What happens to the kids if you die overseas?

The Kids Are Alright

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]oday this post by Kirsty, one of my favorite bloggers who regularly entertains over at 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle, got me thinking…

Like her, I’m a compulsive worrier, always trying not to step on the cracks between my thoughts in case they come true.

‘What if K gets mown down by a truck while driving home on the highway? What if someone abducts one of the kids the split-second I look away? What if our house is consumed by a fireball while I pop out for milk, and I lose the people I care most about in the world in one fell blow?’

Kirsty’s family is an expat travelling circus like us (though they’re by far the classier crew – Cirque du Soleil to our Zippo’s) and she’s taking steps to make sure her kids know how to contact family back home if anything happens to her and G. Here are a few of the questions she’s considering:


  • ‘Who will fly in to collect the children if something happens to you and your partner?
  • Do you legally have something in place for that to occur?
  • How will they get home?
  • Does the office know what the plan is?
  • Do the children know who to call in case of emergency?
  • Do your children know Granny’s number?’


She made me realize I don’t have answers to ANY of these and this got me thinking again about writing a will and how the pressure to be prepared increases when you take your family abroad. K & I tidied up our legal affairs some time ago but one thing keeps stopping us completing our last will and testament: who to put down as legal guardians of our children in the event of our death. Do we ask my parents who made my life a misery growing up, my sisters who weren’t even interested in meeting their nieces and nephew, or K’s family who are trying to seize our house for themselves while we’re overseas?

What are the chances of a pair of TCK’s (Third Culture Kids – born in one country, raised in another, living in another) from equally dysfunctional families getting married and having babies? Whatever the odds, the upshot is that we don’t have strong, stable roots anywhere that translate into a reliable alternative source of care for our children. And while we make new friends as we go along, it’s not the kind of thing you bring up in the first decade of a relationship;

“ You take your tea with one sugar don’t you, and how do you feel about having my kids if I die?”

We’re a literal illustration of the global nomad – look it up in the dictionary and there’s our family photo next to the definition – rootless, unrestrained by relationship ties, a tiny nuclear family life raft bobbing on the wide, open sea of the world.

I’ve tried to find an answer but I’ve come to the conclusion there just isn’t one in our case, so wherever I go, whatever I do, this thought haunts the back of my mind – “I must keep myself in one piece until the children are eighteen.” After that, I’m free to fall apart!




Do you have special circumstances that prevent you from meeting all the requirements of a proper ‘grown-up’? What rules are you flouting? Surely we’re not the only ones who just don’t ‘fit’ the general template or never thought to consider this before the birth…

By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. I’m in almost the same boat as you, so Kirsty’s post really struck a cord. There’s NO-ONE in either family that I think know my kids well enough AND has a passport AND that I’d want to take my kids. It scares me.

  2. My parents struggled to have a lifetime-stable job as close as possible to their birthplace. Grandparents were available to help every day. That was the old world.
    We are something completely different. The world has changed around us faster than most people realize, in my opinion. More and more people are living far away from their raising place.
    We are modern families, with modern concerns.

    1. It’s true – it’s a different world now in so many ways, yet in many others, unchanged. We can change the country we live in, the language we speak, but mindsets – now they’re a different matter entirely. In this particular situation I’m trying to work to parameters set for a generic type I’ve never come close to being.

  3. Just reading the description of this article gave me the instant reaction: “GOOD GRIEF I DON’T KNOW!”

    Like you, we have no good options in our families. None. Not even a little. We do have some good friends we floated the idea with a few years ago, but it’s not exactly a set in stone plan. I worry about how our families or friends would even find out that someone needed to come for the children (ours are too young to learn international telephone numbers), not to mention who would keep them long-term.

    Pretty much our only option is to stick together as much as possible so that if my husband and I get hit by a truck, the kids do too and we all go out together…

    1. That’s the expat family superglue bond right there! ‘F**k it! We’re all in this together!’ I’ve come to realise that it’s deceptively easy to slide into a ‘What if…’ negative way of thinking when you live abroad. Every time my husband heads out the door I wonder if this will be THAT moment I look back on before everything turned upside down. Ultimately, you just have to acknowledge it and then put it aside and move on, otherwise it becomes deleterious and spills over into other areas of your psyche.

  4. I follow Kirsty’s blog as well. I find her topics so very relevant to expat women’s experiences. We’ve got a plan in place, but your post made me realize that after 7 years here, it’s probably dated, and this is something we need to talk about seriously again TONIGHT! Thanks!

  5. You got me thinking on this topic. I don’t have answers to any of these, either. One of the expat parents at my child’s school passed away shortly after we arrived and it scared me. I must keep myself in one piece. That is for sure.

  6. This post is great. Good thoughts.
    I am Spanish and my husband is Chinese, we don’t have kids yet but we have discussed a few points.
    Our families are very happy with our life together and they never disapproved us but for example I would not like it if my kids end up with my mother. She gave up on me more than 14 years ago and still struggle to have a normal conversation when we meet.
    In our case we have defined that if something happen to any of us the other one will take care of the kids and go visit the relatives in the respective country (let’s say, something happen to me, T should not forget about our family in Spain, and needs to do his best to go there every 2 years max).
    In case something happens to both of us is not defined yet. But we did talk about it and about the people we would trust more and would be better for the kids growing up.
    If when we have kids we define it more I will come over and share with you!

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