In Case Of Death


I woke up this morning to an empty bed and a 7 year old gently patting me on the head.

“Can you get my breakfast, Dad’s left, he’s gone to work.”

By the tone of his voice and his initial inflection, I could tell that breakfast was his main concern. A quick glance at my watch told me it was 5 minutes past 6.

“Has he gone to work or for a bike ride?” G has often left the house by 6.30 for the office, but his current MAMIL (Middle Aged Man In Lycra) phase has had him displaying some peculiar morning behaviour. It seemed strange that he hadn’t woken me with a kiss goodbye if he’d gone to the office.

Over the next 30 minutes with the help of some conclusion jumping and a keen desire to head straight to the worst case scenario, I had G dead on the road. We’d had a conversation about how dangerous it was on the roads over the weekend which I felt sure was going to be the lead point in the discussion on the irony of “we were only just talking about…” well that, and the topic of today’s post.

Today’s post may well be the most important one I’ve written, except I didn’t really write it. Quite a few people did. One of those people was an expat woman whose husband had a heart attack and died in her arms. Another one of my co-writers is a friend who discovered her husband was having an affair with their housekeeper. Although both women were married to very different men, they both found themselves in very similar situations. Situations that could happen to anyone, and situations you, me and any other woman living an expat life needs to think about.

There’s too much for one post so I’m breaking them into two. This one is all about making sure you’re covered in the case of an emergency or death. Please feel free to share the tips or print it out and put it on your fridge.

Make sure you have a blank check/cheque with your husband’s signature on it.

It sounds ridiculous but I cannot stress how important this is if you are living in the Middle East. When my friend’s husband died, her bank accounts were immediately frozen. Frozen. That’s what happens here. If she had her time again, upon his death she would have gone straight to the bank and accessed her money, it would have saved her two years of court appearances and a shed load in lawyers fees.

Make sure your will is effective in the country you’re in.

Even if you have an up to date will, it will not be seen as legal in certain parts of the Middle East if it is not in Arabic.  Get your will and any official documents translated to the language of the country you’re in. Keep a copy at work, and one with a close friend/neighbour.

Keep a contact list on your refrigerator.

I have my neighbour listed as our emergency contact but she has  never met my parents. If something was to happen to G and I at the same time she doesn’t know my parent’s names, their phone numbers or perhaps even the name of the town they live in. If anything was to happen to G and I on the way home from a dinner or a parent/teacher night and we were hospitalized I would want someone to contact our families immediately. Make sure you have Granny’s full name, number, Skype, FaceTime, listed on the refrigerator. Leave an explanation for a friend “If anything happens ring my mother/brother…”.  If you have children, you need to have made it very clear where and who you would like them to go with while they wait for your family to arrive.

Know your bank account details.

It’s surprising how many partners (both men and women) leave the bank details solely to the other partner. About a year ago G created an “if everything turns pear shaped” document. It has every detail/password/phone number and account we have.

Keep enough money aside for a flight home and a couple of month’s basic living for you and your children.

Do you have an idea in your head on where you would go? Always have an idea. It’s much better to make a clear plan now while it’s just an idea not a scrambled reality. Could you really live with your parents for six months? Would you be better off at your sisters? Would you send children to school? Would you fly home with pets?

Remember, thinking about all of these things will not make it happen. It’s crazy to put your head in the sand and hope for the best. Have a plan in place knowing that you probably will never have to use it, but have a plan.

What have we missed? Do you have tips to share?

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  1. Oh so important, things I have thought about but not necessarily done them all!
    One question, how does the blank cheque work? If bank accounts are frozen (and from what I’ve heard this can happen fairly quickly in the UAE) a cheque would be useless?

    Another tip is life insurance, I would definitely recommend having some and make sure it covers death in the countries visited in case of death while travelling.

    • Her advice was that as soon as things looked dire she should have gone straight to the bank, before doing anything, go to the bank. I can’t imagine how you can do that under the circumstances but I’ve definitely got it fixed in my mind after seeing what she’s been through.

  2. Alli @ ducks on the dam says

    Not just for you overseas girls either (except maybe the arabic translation). The MOTH works away a lot. My girls know who to call and in what order if needed. Even if it was as simple as me falling and knocking myself out. A “favourites” contact list on your phone is good.

  3. Yet again, our thoughts cross paths.

    My G and I were only talking about this last night, as we need to update our information (only been ‘here’ six months and any references are to our last ‘home’).

    I’d also include knowing a contact at partners place of work as they will help unlock all sorts of information and unravel complicated contracts.

    Register with your Embassy each time you move (or travel) so that they have tabs on you too, just in case. This came in handy in Japan with the earthquake as people could be accounted for quickly.

    If you can, ensure there’s an emergency flight home clause in your contract so that you know, no matter what/when, you and the kids can fly home (and that your household stuff is shipped back too) OR, you can fly immediate family to you (parents or siblings to help)

    Heard a story while living in Japan of a lady who had to argue the point of ‘when’ to return ‘home’ with her kids after her husband passed away. They’d been living the expat life for the best part of 15 years, were in the place where he died for 4 years. She wanted the kids to grieve with friends, for things to be as normal as possible which included finishing the school year before repatriating to a place they visited but had never lived ……… took a good few meetings with his employer before it all got sorted. Sometime we need to stay where we are and not rush away.

    Love the idea of an signed blank cheque. Maybe have a notorised authorization letter attached, just incase.

    Going to update our fridge list, and email it to friends today.

    It’s not just for when the unthinkable happens either; what if you’re ill while working partner is away, or fall and hurt yourself while home-alone? Most of us have our mobiles locked these days, so the ICE number is null and void (even tho we all still have it listed)

    Thanks for taking the time to write about things some of us don’t want to face, or dont’ think to.

  4. Chris Gerakiteys says

    I’d also add having the health insurance contacts on the list. The emergency claims number (if treatment needs to be pre-approved), and a number for emergency services as local ambulances don’t always arrive (here in West Africa we can subscribe to private emergency services). Scary points though, thanks. I’m off to update the emergency phone list.

    • Health Insurance contacts is a brilliant thing to have on the list! We have a doctor here who works with G’s company, I’ve never thought to let the children know that they could ring him or suggest that someone else does. Adding it to my list now. 🙂

  5. I think so much of this is valid wherever you live, valid wills, bank account and everything else details – I kind-of joke that I am going to end up not knowing a damned thing about our finances having gone from incredibly independent to oblivious in some ways. Thank you for the reminder to get a few things done.

  6. A girlfriend just called me last week and asked if she could put my husband and me down as temporary guardians in case something happens to both her and her husband while we are all living in Dubai. She had just found out that unless the proper legal documents are in place, including copies of our passports and all contact details, the children are taken into custody immediately. How traumatizing would that be! So, depending on where you live, just naming who would care for the children may not be enough. Make it official!

    • I’ve heard exactly the same Stacey, which horrifies me. Once again it points out we need to have this stuff written down and then translated in Arabic. If there’s a local lawyer out there reading this, I think this a definite business opportunity!

    • First thing we did when we moved to Dubai was make a Sharia compliant will. They don’t always take the children, but why would you risk it? If the unimaginable did happen it would be awful enough without having to deal with that extra horror.

      • Jen Q-M, can you answer Tia’s question, above? I can ask my friend what she did but since my girls are grown and away at university, I don’t know personally.

    • How do we go about getting things official. . Is there a legal agent that we need to hire to make these papers for us. . TIA

  7. wilmawalrus says

    Having lived through a friend’s sudden and shocking marriage breakdown, I would recommend becoming familiar with ALL bank accounts/mortgage details/insurances that are in joint names. We discovered that her ex had not only run them into massive debt flying his new young girlfriend around the world, but that my friend had been basically duped into co-signing loans which allowed him to run up even more debt. My friend had always let her husband “take care of things” (and boy did he ever!). Their house had to be sold, and fortunately she had just enough to start again, but it was very messy for a while (and tricky for me to unravel while she was dealing with the trauma). Great article, it’s made me think about quite a few things I should do here in Australia, as my husband also travels constantly for work – it does cross my mind about what would have to happen if I crashed the car while picking up milk at the shops.

  8. Heike Gaskell says

    Such a horrible subject but oh so important and a good reminder for us all. Here we can download a legal form from our school website (in loco parentis) which you need to do every time you both leave the country and leave the kids behind, as here too the kids would go into care if anything happened. My parents used to never fly on the same plane when they left us ‘home alone’ just in case and we do try to do the same – except it’s not so easy when using other modes of transport (i.e. travelling by car). The bank thing is a huge issue and difficulties vary from country to country. In the event of sudden death (learnt this from a recently widowed friend in Spain) call the lawyers first, then the coroner or emergency services – the police last and deal with the banks ASAP. Problem is that when these things happen the last thing you are doing is thinking straight and rationally.

  9. We have to have a home in our passport country. Its a must at the company my husband works for. For emegrnzies, if we have to leave in a rush. We always talk about that we should have some money etc. handy if something happens but we never do anything about it. You made me think again. Romania doesnt let you share an account nor would they ever give me any information. Austrian banks frezze all accounts as well if my husband passes away, for two month a least.

  10. A great post Kirsty and a good reminder to periodically check on these things. I recently realised that when my other half is travelling, if something happened to him his office would be informed before me and no-one there has my cell phone number. I have a couple of thoughts:

    1. Never, ever, ever leave your finances in someone else’s hands even if that person is a loved partner. This is not only just in case he cheats on you/ runs up debts, but also if something happens to him – wherever you live. We are adults and we need to take responsibility for our own finances and know where the money is and what is owed. I do all the money-related stuff in our household, but we discuss everything and make joint decisions.
    2. If you are an expat, try to keep a bank account in your country of origin with a debit card that you can use in an emergency. When I lived in Qatar, my salary was paid in to the local bank account but my husband’s was paid into an international joint account, so ironically my access to my own money would have been frozen if anything had happened to him, but I could have accessed his money.
    3. Remember that in the Middle East you are not your husband’s next of kin. In fact I think you may not be your children’s next of kin (this is worth finding out). This is usually the most senior male relative of your husband. This is an important difference from many other countries.

  11. Evelyn Simpson says

    Great post Kirsty, so glad that you’ve taken on this issue. Death and divorce whilst overseas fall into the “it won’t happen to me” category for many couples and they don’t address it. It’s a huge risk to take but addressing both topics can be hugely uncomfortable. We recommend that couples address the issues of financial dependence and take measures to protect the financially dependent partner up front before relocation, taking into consideration the legal regime in their new host country. Sadly most people become financially dependent with little planning and are then at the mercy of the health/character of their spouse or partner.

  12. Thanks for this. God forbid this ever happens but good to know that we can get few things ready. Thanks again.

  13. Having recently lost someone close while he was overseas, I have some thoughts to add:

    -Life insurance is very important! But one should take care not to end up with a bad deal. This relative of mine that passed recently had two life insurances but both covered only death in the case of an accident. Since he died at home from a heart attack, the widow didn’t receive a penny.
    -I think it’s very important to talk about what you want to be done with your remains after you are gone. Again with the same relative, he was fairly young and never made such arrangements, so this was another painful decision that the family had to make amidst the grief. Knowing whether the person wants to be cremated or buried, and in the case of the latter where they want to be buried (or even if they don’t really mind where they are going to be put to rest) is very helpful when the time comes.

    And also I would like to stress what other people have said: don’t leave everything in the hands of your partner. Know your “stuff”. You will be lost and grieving anyway, of course, but that will be one less thing to preoccupy your mind and those around you.

  14. When we came to Qatar we consulted a lawyer about the will. We had assets in Canada and we did eventually have the same in Qatar. Our lawyer advised us we would need a Canadian will to cover our Canadian assets and that a will from Qatar or valid in Qatar would not be applicable in Canada (not in Canadian law, etc) and that our assets would go into probate. If we wanted to, we could have had a second will drafted in Qatar to cover those assets, etc. (we chose not to in the end). We also had a a power of attorney drafted giving my father the ability to manage our affairs in the event something happened to us (access the bank, sell the house, etc). We were also advised to transfer all our money out of the country and leave as little as possible in the country. Qatar lets you transfer to international banks online…it is not just if something happens to you both. If G pisses off someone at work and they cancel his RP your bank account will be frozen right away.

  15. Thank you, excellent post!

  16. This is a great post, thank you for the suggestions, I had not thought of the blank cheque or the emergency contact list. The only other thing I would suggest is to set up a Living Will and nominate a legal guardian should something happen to both the mom and dad, as the children will automatically become wards of the state otherwise. Your guardian should be able to represent your interests in regards to the kids, and be able to take them in so they don’t get bundled off to foster care. My husband does a lot of international business travel, and we have a living will, durable power of attorney, guardianships, etc. set up.

  17. Samone Black says

    A timely post with the Malaysia missing plane. One of the passengers was a husband heading to Mongolia for his first rotation on a new job.

  18. MsCaroline says

    MrL is also a MAMIL – has been since the early 2000s and rides with a semi-professional peloton here in Seoul(in fact, we have a good friend who crashed during a time race last year and sustained a brain injury, broken jaw, and broken ribs and collarbone. His helmet was ruined but definitely saved his life.) He has also been rock and ice climbing since the mid 80s, so I have spent many years with ‘extreme sport anxiety’ as a companion. Even though he’s very careful, that doesn’t mean that bad things can’t still happen – nor does it mean that one can’t get hit by a bus walking in one’s own neighborhood. I don’t think Korea has such draconian anti-woman rules as the Middle East, but I appreciate the reminder to look into the arrangements for some peace of mind and address any necessary changes (it’s been 3 years since we moved here.)

  19. Family Head says

    One thing our company did was to have a lawyer draft a power of attorney and then we had it translated into Arabic and then notarized at the US Embassy. It is important to include info about selling cars, moving things, canceling housing leases, utilities etc. It is frustrating that the woman has no ability to handle these things without signature, but the power of attorney sorts it all out if the wording is correct. Many other ideas presented here are great as well! Thanks.

  20. Lottie Braines says

    Have you thought about how valuable your “if everything turns pear shaped” document is? Unless encrypted you would be in deep doodoo if it ever got stolen. We’re talking about identity theft as well as account emptying.

    • Absolutely Lottie! Which is exactly why it took us so long to do it, we were both unsure about writing anything down incase it was found/stolen etc.. Without going into the details, I think we’ve covered our bases. Yes, it should be encrypted or “altered” so you know what it’s really saying.

  21. Whoopwhoop says

    Slightly off topic but wondering too if ante-nuptial contracts would be recognized in a foreign country? In a situation where the spouse has racked up enormous debt (for what I don’t know as I feel we are living on the bread-line)—if anything were to happen, even let’s say a job loss, is the wife also accountable? Secondly, does having your own bank account in the foreign country protect you? Or do the banks see it as your husband’s if he is your sponsor? Where to keep your savings then? Banking in the country is not an option as it would be seen as income and subject to huge taxes.
    On that would the ante-nuptial contract have to be in Arabic as well? Should it be signed by a lawyer here?

  22. Whoopwhoop says

    Correction…bank in the home country is not an option…

  23. Mandie Szlachta says

    A great reminder Kirsty. There is a fantastic book i bought called “Last Orders” wriiten by Patricia Byron ( a friend) she was left as next of kin more than twice and came across obstacles and decided to creat this incredable book. Well worth a look at. You put all your details into it,things i’d never even thought about and you tell your nearest and dearest where it is kept for that dreadful day. Xx

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  1. […] writing this post on Monday, it became clear that while many of us have thought about an emergency plan, most of us have been […]

  2. […] losing her husband would be harder than moving :-). We spoke about a blog post of Kirsty’s In Case Of Death, and covered why you need to get a few extra things organised as an expat, it’s not just a […]

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