Illness or Death in Mexico

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Two weeks ago, the International Women’s Club (IWC) Vice-president for Programming, Aili K, was admitted to Star Medica for a simple hernia repair. However when the operation began, the surgeon found an undiscovered problem.

I met Aili in the late 1970s when I was a new bride and she worked as a guide at a fledgling Montessori school in Merida. We shared a lovely friendship for three years, and then she went on to have a career with the US State Department. She always dreamed of retiring in Merida, and about five years ago, she did so. Because of medical complications, she passed away last Sunday.

Yet, despite the fact that Aili was an independent and careful person, she did not have her affairs in order.

Many foreign residents in Mexico are unaware of (or refuse to think about) all the documentation their next of kin will need in the event of their illness or demise. Please don’t stop reading right now… I know it is unpleasant, but this is important.

If you are a foreigner living in Mexico, you MUST have:
• An official copy of your birth certificate, and a translation of the document made by an authorized translator
• If you are married, you must have your official marriage certificate and again, a legal translation of this document
• A valid passport and migratory document (FM or tourist card)
• If you are a home owner, the must have a readily accessible copy of the deed and bank trust
• If you rent your home, your rental contract and the receipts for your rent must be saved
• If you own a business in Mexico, the paperwork and documentation must be up to date
• Your taxes and utilities must be paid and all the receipts (for up to 5 years) must be saved
• Even if you have a last will and testament elsewhere, you need to draw up a Mexican will that has been legally filed in this country. The will must clearly state your wishes for the dispersal of all your earthly possessions in Mexico
• A “living will” that clearly states your wishes should you become unable to make sound decisions regarding your medical treatment and the option of prolonging life.
• A notarized statement indicating your burial or cremation preference
• A “power of attorney” must be in place. The person who holds this must either live in Mexico or be able to travel to Mexico on short notice, and stay until all issues are resolved
• Banking procedures must be in place that will expedite quick and seamless transfer of funds to hospitals, doctors, lawyers, funeral parlors or whoever else may require funds to carry out your wishes
• If you have employees or household help, you must make provision for the termination of their employment in the event of your demise


If you do not know a lawyer or official translator, or do not have a reliable person to give this information to, drop me an email and I will be happy to furnish you with names and contacts.

My friend Aili did not have her affairs in place and as a result, the toil on her relatives in the USA was extreme. And this is where the International Women’s Club came to the rescue; members rallied ‘round Aili’s nephew and eventually the myriad of issues were resolved.

I am proud to be a member of the International Women’s Club of Merida. And never more so than this past week but the IWC members should not be counted on to look after anyone’s personal business. I will not go into details here about all that needed attention… but believe me, it was extensive and very challenging.

If you are a guest in Mexico, do not leave any of this to chance, please get your affairs in order TODAY

53 thoughts on “Illness or Death in Mexico”

  1. Thank you so much for this valuable information. Even those of us, Snowbirds, who are seasonal residents, need to know the laws of the Country. I will remind my friends to carefully read this current blog. It will help our families to deal ,more easily, with an unexpected sorrow or trauma. And, to add, the IWC is a great organization for us to have within reach for social and matters of importance. Thanks again, Joanna.

  2. Good information. If you do not mind, I would like to use your list as the foundation for a post. We have had several expatriate deaths in our area. The last one had prepared nothing. I helped expedite some transactions, but it was a difficult time for her son.

  3. Thank you for this info. We are building a house in Celestun and have most of the legalities taken care of but there are some things on your list I hadn’t thought of. Many thanks. Marjorie

  4. Very good advice. And it applies even to Mexican citizens. I would add to your list:

    1. Car title
    2. Bank records
    3. Passwords to access computers, e-mail, and anything else requiring a password
    4. Access to and authority to deal with digital assets

      1. Your Facebook password & other social media passwords. Two friends have lost daughters and one still has not found her FB password to delete her page & another found it after a year! Several other friends of mine have passed & their pages are still up. I like to “visit” them from time to time but the family should have the say on whether it stays up or not.

    1. Me too… you would not want to put your loved ones through the difficulty of gathering documents after you are gone… it can be quite a process. Just getting Aili’s birth certificate translated took a whole day

  5. So sorry to hear about Aili. She was a good friend to you.
    When Dot and I met her she was delighted to be back in Merida. She was so impressed with the highway to Progresso compared to the road in the late 70s when we went out to the beach.

  6. Thanks for this, Joanna! We’ve been looking into health care in Mexico, but this is a good reminder to consider all possibilities. Of course we have wills in the US, but there is obviously much more to think about!

  7. Having been part of the horrific events of this week concerning the passing of our friend Aili, I just want to thank you for putting the list out so quickly. Most people have no idea how even one birth and/or marriage certificate uncertified from their country and then untranslated here by an authorized person can bring the process to a grinding halt. This is a country of 24 hour burial/cremation and if the papers aren’t in order things can go south quickly. Please do not assume that every hospital and funeral home has a nice refrigerated place for the remains to be kept until the family can get these things done.
    Not only am I saddened my the passing of my friend; I am shocked by what took place after, from the hospital to the cemetery. Don’t get me wrong I love my adopted country but every country has rules and regulations and it is our business to know what they are in the country where we choose to reside. You have heard the quote before, please, “JUST DO IT !”
    Aili would not be resting in peace now, Joanna, if it wasn’t for you and Jorge. It’s amazing what a little band of determined warriors can do.

    1. Yes, it was amazing what “a little band of determined warriors” can do. The trauma of Aili’s death was shared amongst many members of the IWC. I felt proud to be one of them. I think the next step is to ensure that all our members have the information they need to make this process less painful when their time comes. Thanks for your comment Nancy and also for all your efforts on behalf of our friend.

    2. I am very sorry for the loss of your friend! I will be in Merida Feb. 22-27 and would be happy to address your group or any groups regarding physical remains return. I am VP Latin America for SkyMed International. We are an emergency medical transportation membership that picks up where insurance leaves off. Our No. 1 service is we pay for air ambulance back to the US or Canada for our members, even when not medically necessary. But one of our 18 services is return of remains. Veronica Simonetto is our representative there, so let us know if we can help set peoples’ minds at ease during my visit. I don’t mean to post a “commercial” at this time of sadness for all, but it is a very pertinent, although delicate, subject.

      1. Thank you for your comment and for your offer. I am currently out of town. I suggest that when you arrive in Merida, you take your information to the Merida English Library. Most of the international community go there frequently. MEL is located on Calle 53, between 66 and 68 in Centro

  8. Just one addition to your excellent list — it will help very much if the marriage certificate or birth certificate has an APOSTILLE — this will ensure that the officials accept it as valid. Likewise, the birth certificate should have an apostille. I know that Canada is not a signer to the Hague Convention, and doesn’t have apostilles available, but for those from countries that DO subscribe — do this. Having vital documents with apostilles, along with the translation, will expedite dealing with the Registro Civil.

    1. The apostille is useful but here in Mexico, the legal translation is what the Office of Vital Statistics must have. Another way to add validity is to have the translation notarized by “un notario” (This is not the same thing as a notary public in Canada or the USA)

    1. Thank you Barbara for your condolences. Another bad side to NOT having the necessary documentation is that your loved ones are unable to really grieve… they are too caught up in trying to get the paperwork together and the payments made.

  9. One additional item. Last spring, I helped the children of a gringo resident in Mexico deal with his demise, and the funeral home asked for a copy of the decedent’s late wife’s death certificate. I thought it was unusual, but they did have it on hand. I guess the funeral home just wanted proof that the man was a widower.

    1. Thanks very much for mentioning the death certificate of the predeceased wife… It seems like a lot to gather up; I also imagine that the requirements of such secondary documents vary from state to state. But best to have too many docs than not enough

  10. I am confused. At first i thought Joanna’s blog was giving information for Residents of Mexico. From some of the comments posted, people say even “snowbirds” should have all of those documents ready. My question is: we are a couple and if one of us dies here in Mexico, can the surviving wife or husband deal with the death of his/her spouse without all these documents?
    I have been coming for 6 years and i have never signed a rental agreement, i have never carried my marriage certificate, let alone have a spanish translation of that piece of paper, and now i am starting to think the “authorities” , the law, won’t let us plan a funeral, cremation, burial here for our loved one. I guess my question really is: CAN THE SURVIVING (SNOWBIRD) WIFE OR HUSBAND DEAL WITH THE DEATH OF HIS/HER SPOUSE WITHOUT ALL THESE DOCUMENTS?
    Thanks, Paula Hourihan

  11. To Paul I would like to say that another friend passed away here on November 25th. Her husband can not get a valid death certificate because his marriage license was not certified nor apostilled from England, so of course it wan’t translated either. They have lived here 7 years. She was cremated in time but he only has a temporary death certificate until her can show this document apostilled and translated. Not only is my birth certificate apostilled by the secretary of state where I was born but I had my son’s done as well because we share the same last name.
    He will be having his translated when he comes in January to visit so there will be no question as to who he is at the time of my demise. Canadians do not apostille documents but should have them certified in Canada and translated here. The translation here.must be done by a government approved person.

  12. Hello and Happy Holidays to you, Jorge and your family-
    Your granddaughter is a beauty!

    I pulled this useful article by Lorna Gail up to share from YL:

    Years ago I used the guideline she (and others) created to translate my personal documents. The attorney I used in Merida took them to a certified translator and had them back to me within a month at a reasonable cost. The Next of Kin and Disposition of Remains need not be any fancy language; just set up with clearly designated agents’ contact information and there should be more than one agent in case the first choice is not available.


  13. Hi again,
    I see that the link I included is an addendum to Lorna Gail’s Final Adios article.
    There is a link to the original article and more importantly, the two PDF documents they created as guidelines are at the bottom of that original YL article. [ The Final Adios (33 KB PDF) & Emergency Info Form (4.1 MB PDF)]


  14. This is good information. And I am pretty sure this applies wherever you like, unfortunately not a lot of people pay attention to it. Recently when I was in school we had a sociology class that MADE is look deep into death and dying and necessary preparations. It was very informative.

    1. I think that no one wants to think about death, especially their own and this is why they put off doing the necessary paperwork, but if you do get your affairs in order, what a favor you do for those left behind

  15. I am very interested to get information on the woman’s group you referred to in this article. I think it would be a wonderful addition in our area of Jalisco Mexico. Any information to could supply to get us started would be most helpful.

  16. It is the offering of supportive information like this that may ultimately get me relocated to Merida (finally, after over a decade of tenuous exploration). Such a nurturing and diverse community – thanks for this, Joanna…

  17. A general comment that only applies if you are married to a Mexican and live here full-time.
    I am a Canadian, living in Merida full-time and married to a Mexican citizen. We spoke with a Mexican lawyer last week who specializes in Wills and Powers of Attorney (POA) and related estate matters and he explained as follows.

    A Canadian Will or POA has no effect in Mexico unless translated and notarized (here). Because my spouse is Mexican I do not require a POA as she automatically, by Mexican law, holds one.

    I also do not require a Will in Mexico because when we married we married with joint, not separate assets, a choice given by the Registro Civil prior to marriage. Any assets I own in Mexico belong to her. If I want anything different then of course a Will would be required. She is the designated beneficiary to my Mexican bank account(s) and the bank assures me there is no legal issues involved that would prohibit or slow down her gaining access to said accounts.

    Any assets held in Canada are subject to the Canadian Will and my spouse has no legal claim unless she is included in that Will. As all Canadian assets will be transferred to Mexico (finally) this year, the Canadian Will and POA will then be destroyed.

    My birth certificate and a prior Divorce Decree from Canada were both certified by the Canadian Foreign Affairs Department (no charge) and given an apostille by the Mexican Embassy in Ottawa (I believe the cost was about $100 total), then translated and notarized here in Merida ($800 pesos).

    My marriage certificate is, of course, Mexican and already notarized and in Spanish. I will have to have it translated for the Government of Canada at some point. I keep all relevant documents, including computer and banking passwords and account numbers, in both electronic and hard copy form where my spouse and my Canadian Executor know how to obtain them. I do not own real estate or a vehicle in Mexico – my spouse does.

    Any relevant documents or identification – copies of passport, Visa, credit cards etc. I have scanned and emailed to myself and left the originals where my spouse can access them.

    I am told that the cost of a simple Will here runs about $4,000 pesos and a POA another $3,000 mas o menos.

    I too managed the final disposition of a friend’s death last year, one who died completely unprepared, no documents, Will, spouse etc. We were fortunate and were able to clear everything within 72 hours because there was no estate and his next of kin in Canada faxed the funeral home the authority for the cremation.

    Better to be prepared than not.

    1. Thank you for writing. I am so happy to hear that you have so thoroughly prepared. It is not pleasant to think of one’s eventual demise, but it is a kindness to your surviving loved ones. I appreciate receiving the information you provided.

  18. I’m still a bit confused. My partner and I (we are not married) have been coming to Mexico on vacation for years. If something should happen to either of us while down here, do we need all of the above-mentioned docs?

    1. If one of you dies in Mexico, someone will have to deal with all the paperwork and legalities. If you are not married then you should each hold a legalized power of attorney that will enable the other to tend to all this. This document would be in addition to the documents such as birth certificates etc.

  19. This is wonderful and educational information to have where ever we are. I really appreciate this for future reference. Sorry it took your friend’s passing to gather all this information. I will continue to pass it on to others. I do document preparation in the US but I did not know the entire protocol for Mexico so this is definitely a gift.

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