What to do when someone dies in Spain

Frequently asked Questions about living and working in Andalucia and Spain This section is for information only and drawn from the other forum section threads. Members cannot post to it directly but we accept suggestions for topics and to accept members contributions via other threads.
El Cid
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What to do when someone dies in Spain

Postby El Cid » Fri Oct 14, 2011 5:18 pm

Recently one of our members, Ken2, died suddenly and his widow suggested that we compile a guide to what to do under these circumstances.

That thread is at viewtopic.php?f=1&t=27439

Another member, Roz, pointed me in the direction of an article that had appeared on another site. It seemed so comprehensive that I have had permission from the author to quote it in full rather than just link to it.

It was written by Paul Whitelock. Paul Whitelock is a retired Ofsted school inspector and former UK languages teacher. He now lives with his German wife near Ronda and is a freelance journalist, translator and interpreter. Paul can be contacted by email at [email protected] or by telephone on (+34) 952 87 40 38 or (+34) 636 52 75 16.

WHEN our friend Bill died last month in the village of Montejaque in the mountains of the Serranía de Ronda, it threw into sharp focus the question:

At the time we weren’t sure, and we had to learn pretty quickly, writes Paul Whitelock.

Talking to friends subsequently, it has emerged that many of us immigrants are not really sure at all. Also clear is that many of us have made no provision for death, neither in terms of paying for funeral services, death taxes, etc, nor about what we want to happen to our remains, what kind of funeral we want and so on.

What we should do now
► First of all, we should all think about what our wishes are after we die - Spain or UK? Burial or cremation? Organ donation? Religious or lay service? Favourite music and words to be used? Which relatives and friends to contact?
► Secondly, share these wishes with a spouse, partner, relative or close friend; better still write it down or make a living will.
► Thirdly, is there adequate financial provision, eg insurance policy, pre-paid funeral plan, savings? Fourthly, if you have assets in Spain, make sure you have a Spanish Will.

Clearly, the death of a loved one is one of the most traumatic experiences we will have to deal with in life: knowing what to do in the event will not ease the distress and pain but it will help everyone concerned to organise the arrangements correctly.

Planning ahead will mean that when the day comes when you have to make funeral arrangements for a loved one or someone has to make arrangements for you, at least a little of the emotional stress will be alleviated. The financial burden will also be eased, if you have taken out funeral insurance or a pre-paid funeral plan.

Depending on where you live, communication may well be an issue. In areas with large numbers of Britons, such as the Costa del Sol, the Costa Blanca and Mallorca, the chances are that there will be English speakers around, but inland this is less likely. It was certainly an issue for us in Montejaque, but fortunately there was a fluent Spanish speaker among us to do the interpreting. It is a good idea to make yourself aware of who in your community can speak Spanish well and get their telephone number in case you need to call on them when the worst happens (get their agreement first).

If the deceased is to remain in Spain, be aware that it is all very different here. There is no automatic autopsy if someone dies suddenly. The attending doctor decides whether the death is suspicious or not and whether an autopsy is required. The dead are normally buried within 24-48 hours, leaving little time for mourners to travel out from the UK. Bodies are placed in a niche (nicho) in a “wall” in the cemetery. These are often purchased in advance by locals, by paying so much a week, or they can be rented. Presumably we could do the same. In Bill’s case the council decided to donate a niche, although this is not necessarily the norm.

The Age Concern factsheet is very thorough and goes into great detail about what needs to be done. Suffice to say that in our experience, the local Ayuntamiento bent over backwards to help, both in terms of contacting people, making sure the correct procedures were followed and also with financial support to Bill’s widow. I don’t know whether this is the case in all municipalities, but in Montejaque they “bury their own dead”. That means that the council provides its funeral services and facilities free of charge to official residents, irrespective of national origin. A very good reason for registering and getting on the padrón, I’d say. In Montejaque, they are very proud of their newish cemetery and chapel of rest and want it to be used for the people of the village.

If you use a commercial funeral director (tanatorio), expect to pay a lot more. And watch out for sharks - agents or “fixers” - who may try to take advantage of the bereaved in their darkest hour by shipping the body off to the nearest tanatorio and providing the most expensive coffin in their catalogue! It nearly happened to us, but that’s another story ...

Informing the authorities

Natural causes

If your spouse, partner, relative or friend dies in hospital, the hospital authorities will take care of the administrative details.

If death occurs in a public place, eg in a traffic accident, in the street or in a commercial establishment, the police will be called as a matter of course.

If the death occurs at home, you should:

► Call the 112 multi-lingual emergency service or the municipal police on 092 (policía municipal) who will advise the Forensic Judge/Coroner (Juez Forense) who will come to the home to authorize the removal of the body. In practice the attending doctor will probably do this for you.
► You need to get a medical death certificate. This will be provided by the attending doctor.
► Contact the local undertakers, a local funeral parlour (tanatorio), or, if the deceased has a pre-paid funeral plan, the company concerned. Again, the doctor or paramedics will probably be happy to help with this.

Judicial cases

If death has occurred suddenly or is due to an accident, or the Forensic Judge or doctor that attends is in any doubt as to the cause of death, the death is deemed a judicial case and an autopsy will be necessary. If this is the case, the deceased will be taken to the Forensic Institute (Instituto Anatómico Forense) where an autopsy will be carried out to find the cause of death.

Once this has been ascertained, either the family will go to the court to obtain the permits for the body to be released or in some cases a funeral company can do this on your behalf.

Protecting funeral wishes
In Spain, the hospital, police or doctor will automatically call out the nearest funeral director if you do not make it known to them that you have a particular funeral director/agent in mind.

Depending on where you live, you will find that the majority of Spanish funeral companies do not speak English. If you do not speak Spanish, communications between you will be very difficult and there is a possibility of signing a written contract that contains the provision of services that may not comply entirely with your wishes.

If you do not have a preference and the local funeral director attends, to ensure that the funeral arrangements are carried out in line with your wishes and those of the deceased:

► Make sure you understand what services you are contracting before signing any paperwork, ie ask a Spanish-speaking friend/neighbour to help.
► Try to avoid handing over passports, especially that of the deceased. It is a good idea to have photocopies available. In judicial cases, the police may insist on taking the original which will be given back when the judicial permits are completed.

If you do have a particular funeral company in mind, make sure you advise the appropriate officials present, contacting the funeral company immediately. Funeral companies have a 24-hour contact number so make sure you keep that number in your telephone book.

The ruling which applies to deaths that occur away from home has changed:

► In judicial cases, the police will automatically call the local funeral director.
► Under the new ruling if a person dies in hospital in a different municipality from where that person lives and the family want a local funeral director in the place in which they live to collect the body, they should tell the hospital authorities.

It may be advisable to appoint the services of an English-speaking funeral agent, assuming one is available in your area. This company will act as an intermediary and will liaise with the local (and international, if necessary) funeral directors, the crematorium or cemetery, civil registry, courts, etc, on behalf of the family. It will sort out all the necessary paperwork and organise arrangements, including repatriation of the remains if required.

Death certificates
To avoid confusion, note that there are two categories of death certificates:

► The doctor’s medical death certificate (which confirms the identification of the body and the cause of death) and
► The local Civil Registry death certificate (see Civil Registry death certificates below).

Registering the death
All deaths must be registered in the country where the death occurs. In Spain, this can be done in person or by post (or via the internet in some locations only) at the local Spanish Civil Registry (Registro Civil) usually situated in the Court Building (Juzgado) and must be done within 24 hours of the death.

A death cannot be registered at the Registro Civil without the presentation of a medical death certificate either obtained from the hospital or from the doctor who attended the deceased at home. If the deceased has undergone an autopsy, the registration of the death will be processed by judicial means.

If you are registering the death, make sure you have sufficient information and documentation regarding both the person who has died and yourself. This should include:

► The medical death certificate obtained from the hospital or from the doctor attending the deceased at home
► Name, surname and passport or National Identification Card/DNI number of the person requesting the certificate
► Details of the next of kin of the person who has died.
► The following relating to the deceased:
- Name and surnames of the deceased
- Names of the parents
- Marital status
- Nationality
- Date of birth and location where born
- Passport number or DNI (National identification number)
- Last known residence/address
- Date, time and location of the death (as detailed in medical death certificate)
- Place of burial, if indicated on the declaration of death or the certification from the Authority or civil servant in charge of the cemetery.
► The type of certificate you would like to receive (see Civil Registry death certificates below).

Finally, provide a contact telephone number where you can be reached to clarify any of the above information.

Civil Registry death certificates

There are several types of local Civil Registry death certificates in Spain:

1. Extract: these contain the basic information necessary for the following certificates -

► a normal Spanish death certificate (written in Spanish) and
► an International Death Certificate (written in a number of languages including Spanish and English).

2. Literal: these consist of all the information pertaining to the death.

A normal Spanish death certificate will be needed for Spanish bank accounts, life insurance policies or most entities in Spain that need to be advised, but an International certificate is recommended for all UK entities.

A literal death certificate is not normally needed for matters pertaining to death in Spain.

The death certificate, issued by the local Registro Civil is usually available within two to three days and can be collected in person or be sent by post. In some towns it will be issued at the offices of the local Justice of the Peace (Juzgado de Paz). Remember to ask for as many original copies (copias originales) as you will need. These are normally free of charge.

As a guide, if the deceased was a British citizen, the following authorities/agencies may require a copy of the death certificate (see section Useful Contacts below for contact details):

Registro Civil in Madrid (see Wills and Inheritance below)
Probate Office, if a UK will exists, or if the deceased had property/assets in the UK (see Wills and Inheritance below)
Department of Work and Pensions in the UK, if the deceased was in receipt of a British State Pension
Spanish Social Security (Instituto de Seguridad Social INSS), if the deceased had worked in Spain and/or was in receipt of a Spanish pension
Paymaster General, if the deceased received payment from the State or company pension in the UK
Inland Revenue, if the deceased paid UK tax
Banks (in UK, Spain and elsewhere) where the deceased held accounts
Insurance companies which held life policies on the life of the deceased (see also Spanish life insurance policies below)
Private pension companies
Yourself, for your own records. This is particularly important if you decide to rent a niche for the deceased as it is required to produce the death certificate at a future date if you have to transfer the remains to another place.


a. Some British government agencies and UK-based executors need the International death certificate to be verified by a Notary Public (Notario) based in Spain.
b. The British Consular Offices in Spain no longer verify death certificates.
c. Varying rules may apply under Scottish, Channel Islands or Isle of Man law.
d. Other nationals may obtain details of certificates required by contacting their local Consular Office.

It is advisable to make a list of all the authorities/agencies both in the UK and in Spain, needing death certificates. If it is found at some point that you have obtained insufficient original copies, go back to the Registro Civil and request more. Do not forget to keep a copy for your own records.

Registering the death with the British Consulate
It is not obligatory to register the death of a British national in Spain with the British Consulate-General. However, if you do there are the following advantages:
► a British form of the death certificate is then available and
► a record of the death is then held at the General Register Office in the UK.

The documents you will need are:

► application form available from the British Consulate offices or downloaded at: http://www.fco.gov.uk/Files/kfile/death ... onform.pdf
► the local death certificate from the Civil Registry
► the deceased’s passport or full British birth certificate as proof of citizenship

You then have to take (or send by post) the above documents to the British Consulate-General in Madrid (see below for contact details) with the appropriate registration fee.

Funeral arrangements
Once the death registration has been completed, under normal circumstances, a burial licence will be issued and the burial or cremation can take place.

Normally in Spain, funerals are held within 24 - 48 hours of death but they can be delayed to allow for family or friends to arrive. In this case the body will be kept in a morgue at an additional cost.

In Spain, the undertakers are licensed by the competent authority to manage funeral arrangements. If you do not have any contact details, your local Consulate may be able to provide a list of local/international funeral directors or funeral agents. However, as stated earlier, your local council may deal with all this for you.

When the funeral company/agent has been appointed, you have to:

Provide them with:

► the passport of the deceased and your own
► the forenames of the mother and father of the deceased

Sign the appropriate documents relating to the services you have contracted, eg type of coffin or urn, religious service, obituary, flowers, etc.

Although all arrangements will be organised by the funeral company, you will have to decide the details. Before meeting the undertaker, consider such points as:

a. Whether the body is to be clothed in any particular way
b. Whether any personal jewellery is to be removed from the body.
c. Whether the body contains any pins, plates, pacemakers, hip/knee replacements, dentures, etc.
d. Whether the deceased had made any particular requests in respect to the arrangements.
e. Whether the deceased was non-Christian and requires special treatment.
f. Whether the deceased had funeral insurance or a pre-paid funeral plan.
g. Whether the body is to be 'laid out'.
h. Whether the body is to be available for viewing (velatorio): before burial/cremation. You can decide the amount of time for viewing by arrangement with the funeral company.
i. The transport of human remains to the country of origin for burial or cremation is an extremely expensive procedure as the body has to be embalmed and transported in a lead-lined coffin.
j. Repatriation of ashes is an alternative: an appropriate certificate is required.
k. In Spain a coffin is normally placed in a recess (a method of burial rare in the UK) known as a niche (nicho). The cost of purchasing a niche is determined by its position in the group. The highest is the cheapest and the middle the most expensive. Some niches may be underground.

Don’t be rushed
Whatever happens, do not be rushed. If you are doubtful, have someone with you. Be sure you are aware of the full cost of the services on which you decide.

Wills and inheritance and death duties
This is a huge and complicated topic and the subject of another article at another time, but suffice to say, if the deceased has assets in Spain, these are subject to the rules of inheritance and succession tax (death duties). It is essential to have a Spanish Will, so that the people you wish to inherit can do so.

Any succession tax due is payable by the beneficiaries within six months of the death, although there are legal ways of minimising the tax due. To learn more, you are advised to consult a financial adviser with experience of the Spanish environment.

What do you do when someone dies? Don’t wait until it happens. Do some thinking and planning now before it’s too late. That way you’re more likely to get what you want and your loved ones will have less to concern themselves with when they are mourning your passing.

International Pension Centre
Tel.: +44 191 218 7777
Fax: +44 191 218 7381
Website: http://www.thepensionservice.gov.uk/ipc/home.asp
Email: [email protected]
HM Paymaster General
Tel: +44 1293 604 546 (switchboard)
Email: [email protected]
Inland Revenue
Tel.: +44 151 210 2222
Probate Helpline Tel.: +44 845 3020 900

Spanish Social Security Institute (Instituto de Seguridad Social (INSS)
Tel.: 900 16 65 65/901 50 20 50

Ministry of Justice (Ministerio de Justicia)
Customer helpline: 902 007 214
Website: http://www.mjusticia.es

Locations of Civil Registry offices in Spain
Website: http://buscadir.mjusticia.es/BUSCADIR/S ... lang=en_gb

Registro General de Actos de Última Voluntad
Ministerio de Justicia Plaza de Jacinto Benavente, 3
28012 Madrid

British Consulate-General
Tel.: 91 524 97 00
Fax: 91 524 97 30
Email: [email protected]

Age Concern España
Website: http://www.acespana.org
For further information ring INFOLINE on (+34) 902 00 38 38 or send an email to [email protected]
© Paul Whitelock

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