The attitude to death and funerals in Spain is somewhat different from that of the UK and other countries. The Spanish believe the funeral should happen as soon as possible, to allow the family to return to normality as quickly as possible. Therefore, funerals tend to take place within 24-48 hours, I’ve known them to take place the same day. So, what should you do when someone dies in Spain? Do you know what to do, where to start? Do you know what your loved one’s wishes are?
What should you do when someone dies in Spain?
In the event of death first and foremost, call the Police (Policía Municipal) on 092. If you’re at home, you should try to call the deceased’s local GP who will certify the death, certify the cause, and will issue a death certificate. It’s always good to have their own GP attend, as they’ll know the medical history of the deceased. If you do not have a GP, for instance, if you are on holiday in Spain, the Police will call someone for you.
- It is at this time, if you have got a pre-paid funeral plan, you call them. You will have received a card, the dimensions of a credit card, with their details, and those of your plan. They will take over the arrangements for the funeral. Contact Expat Insurance In Spain for a Quote.
- If you don’t have a pre-paid plan, the Undertakers (pompas fúnebres) will be called by the emergency services in attendance, they are licensed to manage any funeral arrangements. They’re going to be able to assist you with much of the process. They’ll remove the body. You’ll need proof of identification of the deceased which must accompany the body to allow it to be moved, a passport will be sufficient for identification purposes.
However, do bear in mind the Police will call the closest Funeral Parlour. So, if you are on holiday, be prepared to remain longer until the funeral has taken place, or until you make the appropriate arrangements for the transport of your loved one back to your home area.
You will then have to register the death within 24 hours at the Civil Registry (Registro Civil), you’ll be able to find this at your local Town Hall (Ayuntamiento).
If the person dies in hospital, then the hospital administration will issue any certificates and calling the Undertakers, etc.
If the death is deemed suspicious or involves an investigation, an order from the judicial authority could also be issued to verify the death.
The death certificate (certificado de defunción) will be issued by the Civil Registry office. Multiple copies can be requested (it’s always a good idea to get a few extra copies)
Registration of a Death
Anyone with knowledge of the death may register the death, it need not be a family member. However, it’s normally registered by a member of the family, a friend, or neighbour of the deceased. In most cases, the death should be registered with the Civil Registry office of the town where it occurred. Here is the location of the Almuñécar Civil Registry office. The certificate of death stating the cause of death must be presented to allow registration of the death.
The registration form for death is free. It should contain this information:
- Full name of the deceased
- Names of the deceased’s parents
- Marital status
- Date and place of birth
- Birth registration details
- Last known place of residence
- Date, time, and location of the death (as documented within death certificate)
- Place of burial or cremation, if indicated on the death certificate or the certification from the authority or official in charge of the cemetery
- When the death registration has been completed a burial license is issued and this means a formal funeral may go ahead.
Funerals in Spain
As mentioned earlier, burial or cremation should occur within 24 to 48 hours (although this may be extended on the arrangement with the morgue), you generally get free refrigeration for 2 possibly 3 days after which, there’s a “per day” charge.
Burial or interment is most usual in Spain. If the deceased or next of kin request a cremation this must be made known to the doctor responsible for certifying the death, because it is noted on the certificate. Generally, Ex-pats are cremated. If the deceased has made specific arrangements for a religious service, burial, or cremation their wishes should be followed.
Funeral insurance is out there in abundance in Spain, do your research as prices vary and may also vary in accordance with your age health, etc. Many insurance companies offer funeral plans whereby expenses are pre-paid. Again, research is a must, as these do vary in price. Also, it would be advisable to speak to your local crematorium, they will often allow you to pay for your funeral upfront and this may be cheaper still.
Each municipality will have a cemetery. Spanish cemeteries have a system where a coffin is interred in what we would call a recess, or niche (Nicho) (rather than buried within the earth). A Nicho can be rented for a pre-determined number of years. Once this time expires the body is moved to a common burial ground. Each cemetery has different procedures, periods available, and costs, so again, do research in your area.
Cremation isn’t widely practiced in Spain (although it’s on the increase) and not all areas have crematoria. Prices vary from location to location. The ex-pat community is invariably cremated.
Non-religious funerals in Spain
Although Spain is a Catholic country, the crematoria are becoming more aware that the Ex-pat community may not be religious. They can provide the name of Celebrants who can provide a funeral written to celebrate the life of the deceased.
There are two types of Celebrant.
- Humanist Celebrants will provide a service that is completely secular, with no religious elements allowed.
- Alternatively, an Independent Celebrant will work with you to provide a service around your religious and spiritual beliefs, celebrating the life of the deceased. Anything goes!
You can choose to have a prayer or play any music you like for the processional and recessional in the chapel. You can have a memorial service anywhere you like, so if you wanted to hold the cremation as quickly as possible and then hold a service in your garden or on a boat with a Celebrant that can be arranged. If a Celebrant is something you would be interested in, just mention it to your funeral director when you are discussing the details with them.
Organisations to Contact
In the event of a death, it’s important to contact certain institutions such as:
- Any public or private institution for whom the deceased worked for or received payment.
- The Director General of the Public and Personal Pensions (Dirección General de Costes de Personas y Pensiones Públicas), or the Institute for Social Security (Instituto Nacional de la Seguridad Social INSS) as appropriate.
- Pension payments can then be altered accordingly, to widow’s pension or orphan allowance as an example:
- Banks and insurance companies (life insurance). Banks will often insist that an accident policy is taken out when an account is opened this might then be payable to a family member;
- To discover whether the deceased made a Will or to get a duplicate of the Will, contact the Registry of Last Wills of the Ministry of Justice, (Registro de Últimas Voluntades del Ministerio de Justicia)
How can you prepare?
How can you prepare for your own death and make life easier for those who are left behind to make all the arrangements? Firstly, make a Will. It cannot be stressed enough as to how important this is. You can make a Will in Spain as you would under English law. Under Spanish law, you do not have a choice as to how your assets are distributed amongst your next of kin, but as expats you do if you make a Will, speak to your local lawyer or notary.
The second thing is to sit down with your family and talk to them about any requests or wishes you may have. Make them aware of where all your important information is kept such as insurance policies, pre-paid insurance plan details, identification papers, etc.
Lastly, get yourself a notebook and write down any information they may need. Passwords to computers, mobile phones, sign-in details to any social media, etc. Any information you can think of, write it down and put it with your Will, Insurance Papers, Bank Papers, Passport, Residencia, etc. They will thank you for it when they are grieving your loss and having to plan your funeral.
Living Will in Spain
A Living Will is called ´Declaración de Voluntad Vital Anticipada´ in Spain. You must register them with the relevant public authorities in your region for them to be valid and you can include all kinds of medical decisions that need to be made when you are not capable to do so yourself.
This document states what you would like to happen should be you become unable to form decisions for yourself, as well as stating the name of those in a position to make decisions on your behalf. Organ donation etc.
The medical community will have access to your document to enable them to respond to your pre-determined requests to the best of their ability. Please see links below to the form and accompanying information.
Read more about the importance of making a Spanish will for foreigners.
Make a living donation of your property
Have you thought about donating your property to your children while you are alive? Save the headache of inheritance paperwork and taxes and donate the property to your heirs while you are living. Our favorite local lawyer, shares more information on donating your property and saving on taxes. This specifically references the autonomous community of Andalucía.
Reference Links and Information
Declaración de Voluntad Vital Anticipada (VVA – Living Will)
The Advance Vital Will Declaration is the written statement made by a capable person who, consciously and freely, expresses the options and instructions in health matters that must be respected in the event of clinical circumstances in which he cannot personally express his will. This statement is registered in the Registry of Advance Vital Wills.
The Andalusian Anticipated Vital Will Registry aims to help guarantee the right to decide on future health actions, in the event that the person cannot express themselves, through two fundamental actions
The British Consul are able to provide you with lots of information in their Bereavement Pack, please see the link below.
British Consul Bereavement Pack
You may wonder what the dying process involves – what actually happens in the very last days and hours of a person’s life?
Read more on the Hospice UK site.
The Celebrant Directory
Use the Celebrant Directory to help find someone who will help you honor and celebrate your loved one.
Wendy Sherwood is an Independent Celebrant living in Malaga Province on the Costa Del Sol. She is trained by the Fellowship of Professional Celebrants and works in Spain and the UK.
Wendy believes it is important to celebrate life’s most important moments, she does this by writing personalised funeral services around the life story of the deceased, celebrating their life and achievements. These can include as much, as little or no religious content, as you wish. Wendy will work with you to write the best goodbye for your loved-one and deliver this for you at a venue of your choice and is able to travel across Spain as necessary.
Photographs by Lara Jackson
Urn: Tanatorio La Esperanza, Camino del Cementerio BAJO, 29700 Vélez-Málaga, Málaga