Although this is a fairly unpleasant subject to have to think about and plan for, not doing so can create more stress for your loved ones at an already traumatic time. Because this is something that people try to put off planning for, and therefore have little information on, I will give a brief summary on how to you have to proceed in these cases if you need to report the death of a family member or arrange the burial, cremation or the repatriation of remains outside Spain.
What should I do in the event of a death?
When somebody dies in Spain there are a number of procedures to be followed, unless the death takes place in a hospital, in which case the process will be managed by them:
- The police must be called (Policía Municipal). Tel: 092
- A doctor must be contacted to certify the cause of death and issue a death certificate (you can contact the doctor yourself or the police can do this).
- A funeral home can be contacted for the body to be removed, although the body must be formally identified before this happens.
- The death must be registered within 24 hours at the Civil Registry (Registro Civil) which is usually located in the local Town Hall.
- It is usual practice in Spain for a funeral to take place within 48 hours of the death occurring.
Undertakers are licensed to manage funeral arrangements and the burial or cremation of a body, and are able to assist with much of the process.
How do I register a death?
The doctor who certifies the death and identifies the body is usually the last doctor to have treated the deceased.
The certificate issued by the doctor stating the cause of death must be taken to the Civil Registry office of the area where the death occurred to formally register the death within 24 hours of the passing. Anyone with knowledge of the death is eligible to make the registration, although this is normally done by a family member, friend or neighbour of the deceased.
Upon doing this a death certificate (certificado de defunción) will then be issued by the Civil Registry office and you can request several copies. A burial certificate will also be issued and a formal funeral can take place.
The burial or cremation should take place within 24 to 48 hours of the death, although this can be extended in certain circumstances on arrangement with the funeral home.
If the deceased has made specific arrangements for a religious service, burial or cremation their wishes must be respected. Burial or internment is the most common practice in Spain. The Spanish cemeteries use a system where the coffin is inserted in a “niche”, as opposed to buried in the ground. These niches are rented for a pre-determined number of years and once this period expires the body is moved to a common burial ground.
If the deceased or next of kin requests a cremation this must be made known to the doctor in charge of certifying the death as it will be noted on the certificate he issues.
It is possible to purchase funeral insurance to cover costs and many people in Spain choose to do this, or opt for a pre-payment scheme with a funeral home.
Who do I have to contact?
In the event of a death it is important to contact certain institutions:
- Any public or private institution for which the deceased worked for or received payment from.
- State or private pension institutions as appropriate.
- Tax authorities
- Town Hall
- Traffic authorities
- Banks and insurance companies (life insurance).
What about if I want to be repatriated?
If the deceased or their next of kin requests that the body be repatriated to the country of origin this must also be communicated to the attending doctor when the death certificate is being completed. To repatriate a body the passport must be kept with the body, it cannot cross international borders or fly without it.
The cost of the repatriation may be covered by travel or life insurance. It is important to find out if this is the case and, if so, the insurance company will make all the necessary arrangements. It is therefore very convenient to arrange for the appropriate insurance if this should be your intention in the future.
Another option would be that the body be cremated in Spain and the ashes flown to the home country. For this to be done the ashes must be accompanied by the appropriate certificate allowing its transport.
In the event that the repatriation is not covered by travel or life insurance, you should contact an international funeral director directly and the cost will have to covered by the family.
How important is a Will and how do I know if one was made?
As soon as possible after acquiring assets in Spain, whether property or otherwise, it is very important to make plans for what should happen in the case of your demise. However, it is highly recommendable that this is done under the appropriate legal advice, as there can be many consequences for your heirs. For more information on the importance of making a Spanish will you can consult our previous post “Why is it more important than ever to update your Spanish Will?”.
The will is registered at the Registry of Last Wills and Testaments (Registro General de Actos de Última Voluntad), and it can be applied for 15 working days after the death by anyone who is able to produce the correct documentation.
Although the involvement of professionals is not strictly necessary for carrying out these processes, it can alleviate at least some of the emotional stress for you loved ones. It is important you start to consider which of these scenarios you would prefer in the event of your death and the role played by a good life insurance policy must not be underestimated, particularly if considering repatriation where costs can be high.
We are able to help you with any information on insurance policies, and any other advice or management you may need regarding this subject. A lot of unnecessary stress can be avoided when all of these arrangements can be passed on to someone else.
Gabriella Mary Trussler
4408 Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Almería