where the Decedent had accounts demanded an apostille on the death certificate. The German consulate in Los Angeles (which has jurisdiction for Nevada matters) referred me to the Nevada Secretary of State’s Apostille Office which told me that they were not going to authenticate a German document and suggested I call the German consulate.

I responded by filing a Motion in the Probate Court demanding that Wells Fargo honor the Probate Court’s determination that the Decedent was in fact dead. I mailed a copy of this motion to Wells Fargo’s registered agent for service in Nevada and before the court hearing, Wells Fargo called me and said they would accept the Nevada Court’s determination that the Decedent was in fact dead.

Reed & Mansfield New Procedures For Probate With A Foreign Death Certificate

In fact, when we file a new probate with a foreign death certificate we have now adopted a new procedure if there are any bank accounts or financial accounts involved and the institutions involved are subject to Nevada jurisdiction: We will state in the initiating Petition that we will request that the Order state that all financial institutions must accept the Court's finding that the Decedent did in fact die. We will state that we are serving the institution's Nevada resident agent with a copy of the Petition and Notice of Hearing and will do so.

Death Certificate Only In The Foreign Country's Language

Naturally not all countries issue death certificates in English as well as in the country's native language(s). A foreign death certificate not in English will need to be translated, or see below.

If an American has died outside the U.S. and there are problems with the death certificate issued by the local government, the U.S. Department of State may issue a Consular Report of Death of US Citizen Abroad.

Please Note:
A confirmed death wherever it happens is different than the situation where a person goes missing and no body is found. That situation is covered under Probate Issues Arising From The Death & Documentation.

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