Legal Update


What Happens if I Die in Costa Rica? Questions and Answers


By Rómulo Pacheco


In my previous article I addressed the situation of a person with heirs dying in Costa Rica. The article prompted some questions from persons who have no heirs, either in Costa Rica or in their home country, as well as some other general questions. I will try to answer them here.

What happens to my body if I die, but have no heirs in Costa Rica or in my home country?

If your death should occur in Costa Rica, the body will be taken to the nearest hospital to have it examined and to issue a certificate listing the apparent cause of death. The body will then be stored until a relative comes to pick it up. If three months elapse and no one comes to pick it up, the body will be donated to an educational institution to be used for practice by doctors in training. Following the end of the school’s need for the body, the remains will be buried in the CEMENTERIO OBRERO, in a common grave.


What happens to my possessions, property, etc., if I have no heirs?

In the event you have assets and there is no relative to claim them, then article 572 of the Civil Code, section CH-6, establishes the following: The Education Boards from the jurisdiction where the assets are located will be declared as the heirs. If there are assets in more than one jurisdiction, the Probate will take place in the jurisdiction where the most assets are located.


I am unmarried and have no relatives in my home country. I wish to have my remains cremated. How can I be sure that is done?

The only way to assure that your body will be cremated is to enter a prepaid contract with a funeral home, and then create a will. An executor or an heir named in the will has the obligation to ensure your body is cremated.


An alternative is to deposit a sufficient amount of money to cover all expenses (cremation/burial/shipping, etc.) in a bank account as an inheritance, which is only accessible to the heir upon your death. A specified amount can be designated for payment of those expenses. This gives the heir the incentive to follow your wishes in order to collect the full inheritance.


I desire to be buried in my home country. What steps are necessary for my heirs to have my body shipped to my home?

This is something you should arrange with a funeral home before you die. Be careful to arrange this with a reputable firm that can provide the services of transportation and burial (mostly to the US and Canada). It is also possible to have the remains cremated before shipping them to a specific person or address.


Must someone come to Costa Rica to claim my body before shipping it to my home country?

Yes. In accordance with the laws governing the exportation of a body, someone designated as your relative or heir must come here to sign the documents.


Who pays the shipping expenses for my body?

It is advisable that, before your death, you should either leave sufficient funds, or include the amount as part of your pre-paid contract with a funeral home. If this is not done beforehand, the heirs will be responsible for paying the expenses.


How is a body shipped?
Via airplane, in the cargo bay.

I am unmarried and have no family. Can I designate my girlfriend as my heir?

Yes. When you draw up a will you can designate anyone as your heir, relative or not.


Can I have two wills—one in Costa Rica and one in my home country?

Yes.  And I strongly recommend it! Although one will can work in both jurisdictions, the process to legalize a will in a country which is not the country where it was originally drawn, may take months. Further, completing the legal requirement to have a foreign will accepted in a second country would be an expense your heirs would have to pay.

If you have any questions or need a consultation, please don't hesitate to contact my office and I will gladly answer your questions or set an appointment for a private conference.