Dying in Thailand
This is a topic we would all probably prefer not to think about. However, there are some unique aspects to the subject if you are an expat in Thailand and if you care about your partner you should be aware of what happens when you die here and how you can make the process as easy as possible for those left behind. There may also be serious complications for your stay in Thailand if your partner dies before you.
I have made what I thought was sensible provisions for my death to ensure Gaun was covered but I came to review this when a reader wrote to me with this question
Sorry to bother you with such a somber title, but I wanted to get feedback from you, and possibly your reader’s, about what provisions need to be made for your wife, partner, in the case that you die? In America………..some things that may work naturally, while others, may not for things like your social security.
Since a number of your readers, including myself, are up in age, this must be something that may weigh on someone’s mind. I am just adding this as a suggestion to maybe a future post, but don’t intend it to be. I often thought, if I found a partner, what would she get from me, beyond whatever savings I had acquired? I assume each country’s provisions have a different policy on how they deal with this issue.
You had a poignant post where Lud was shocked by nearly being killed by a stray bullet, and that got me thinking. What if I were the breadwinner in the family, and something happened to me?
That email sent me off on a bit of research and I thought the result of that was very much worth sharing because there could be some surprises in what I have discovered.
Even if some of the aspects I raise are always going to be a problem that can’t be easily fixed at leaast you are aware of them. Much of what I will include in this post is information I have pulled from other places, but as always I give credit for other people’s work.
Needless to say adding photos is a bit of a challenge with this one so for once you will have to dig out your reading glasses and mostly focus on the words.
If you have got this far here are a few things you might have not considered to keep you reading further
- Did you know that your body can only be released to a formally registered wife. If your marriage is based on a village marriage like so many farang have, it won’t do the job. Where are your next of kin!
- Is your visa based on marriage? Have you thought what happens if your wife dies before you? Unless you have dependent children or the money to swap to a retirement base visa you will have problems come visa extension time.
- What if you don’t have a usufruct on your land and your wife dies before you without a will? Your Thai family might be less concerned about your situation and more about getting hold of your land and house.
- Is your car in your wife’s name. Once again without a will you could be in trouble.
- In the case of the death of an expat who is the main visa/work permit holder for his family, all dependants (spouse and children) lose their one year visa status on the day of his death. The spouse is required to report to immigration immediately.
- Does IHT mean anything to you as a UK citizen?
Just to reinforce the outcomes of not planning for your death lets have a look at two more extreme but relevant posts. The first is a very sad posting relating to US Vietnam vets, so a specific circumstance, but the general lack of interest in planning for the future or that of their partner can be applied universally:
When I first arrived in Thailand I settled in Korat! Since I am an American, you seek out fellow countrymen in the area and join organisations they may belong to. Many of these expats were leftover from the Vietnam War & stationed in Thailand.
This was 16 years ago!
You are 100% right that these individuals had not planned or didn’t care what happened to them when judgement day came. Many had cancelled any contacts with their families in the states. Many were alcoholics. Many had no money other than a small pension (probably military) and are now dead. They lived and drank day to day. Three, I remember never left Thailand after their tour of duty ended in the Air Force in Thailand.They were discharged here. When they died, it was easy to get the body from the hospital. It’s different now.
I coordinated with the embassy and they contacted family in the states, if they could find one. Before the cremation, the embassy would advise me if they contacted any family members and if they wanted some of the remains. In that case, I put half in a box and hand carried it to the embassy. Afterwards was the problem. A Vietnam Vet’s wife in Thailand had access to a pension, but 25-30 %
of the time, the Vet was still married in the states regardless whether he had married legally here. If so, no pension. Or if they were married over 20+ years the stateside wife was eligible for some of the pension. Another 30-35% of the time
no pension or money at all. They lived like Thai’s, so when they died the wife or GF had nothing. Very sad!
After 4 years, I stopped participating and/or assisting in these deaths. It was very sad and I came here for retirement.
And another where the Thai partner misses out:
And so it goes. Let’s kick of the more instructive part of this discussion with this very informative post from ThaiVisa (thanks to a UK guy called nong38):
I had a friend a US citizen who recently died and have been helping his G/F deal with the aftermath and I want to share with you things I did not know and things you should all think about.
I think that most Ex pats here are not married to their partner in a legal way and that’s where the problems start as the G/F is not next of kin or family, therefore they cannot get the body out of the mortuary to the temple for the traditional Thai funeral and the cost per night for the body in the mortuary at a Government hospital currently is 30 bts a night as a point of information. I would like to take you through some of happened and then give you some advice about what to do in preparation for your own departure to make it easier for those left to sort things out.
When Steve died I rang the US Embassy and they were very good and professional but, they could not release the body without permission from next of kin/family who were in the USA and the only contact I had was his old Navy chum so I had to wait for him contact some of the family to contact me to exchange the details and its worth remembering at this point that although most wives/ G/Fs here may well speak the home country language ok they likely as not will be any good and reading or writing it! So I became the portal of things to come. It was the next of kin in the USA who had to give permission for the body to be released and then arrange for the body to be taken to the chosen Temple and the traditional funeral to start. Unless you are legally married here ( in which case the wife can deal with things) you will need to get things into place so that things run as smoothly as possible.
I have to admit I had not given this any thought whatsoever and I suspect most of us would be in the same boat, so, based on my experience I am going to advise you what you should think about doing if you have a G/F and you are not legally married, if you are married or are alone you will need to modify to suit as required.
First thing is to get on your home country Embassy website and get the address, telephone number, fax number, email address and make a note of them. Add your passport details, number, start and end date. Your telephone number, your G/fs telephone and contact details for your family or friends in your home country. Make copies, one should go to the G/F ( she can seek help with the reading) keep one with your important papers and send some to your home country.
The G/F is likely to be the first to know so she contact next of kin/family in the home country and ask them to contact the Embassy here in Thailand and inform them of what has happened, the address of the hospital etc and I think the Embassy would accept a fax maybe an email to confirm the details. So I would suggest that as the next of kin/family are unlikely to be in a position to get out here BDQ they might want to appoint the G/F to be the family’s agent/advocate to deal with funeral agents. A letter something like this in that case might be appropriate
I have to inform you that Mr soandso, passport number xxxxxxxxxx, a citzen of ………… has died at the ………..hospital ( address) on this date……………..
I would like your help to release the body for funeral/cremation at the ………………temple ( address) and appoint ms blah blah as my agent and advocate to deal with funeral arrangements. Ms blah blah contact details are, telephone, e mail, line, address and Thai ID card.
My relationship to Mr soandso is,……………………, my address and contact details are as follows…………………………………………..
Go through all of this with your G/F so she knows what to do and also inform those in the home country as well what they will need to do. Also don’t forget when you pay the mortuary fees to collect the Death Certificates ( I think there might be 2, one from the doctor who was there when death occurred and another more general one, check it out that you have everything you need to wind up the estate and head for the Temple. Make sure the G/F has contact with an undertaker ( they are conveniently close to the hospital) they can arrange for the transport of the body and the box/coffin.
If you die on a visit to the home country it is easier but the family will still need to inform the G/F so she can tell Immigration and supply here with an original copy of the Death Certificate assuming there is a will in place as it will be needed for winding up the estate here in Thailand, maybe Life Insurance as well?
This is not something any of us wish to talk about much, much less about how to deal with it, but we should, the same as making a will.
This post generated a lot of interest on ThaiVisa and I will include some relevant follow-up comments:
Would like to add:
1 – Some Embassies have a system whereby their nationals in Thailand can register their whereabouts and emergency contact info. If your Embassy has this system, avail of it. That way they have ready access to info on whom to contact.
2 – If you have any assets in your home country, a certificate from your Embassy will be needed to confirm your death (similiar to a death certificate, though the actual death certificate will be the Thai one. The Thai death certificate has to be submitted to the Embassy and they will issue a document called something like “Notification of Death Abroad” which can then be used with home country banks etc.
3 – This firm specializes in expat funeral/cremation etc. Their prices are reasonable and they can do anything form a no frills cremation/burial to a full funeral or repatriation of remains – whatever is desired. I have dealt with them and there was no sales pitch or pressure to go with anything more elaborate than what the relatives wanted (which in the case I dealt with was no funeral, basic cremation and the ashes in a wooden urn). They will also take care of the death certificate, getting the letter form the Embassy, etc.
They offer prepaid funeral plans so it is possible to set everything up and pay for it in advance (does not have to include a funeral, could be just burial or cremation – whatever.)
Tony: These guys have a website and you can access it HERE.
Yes, it’s a good idea to mention in your Final Will that you are deliberately overlooking blood relatives if you want to leave your estate to someone who isn’t a relative or a legal wife, with the marriage registered at the amphur office. It doesn’t have to be a mean statement, and a lawyer will help you to draft such a statement properly.
In Chiang Mai, I’d recommend Lanna Lawyers. They have an American and Aussie lawyer on staff who work with their Thai lawyers, so communication isn’t a problem. They have a “special package” where they offer a set price for a Final Will, Power of Attorney and Advance Directive (Living Will). These are three important documents that everyone should have.
Tony: Lanna Lawyer website HERE
This topic has gone a long way since I started it from a recent experience, a bit like throwing a stone into water and see how far the ripples go.
It reminds us of all things we need to prepare for when our time is up so its not just dealing with the death itself that we need to leave information about so a few things that you might think about which have recently been mentioned.
Do make sure you make a will.
Do make sure you make a list of who needs to informed about your death.
Do make a list of your assets and where to find them.
Do think about your possessions and where you like them to end up.
All the above could/should be in your will, I just did separate papers to make it easier and I am sure there are other things as well.
Since I kicked this off I have been pleased with the responses and information that has come forward. Everyone has an individual case and you need to sift through and see what best applies to yours.
Have you thought about this aspect?
Steve”s combined hospital bills came to just under 200,000 bts. The private one charged for everything they did not miss a trick, 169,000 bts for 10 days. At least at the Government hospital he got an English speaking doctor!
The hospital costs are a bit of string and like Nancy says they wont release the body until the bills are paid.
I have been to the bank today and collected a few transfer slips and withdrawal slips, I also asked what was the position with death and my accounts when would the accounts be frozen and when would the funds be available to my partner……………..30 days hmm a bit lost here in translation so am having to assume that as soon as the death certificate is shown to the bank they will then be blocked and 30 days for the process of winding up the estate to be completed, 30 days, nice figure and for a simple wind up that be possible without complications but expect it to be longer.
So, bearing the above in mind we had a chat about it and how we would like things to happen, the first is that if either of us were in hospital but dying we would like to be taken home to die.
If my partner finds me dead in bed ( bit of poetry there ) I told her to fill out the withdrawal slip for the joint account and withdraw most of it, on the way back call in and see the headman and tell him there is a dead man in my bed!! Start the ball rolling.
I only have one bank here in Thailand so it should be a one call stop to tie everything up and I will now look into how I can arrange/if I can arrange a transfer of my investments to my lady and as a prelude for this if it might be possible I will get her investments to mirror mine which they should/may make things simpler and cost effective.
Tony: For UK citizens with assets there have you looked into Inheritance Tax (IHT)? These words extracted from ThaiVisa (thanks to al007):
Maybe not clear, transfers to a UK Domiciled wife are fully exempt no tax to pay
If you transfer to a Thai resident and non domiciled wife only overall exemption of approx. £300,000 ish will be available, and if your estate is split between many beneficiaries then the Thai wife will not get the full exemption
Note you can be Non Resident for UK taxes, but still Domiciled and liable to IHT
Residence and Domicile are complicated, and very separate issues if your assets are substantial you need expert advice, this applies even if you have a house worth say £400,000, you need advice from a properly qualified tax expert, who is likely to be a Chartered Accountant, or a UK lawyer, most Financial Advisers will tell you they know BUT they do not, when going for surgery I want the properly qualified person, same applies for tax
Financial Advisers in the UK are risky but at least regulated, outside the UK they are maybe mostly only interested in lining their own properties, I also put lawyers and Accountants outside the UK and USA into the same category
There are too many boiler house scammers around and even on TVF I have been approached by them, usually the question can you give me your UK FCA authorisation number so I can check, which is easy to do on their website; sends them packing
I had an unsolicited email last week offering a guaranteed 8% return, I replied I was looking for a home for a spare £2.0M and I wanted it quickly, they quoted a UK London address as well, I asked for their FCA registration so we could proceed, they never came back to me, I wonder why !
To release assets after death, in the UK probate has to be granted and to get this, tax clearance, including IHT must be obtained, some IHT can be due even before assets like house is sold, and if not paid penalties and interest may apply.
Remember IHT applies to world wide assets including things like condos that may be in your name in Thailand
There is a lot to be said for not owning UK property, or assets as you get older say 65/70, and before that having life cover to cover the potential liability for IHT, written in trust so it does not get caught by IHT itself
If when you die and there are no UK assets; no probate required and probably the question of IHT will never be raised, and the argument as to whether or not UK domiciled will never require discussion
Investments and shares can also be transferred outside the UK net while still alive, if left with a UK broker again will be subject to probate
I have used Interactive Brokers to hold shares outside the UK, at one stage I used Interactive Brokers in the UK, I had to close that account and open another one not in the UK using my Thai address, and was all done online and paperless, and easy to do, note if it is a joint account it may still get frozen on death, there are also Singapore and Hong Kong options and many others
Remember the IHT tax office will hold all the cards without their agreement you can not get probate granted and release assets
Plan ahead and you can maybe save a lot of potential tax totally legally, change things after death and you could get involved in evasion with nasty penalties including jail, for those involved, and professional trustees and advisers will not allow
The tax people get more sophisticated every year
Thailand is very tax friendly but again in time it may change, so also if your wife is resident here maybe keep assets outside Thailand, remember so long as income generated outside Thailand is not remitted in the year in which it is earned there is no tax to pay either for Thais or Foreigners, this may change
ThaiVisa – What to do when an expat dies
If you want to follow all 12 pages of ThaiVisa commentary on this topic that I have extensively quaoted above then you can find it HERE
One for UK citizens:
Thailand – Bereavement information
Information about the practical arrangement required following the death of a British national in Thailand.
You can find this information HERE
An extract from a useful article sent to me (thanks Jim) for US citizens:
Expat Americans eligible for U.S. Social Security benefits and married to non-U.S. citizens often wonder if their foreign spouses qualify for Social Security survivor benefits (generally the deceased U.S. worker’s full benefit). In certain cases, the answer is yes. Additionally, while the U.S. expat is still alive, their foreign spouse may also qualify to receive dependent or spousal Social Security benefits (generally half of the U.S. expat’s benefit).
You can read the full article HERE.
Funeral Assistance for Foreigners.
This is a very useful acrticle and although it is Chiang Mai centric there is a lot of general advice that can be applied anywhere.
You can read the full article HERE.
How about this topic?
Not that I’m expecting that!
But let’s say it happens and that you were legally married to her. But she has not made a will or the will cuts you out.
I assume her family will step in and deal with the formalities and rituals as you won’t have a clue what to do. Mourning, funeral, wake ( or “party”) etc. Will they expect you the husband to pay for that? I guess so. Let’s say there is a small insurance insurance policy for such an event but the beneficiary is her Mum. Is it acceptable to tell her Mum the insurance should cover it?
Then what about property? Say there is a car bought by you of course but registered in the wife’s name? Who gets it?
Say there is a house built and paid for by you but the wife is the registered occupier, not you. Who is the legal owner anyway? Who gets it in the absence of a legal will? And the house stands on land owned by her Mum, although your wife told you her Mum had promised to put the land in her name but hasn’t. Does this make a difference? And if her Mum has kept her word and transferred it? Who gets the land?
And say you have a marriage visa extension. Ubon Joe has commented elsewhere it remains valid until expiry, unlike on divorce, but then what? I think similarly a multiple entry non immigration O visa based on marriage documents obtained out of country also remains valid until expiry, but again what then? In both cases how do you stay, can you stay, in country if you haven’t the cash in the bank to apply for a retirement visa under the new rules on that.
Are you under any legal obligation, as opposed to moral, to support her family as may be you or your wife have been doing?
Just musing. But answers would be useful!
Tony – and here are some of the responses:
Lots of questions there… But some basics…
Assuming the couple are legally / amphur married, the assets of each party that were acquired prior to marriage remain the sole property of that spouse during and after the marriage. But any assets acquired during the marriage are equally owned by the two spouses.
AFAIK, if one spouse dies, that spouse’s spousal share can be bequested via a will. And if there’s no will, then Thai law has statutory provisions regarding inheritance that call out various parties like children, parents, other relatives. But the surviving spouse would still be entitled to his/her half share of any joint marital assets, even in the absence of a will.
As for Thai families, of course, it’s going to depend on the particular family. But being a cautious soul, unless something is written down as a legal document and requirement, I wouldn’t necessarily expect a Thai family to keep a lot of past verbal promises that may have involved a surviving farang spouse in the wake of the death of their son or daughter. Self interest usually seems to come out on top here.
As for land, a surviving farang spouse might be entitled to his/her half share in terms of value if the land was the marital property of the deceased Thai spouse. But the farang can’t continue to own such land beyond a year or so after the death of the Thai spouse. So the likely best outcome there would be for the surviving Thai family or another party to buy out the farang spouse’s interest. On the other hand, if the land remained owned by Mom, then the farang spouse would be SOL..
Tony – I need to do more research on this aspect. I have a usufruct on the land the house is built on, which gives me use for my lifetime, but I don’t know the consequences if Gaun dies first. I think the usufruct continues. I don’t have usufruct on the second piece of land we bought but my name is on the title. A ThaiVisa guy responded as follows:
I’ve discovered that my name is on all “our” land. It’s in my wife’s name, but my name is on there as her spouse. She cannot sell that land without my permission. This was the case about 5 years ago when we wanted to sell some rice land she had. I had to go down and sign my permission.
I’ve also been told that although I cannot “own” any of the land if she dies, her only son would inherit it, but he could not sell it without my permission nor could he force me to move. I don’t anticipate this, but in Thailand, you never know.
Anyway, I assume if that was the case that I would come to an agreement with him about the land sales and the splitting of the revenue.
Been there and done that.
The 12 month rule is from the issuing of probate, not from date of decease. Although with everything check that out. Sometimes things need reconfirming here.
Make sure you have a will and that you are administrator. So you are in control. Very, very important. My my wife died intestate ( without a will). Very sudden. Property gifted to child.
I wouldn’t stress about the 12 month rule. I found the Thai courts very sympathetic, had a good lawyer at the time ( very important).
Need to deal with immigration etc…less than helpful.
I had had no family pressures on me. Moved on.
Advice: Don’t rush anything, but have a will, make sure you are the administrator and overtime things will resolve themselves.
And a case for usufruct:
A will doesn’t guarantee your stay on the land, which presumably is registered in your wife’s name. If the will grants you the house and land, you will only be a temporary owner of the land and it must be sold to a Thai citizen within six to twelve months. Only blood-line heirs, e.g. a son or a daughter who have changed citizenship, may own the land despite being a foreigner.
You can protect your possessory right through a duly registered land-lease, usufruct, superficies right, or habitation right. I suggest a usufruct or a superficies.
Tony – Information on Superficies HERE
Extracted from Siam Legal:
Usufruct Or Superficies
Another means for foreigners to protect their property interests in Thailand is through a contract of usufruct or superficies.
Usufruct is a right to use, manage and derive fruits from immovable property belonging to another. Usufructs may last for the entire lifetime of the usufructuary, or the person who enjoys the usufruct. Unlike a lease, payment of rent is not an element of a usufruct. No other consideration is also needed to make the contract valid.
On the other hand, a Superficies is a form of easement granting the right to use another’s undeveloped land for a specific purpose. Like a usufruct, a right of superficies also does not require the payment of rent or any other consideration.
Once a right of usufruct or superficies is registered at the Land Department, the foreign party may enjoy the property.
Foreigners may exercise joint ownership over the building upon the land with their Thai spouse, or even sole ownership over the structures build upon the land. In case of registered ownership over the house, this will become marital property which requires joint management by the spouses. This prevents sole management by the Thai spouse both over the land and house. Thus, consent from both husband and will be required for any act needed to be done on the property.
Have you considered this scenario?
Someone asked me about this today and I had no idea. Just a general info/interest questions on my part.
1. Your wife dies and you are in Thailand on a marriage visa. What happens visa wise?
2. Your wife dies, and you are here on a marriage visa, with Thai kids. What happens? Options?
And yes, it does happen like this one reported April this year:
My Thai wife died last week. We bought a house in her name 15 years ago, she made a will leaving everything to me (we didn’t have any children). I have heard that the house can be transferred to me and that I must sell it within a year. I will be seeing a “lawyer” tomorrow, but I was just wondering if anyone has had this experience before and how did things work out.
According to the Thai Embassy the answer is very clear for question 1 being:
In case of Thai spousal death, marriage visa can no longer be renewed under this circumstance. If you are older than 50 you can still apply for a retirement visa.
If one is on an extension based upon marriage and your Thai spouse passes, your current extension will not be cancelled and you will be allowed to remain here until it expires at which time you will need to change your next extension.
If there is a dependant child involved then you can get an O Visa based on Thai Child Support or Guardianship. Some useful information HERE
I am sure that your head is spinning by now, as mine is. I will have missed lots of things and maybe readers can comment and add more or raise other issues.
I didn’t publish this post to be a solve-all but mostly to raise a whole list of issues, many of which I for one hadn’t given much thought to. Some are country specific and others that apply more generally.
If you feel overwhelmed my advice is to invest some money and find a decent lawyer to make sure that you at least understand what your position is in different scenarios. Taking a head in the sand approach in this area will most likely end badly for you or for your partner. I hope you feel that she is worth better than that. I certainly do.
Thanks for reading.