In a poem by Robert W. Service, Sam McGee, a gold prospector in the Canadian Yukon, asked his buddy to cremate him upon his death. He died soon after the request, and his friend anguished over the burden of his promise.
Asking a friend or loved one to take care of one’s funeral arrangements is one way of planning. Why put the burden on someone else?
While making her own pre-arrangements, Kathy Riggle, an expat living in Pérez Zeledón, discovered many obstacles and problems one can encounter when an American, Canadian or other foreigner passes away without prior preparation.
Retirement brought Mrs. Riggle to Costa Rica about two years ago. Recently, a good friend’s husband died. She was amazed and appalled by the process to get the body picked up and transported to San José. She knows what is good and what is bad. She comes from a family of three generations of funeral directors.
Mrs. Riggle says she strongly believes in pre-planning for death. Pre-planning protects ones family members and friends from the stress of the difficult decisions surrounding death. It also gives one the opportunity to make sure his or her wishes prior to death are carried out.
When a death occurs without warning, the situation forces a family member or friend into making the decisions of arranging and paying for a funeral. Most people have little idea of what details and costs are involved. The anxiety and stress of making these decisions and plans can be an overwhelming emotional responsibility.
Mrs. Riggle said that a person has four options to consider when planning for death: 1) Burial in a local cemetery; 2) transportation home and burial there; 3) cremation; or 4) donation of one’s remains for medical school research. She offered advice and tips for other expats:
Burial in a local cemetery or having a body transported back home for burial can be expensive. Many foreigners living in Costa Rica prefer cremation.
Most people do not know that when someone dies in this country and cremation
is their wish the next of kin have to be located to authorize the procedure if there are no prior arrangements regarding the matter. This could be expensive if it involves having documents expedited to Costa Rica from another country or an unexpected trip. Some airlines have bereavement fares, but many are moving away from the practice.
The U.S. Embassy allows North Americans to pre-authorize their own cremation. For some reason, the Canadian Embassy does not. Expats from other countries should consult their home embassies for details regarding the practice.
In the case where an unaccompanied U.S. citizen dies in Costa Rica, a U.S. consular officer can serve as a provisional conservator of the deceased’s personal estate and take custody of his or her personal effects. Consular officer’s duties include arranging for the items to be sent to the legal next of kin. Real or contested property is disposed of in accordance with local Costa Rican laws.
Dan, an expat living in the Playas del Coco, Guanacaste, praised the U.S. Embassy in a telephone call last week with the assistance they gave him when his father died recently. He said the funeral home contacted the embassy using a special number and consular workers were swift in assisting him. He said he was happy he had done some pre-planning but still was caught off-guard.
Donating one’s body to medical science can also be difficult and expensive for those who do not pre-plan. UCIMED, Costa Rica’s university for medical science, will take a body but only after an individual visits the campus and meets with a specialist in the area and fills out some forms. Without doing so, the cost to Mrs. Riggle’s friend was around $1,000 because she had to pay for a casket and special transportation from Pérez Zeledón to the medical center in Sabana Oeste.
Other medical schools also will take bodies. Article 14 of the “Reglamento para la inhumación y donación de cadáveres” (rules for the inhumation and donation of corpses) regulates the process.
Mrs. Riggle, tormented over the experience with the death of her friend’s husband, decided to help other expats before their deaths. She offers a free service called Peace of Mind Planning that includes the following:
• Affordable arrangements with locked-in pricing for cremations using the country’s two funeral companies that have crematoriums: Montesacro and Jardines de Recuerdo.
• Free assistance with filling out any required embassy paperwork regarding cremation or other permissions including transporting remains to a home country.
• Assistance with preparing an end-of-life directive: A testament of choice for authorization to discontinue life support if necessary.
ª Twenty-four hour assistance hotline. She will be available as a support person to assist with the details surrounding death when it occurs.
Cremation is the logical choice for many expats in Costa Rica. Today could be anyone’s last day. Planning one’s passing on of assets through a will is just as important as preparing for death. Everyone leaves life as they come into it, with nothing. Therefore, in life making proper pre-arrangements will bring peace of mind to oneself, friends and loved ones.
Garland M. Baker, a certified international property specialist, is a 45-year resident and naturalized citizen of Costa Rica. His firm’s team provides multidisciplinary professional services to the country’s international community. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica. Find the collection at http://crexpertise.info, a free reprint is available at the end of each article. Copyright 2015, use without permission prohibited.