The death of three friends—all younger than I—in the past two months has me wondering what will happen if I die overseas. It’s kind of a morbid thought (kind of, Barbara?) but one that I need to address, probably sooner than later.
Normally when someone dies, their family takes care of all the arrangements. My siblings and I were fortunate that my mother had everything planned out. She had a trust and a pour-over will. She had told us what she wanted. We have a trusted family funeral home in our home town that we have turned to for 50 years.
I will have none of that if I die overseas.
A sobering thought. And one that demands decisions.
Probably the number one question I am asked by friends is “Do you think you’ll ever move back?”
I am about 90% sure that I am not moving back, to New England or the States. For me, there is no reason to do so. When I lived in Florida, I had to get on a plane to see my family. Does it matter if I get on a plane in Tampa or in Faro? Because I lived 100 miles away from my established network of friends, I only saw them once a month or every few months. I also have friends scattered around the country. With the COVID lockdowns, we learned to stay in touch on Zoom. It’s not optimal and it’s not the same, but it works. And in some ways, I keep in better touch with people now that I am so far away than I did when access to each other was easier.
Making this decision to stay—and most likely die overseas—has financial repercussions. I have a storage space that will need to be emptied out and I will need to ship my belongings over here, at a cost of a couple of thousand dollars. (Books are heavy.) I will probably want to set up a more permanent household before I ship everything, but then again, maybe not.
I will need to set up my trust and both a US will and a Portuguese will. The US part is easy. The Portuguese part will be a new learning curve. I have no kids and really, not too much of value beyond sentimental value. Someone, probably an unlucky landlord, will have to pack things up and send them to the trash or the charity shop. I’m pretty sure that no one in my family wants or needs my stuff.
My only important possession might be the information on my laptop, and even that is a bit of a stretch. I have a friend who is semi-famous who has appointed legacy-keepers for her writings and royalties and licensing contracts. I am not at that level. At most, I’ll need to appoint someone to take down my websites and social media accounts and all that good stuff. Stop the automatic payments for the business and personal services I subscribe to.
I’ll need to pre-pay cremation expenses and there should probably be some sort of inflation rider. Hopefully, I will need it. I’ll have to figure out what they should do with the ashes. Do I want my ashes sent back to the States? (Does it matter? They’re just ashes, not me.) Scattered here? I always said I wanted my ashes scattered in a warm ocean and the Atlantic here is pretty damn cold.
I’ll also write my own obituary because it’s a hard thing for people to write and because really, Imma gonna lie my ass off in it. (Hey, if you can’t have fun after you’re dead, when can you? But yes, I really did turn down sex with porn star Harry Reems. I’ve had my days in the sun.)
Next year, Medicare will kick in and, while Part A is free, Part B is not and Medicare wants to take that money out of my check even though I can’t possibly use it. If I decline Part B and later want to return to the States, I will be penalized 10% for every year I did not pay for it (or use it). So, if I return in 10 years, I’ll pay twice the amount for Part B than I would have if I had paid all along. The breakeven on that is 20 years out. I am investigating ways to decline Part B without incurring the penalty if I ever go back, but really, the best way around it is to never go back.
I am less worried about needing a nursing home, even though I know statistically 70% of people over 65 will need some type of long-term care before they die. But that care could be home visits or assisted living, not necessarily full-on nursing care. Assisted living or nursing facilities are a lot less expensive here in Portugal than in the States. At some point, I will need to shop facilities and make a plan for that.
But first things first. I have an email in to the Embassy to get their take on declining Medicare Part B. The next step is getting my US trust and will done. Then the Portuguese will. My next trip back to the States will involve a day going through my storage unit and getting rid of everything that I now know I will not need.
All this planning is the stuff most of us put off because really, who wants to think about it? But as a new expat, you need to do a little more work because you don’t have that established network of family and friends, yet. The probability is that yes, I will die overseas. And I want to make that final transition as smooth as possible for everyone.