Back To Basics

Maybe it is time to talk about things that should be considered if you are living in Panama. Better stated, this applies to dying in Panama.

Several weeks ago, I received an email from an individual who was writing me because he knew I was the David Warden for the U.S. Embassy in Panama.

He told me that he had accompanied his friend to the Regional Hospital and his friend was not expected to live. He wanted to get prepared in the event his friend died and wanted to know the process.

I wrote him a little about the process and said the U.S. Embassy would have to contact the next of kin. At the same time I notified the U.S. Embassy of the possible event so they would be expecting potential contact by the hospital.

The Regional Hospital has been asked to contact the Embassy if a U.S. citizen enters the hospital without accompanying family. Sometimes they do and the Embassy has asked me to check in on the patient. Sometimes they don’t.

In this case, the patient died prior to any notification of the Embassy. Now the process starts.

I always advise that one of the first things people retiring in Panama should do is plan for their death. However, many gringos move to Panama, more now that the economic situation around the world is so bad, and are more occupied with adapting to the culture, dealing with a communication problem, living their daily life.

Such was this individual’s situation. His passport showed no contact information in case of emergency. He was single and lived in a local pension in David. He had multiple friends that knew him and knew he had some banking accounts, but no one knew of any living relative.

These kinds of problems cause the U.S. embassy to jump through hoops. The laws of Panama prevail. Without a will recognized in Panama or a living relative to claim the body, things become very difficult.

The U.S. Embassy began an exhaustive search for next of kin.

Since it is Panama, the U.S. Embassy waited on the Panama authorities to inventory the deceased’s belongings. This didn’t happen. Yesterday the Embassy was here and did the inventory. I assume this was following conversations with the local authorities, because the U.S. Embassy would require that authority from Panama.

What happens now, I do not know. The body had been transferred to the main morgue and as far as I know it is still there waiting final disposition.

I know that many of the deceased’s friends, both Panamanian and gringo, were concerned that proper cremation had not been done. I also know that many of the Panamanian friends, being Catholic, were concerned it was taking so long and probably wondered why the Embassy could not move faster.

Whose fault is that? It is the deceased’s fault. He may never have felt that he had the time, or may have never felt he had enough to worry about, but he left a mess for others to deal with.

His wishes, based on his friend’s account of being verbally told, were that he wanted to be cremated and for all of his worldly belongings to go to a young man he was helping educate. Things would have been so simple if he had put his wishes into writing in an official Panamanian document.

Have you done what you need to do?

9 thoughts on “Back To Basics

  1. When I lived In Nicaragua a friend died as a result of an accident. They spent a day just trying to locate his sister. I was in Florida at the time. They called me for what I knew. All I knew was he had a sister in Houston. As a result of seeing all the trouble they went through I’ve made my final arrangements.

    Please note. The hospital will issue a death certificate. On that form you will need the names of the deceased’s parents. The hospital certificate needs to be taken to Tribunal Electrorial. They will issue the official government Death Certificate

  2. Good information, thanks. Any suggestions on how to create an official Panamanian document to handle these details? Through a lawyer? If one also has a will executed in the US, does the Panamanian document supercede that? Or only if the person dies in Panama?

  3. I did not know until today that you were connected with the US Embassy. I assumed you were just a well-heeled American sowing oats of one kind or another in Panama.

    I used to hear from Omar, frequently, then he stopped coming around. I hope he is OK.

  4. Don Ray, OT, but out check the link to a new Panama crime reporting site that I put up on fb. It uses an open source platform called Ushahidi, with which I imagine you’re familiar; are you all using this in David? L

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