Family or FATCA first?

2 min
Published on: 24-06-2015 Last modified on: 16-01-2024
No one should have to neglect their family because of FATCA. That is exactly what has happened to Don Fahnestock when he wanted to take care of his 91 year old mother in law.

Fahnestock, a native son of Philadelphia, left the United States at 27 when he went to work for Colgate-Palmolive in Switzerland. He met his American wife, Debbie, a dental hygienist, there.

After an early retirement at 57, the family had to temporarily move to Florida to take care of Debbie’s ageing and ailing mother. They continued to maintain their Swiss home but the bank didn’t agree with that last move.

His Swiss bank UBS informed him that due to FATCA compliance insisted on by the U.S., it would close his bank accounts, and oh, yes, his fixed-rate mortgage which is due for renewal in 2017 would not be renewed, if he did not make Switzerland his legal domicile. His quarterly mortgages were left in limbo.


He is American. However, if he had a spare $250,000, UBS has a US-registered office in Zurich, for non-Swiss-domiciled Americans that might offer him an account. As an ordinary American, he didn’t  have that kind of money.

To keep their bank accounts and mortgages open, Don had to leave Debbie and her 91-year old mother in Florida and return to Switzerland where they live in a tiny village. He would take Swiss nationality if he could, but the rules are you must be there 12 consecutive years. He has already lived more than 10 years in Switzerland but not consecutively.

The couple is separated as Debbie hasn’t been back until recently when the Doctor contacted them to tell them her mother is dying. So, Debbie flew back to Florida on May 18. With her mother’s prognosis in mind, she’s planned to come back on July 23. That may change to later, depending on her mother. Don does Skype sessions every day to support her emotionally.

‘It is a very difficult time, for her.’ he says.


“Political pandering has consequences in people’s lives. The masses cheer, certain people get hurt, but many unaffected don’t care about that because they have their ‘champion of righteousness’,” says Don Fahnestock a retired American expat about FATCA

He considers the legislation just that, ‘political pandering’. At 65, he has experienced the consequences first-hand, forcing him to make tough choices.

He says he is not bitter. He and Debbie want what every American wants – a normal peaceful retirement, as Americans. He just doesn’t know as an American expat if that’s possible.


D-L Nelson  is an American-born Swiss writer who revels in life, personal relationships, history and modern social issues  She lives in Geneva, Switzerland and Argelès-sur-mer, France. She was active politically prior to her renunciation, calling or emailing Congress several times a week about pending legislation.


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