Winnipeg Woman’s Death in Punta Cana Underscores Need for Travel Insurance

by Richard D’Ambrosio
Winnipeg Woman’s Death in Punta Cana Underscores Need for Travel Insurance

Travelers need to understand that each country has different policies and procedures and local laws apply when a foreigner dies there. Photo: Shutterstock.com.


The death of a Winnipeg woman vacationing in the Dominican Republic has been complicated by the fact that she had not purchased travel insurance for the trip.

As a result, the already suffering family could be on the hook for more than $10,000 to cover medical bills and funeral costs, while also dealing with the complex regulations governing the repatriation of her body to Canada.

Holly Twoheart was vacationing at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana with her 26-year-old daughter Danielle, when security woke her to tell her that Danielle had been found on the grounds, apparently the victim of a three-story fall.

Danielle was taken to a local hospital where Holly said she was put on life support before passing away later that day. Danielle has two daughters, aged eight and 10.

Danielle did not have travel insurance, and her stay at the hospital incurred $6,000 in expenses. In addition, a local funeral parlor requested an additional $5,100 for Danielle’s body to be released.

The Canadian government warns its citizens on a website that: “Your Canadian insurance is almost certainly not valid outside Canada. Your provincial or territorial health plan may cover nothing or only a very small portion of the costs if you get sick or are injured while abroad.” It notes that, “The Government of Canada will not pay your medical bills.”

News reports stated that Canadian consular officials were in contact with local authorities to gather additional information about the situation.

Repatriating a body is highly complex
On its website, the Canadian Government offers the following advice about repatriating remains if a death occurs abroad on vacation:

  • Choose someone to make decisions for the family, either in Canada or where the death took place. If possible, this person should have the required documentation, such as the deceased’s will and any powers of attorney.
  • Notify the deceased person’s travel insurance provider and make sure that you follow their instructions to avoid unnecessary delays or complications.
  • Find a funeral home in the region where the death took place that is experienced in international funeral arrangements. The facility will guide you through the next steps and help you with arrangements in both countries if you decide to have the funeral in Canada.
  • Understand that each country has different policies and procedures and local laws apply when a foreigner dies there. Timelines may often be longer than in Canada and delays can occur at any time.
  • Your family’s representative must obtain an official death certificate issued by the country where the death occurred. The funeral home you choose in the country where the death occurred may be able to obtain the official death certificate and register the death according to local laws. Make sure you ask for several copies of the death certificate as it is required at a number of stages.
  • If it is not in one of Canada’s official languages, the death certificate must be translated into English or French by a certified translation service.
  • You may need more documents depending on the circumstances surrounding the death and whether the human remains or ashes will be sent back to Canada.
  • If there is an investigation into the death, you may require a medical, police or autopsy report and/or toxicology results. In some countries, an autopsy may be required.
  • If the body of the deceased is being repatriated, the Canada Border Services Agency may require certification that the individual had no communicable diseases before they will release the body to you. Additionally, the airlines have their own regulations for the repatriation of remains. Family members should not expect to travel on the same plane as the body when it is being repatriated.
  • The time required to repatriate remains can vary greatly and depends on a number of factors, including the procedures in the country where the death occurred and the cause of death.
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