What happens when an expat dies in Spain?

Published on 14 February 2024

What to do when someone dies in Spain?

Spain is a wonderful place to live, which attracts many expats from around the globe. It has a high life expectancy, opportunities to work, play and live, and a generally happy society. How many people died in Spain every year? Surprisingly, only about 400,000 to 450,000 deaths are registered each year out of about 47.42 million people, a testament to the high life expectancy in the country.

Died in spain

When an expat dies in Spain, they are bound by Spanish rules. Friends and family of the person who died in Spain should understand the legal system in the country and plan meticulously for the interment of the body. Besides, they should know what to do with the deceased’s estate, debts and other belongings. It is good to have a helping hand who understands Spanish laws to help you throughout the process.

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This article explores the main considerations the deceased expat’s family will make and provides insights into the burial process if people died in Spain away from home.

How to start with the death of a family member in Spain?

After learning about the death of your loved one in Spain, there are several steps you should take to let the authorities know and obtain the documents to enable you to plan for their interment. Let’s explore these steps.

Inform Relevant Authorities of the Death

If the death occurs at home or in a public place, the police should be notified before the body is moved to a funeral home. Here is the process for informing the authorities of a death that occurs at home or in public:

  • You may call 112 (this is a multi-lingual emergency service) and explain the death. Alternatively, you may call municipal police (polici’a municipal) on 092.
  • The police will advise the coroner (also called a forensic judge), who will come to the home and authorise undertakers (pompas fu’nebres) to remove the body. Do not touch the body and wait for the police so that you don’t tamper with crucial evidence related to the death.
  • The coroner will examine the body and produce a report that will be captured in one of the death certificates discussed below.

When is an Autopsy Necessary?

An autopsy is not required in all cases of death. If the forensic judge is in any doubt about the cause of death, it will be deemed a judicial case and the autopsy will have to be conducted. The body will be taken to a forensic institute (Instituto Anato’mico Forense) for an autopsy.

Once the coroner ascertains the cause of death, you will need to obtain a court permit to have the body released. In many cases, the funeral company you pick will do that on your behalf.

Death in the Hospital in Spain

If the deceased dies in the hospital, the institution will contact a local funeral home to take the body. This is a more straight-forward process, as a registered doctor will have information about the immediate course of death and underlying factors.

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Choosing the Funeral Home for the Burial Process

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expat dies in spain

In Spain, a hospital or police department calls the nearest funeral home if you do not instruct them to pick a specific one. Therefore, you need to specify the funeral director to handle the process as soon as you learn of the death.

Language Barrier

Unfortunately, most of the funeral homes in Spain do not speak English. If you do not speak Spanish, you will have a hard time communicating with the relevant personnel.

Consider picking a funeral parlour that understands both English and Spanish so that you can have it easy throughout the process. If there are no English-speaking funeral directors around, you can get a trusted Spanish speaker or translator to translate communications for you.

Choice of Services

Many local services are restricted to local burials. They will not assist when it comes to repatriation. You may pick one of them and move on to an organisation that does the expatriation later in the process. However, if possible, pick a funeral service that will do all the work for you.

Other services that the funeral home may undertake include getting a permit for the release of the body in judicial cases, applying for the death certificate and planning for the process of repatriation or liaising with international funeral directors. It will also sort out the necessary paperwork for an easy process.

Each of these services comes with an extra charge. It is good to compare different offers and pick the one with the best mix of services at affordable prices. Many of them are available around the clock. So, you do not have to wait until morning to get the particulars and pricing information.

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Read and understand the types of services offered as well as the terms of service before signing any paperwork. Do not hand over the original documents of the deceased, such as passports. Instead, give photocopies of the same. One exception is in judicial cases, where police may take away the documents and hand them back when the court permits the release of the body.

Obtaining a Local Death Certificate

If you wish to register death through a funeral parlour (tanatorio), contact the parlour as soon as you learn of the death of the loved one. The funeral directors will initiate the process of registering the death with the local registry.

After registering for death, you will receive a death certificate at the local civil registry office. The funeral directors will not continue with the process of interring the body until they have all the necessary documentation. Therefore, have them ready as soon as possible. The registry office is quite efficient at this and will process them in a day or two.

The Spanish law requires you to register the death of a loved one within five days at the nearest registrar’s office. However, many local jurisdictions would like to register the death within 24 hours. The office would like you to provide the identifying documents of the deceased as well as your own.

These documents include the following;

The names of the deceased as well as their passport or national identification number:

  • Last known residence address
  • Names of the parents
  • Nationality and marital status
  • Details of death from the medical death certificate obtained from the coroner or the doctor
  • Details of the next of kin to the deceased
  • Contact information of the person registering the death

Where the burial has already taken place, you will indicate the place of burial as indicated in the declaration of death or from the certificate obtained from the local authority or the personnel in charge of the cemetery. You may also be asked about the type of civil registry death certificate you would need.

If you cannot trace the documents of the deceased, you can liaise with the consulate office of your country for assistance. This may take a little more time than the five days. If, for any reason, you are unable to provide these documents within five days of death, you should visit the registrar’s office to seek an extension.

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Who Registers for Death in Spain?

The responsibility for registering death lies with those who were near the deceased at the time of the death. This depends on the location of the death. In most cases, the funeral homes handle the death registration process for you. The funeral parlour also helps with burial, cremation, or repatriation arrangements on your behalf. It is an easier route to follow when you have little knowledge of the process.

However, the law allows any person with knowledge of the death to register it. Therefore, if you were living with the expat or are a close friend, you can complete the process at the local registration office.

Types of Death Certificates in Spain

There are two types of death certificates in Spain, as follows:

Certificado médico de defunción (Doctor’s Medical Death Certificate)

This certificate is issued by a medical professional, such as a medical examiner, doctor or coroner. These are people who attended to the deceased during the final moment of life (in sickness) or verified the cause of death (through a post-mortem).

The certificate acts as the primary identification of the deceased and gives detailed information about the underlying cause of death. This may be a condition or event that led to their passing.

Certificado me’dico de defuncio’n contains information such as the date, time and location of death. It also includes the immediate cause of death, contributing factors and relevant medical history of the deceased.

Certificado de defunción del Registro Civil (Civil Registry Death Certificate)

This certificate is issued by the local civil registry office (Registro Civil) in the municipality where the death occurred. It is a legal document that officially registers the death with the government authorities. It is issued after receiving the medical death certificate.

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The certificate establishes an official record of the death of the individual for legal and administrative purposes. It is the primary evidence of death in legal matters such as property transfers, inheritance and settling other affairs of the deceased person.

The Certificado de Defuncio’n del Registro Civil contains essential identification details about the deceased, such as their full name, date of birth, nationality, and other personal information. It also includes the date, time, and location of death, as well as the registration number assigned to the death entry.

Types of Civil Registry Death Certificates

The Spanish civil registry provides two types of death certificates.

Exact (Exato)

This certificate contains all the necessary information for getting additional certificates, such as the following:

• A standard Spanish death certificate (it is written in Spanish)
• An international death certificate may be written in another language of your choice besides Spanish.

Literal

This death certificate provides all the information related to the death being registered.

If the deceased had bank accounts, life insurance policies and other property in Spain, a standard Spanish death certificate would be ideal to claim these assets or advise the related authorities on matters relating to the deceased. On the other hand, if you wish to pursue similar interests in the country of birth of the deceased, go for an international death certificate.

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The literal death certificate does not apply to any legal matters in the country. You will receive the death certificate within a maximum of three days from the date of registration. You can collect it in person or have it sent by mail. In some local authorities, it will be sent to you through Justice of the Peace officers. You can ask for as many copies as you like, as they are usually free of charge.

Decide on a Local Burial, Local Cremation, or Repatriation

Once you have all the necessary papers, you can now go ahead with burial plans. You have three options at hand: a local burial, a local cremation or any of the two options in your home country. The last option involves repatriating the body for burial at home.

The decision on the final resting place should be made with consideration for the deceased’s preferences and family decisions. If the deceased had a will, you want to check if it specified how and where their body should be interred. If no such information exists, let the family members discuss the available options and pick the most probable ones.

On the other hand, when it comes to choosing the kind of burial to use, consider the deceased’s cultural and religious aspects. There are some cultures and religious affiliations that are opposed to one or another type of burial. It is good to respect their faith and affiliations, as you give them the last respect.

Other considerations that may affect your decision include the funeral costs (especially when it comes to expatriating the body) and the difficulty in holding one or the other type of burial in the home country. Put all considerations on the table and use the most appropriate one.

Holding a Local Burial or Cremation

After registering for the death, you will obtain a burial licence to inter the body via a local burial or cremation. In the case of a burial cremation, a close family member of the deceased has to specifically authorise the procedure. If you cannot trace any close family members, you can go with a local burial.

On the other hand, if you live in Spain and wish to be cremated after death, appoint a person who will authorise cremation. Put these instructions in writing and have copies sent to close family members or people who live near you.

Local burials in Spain are held within 48 hours. However, you may have them delayed until family members arrive. The body will stay in a mortuary for the entire period, at a cost. In Spain, the funeral directors are the ones licenced to manage the funeral process. Your funeral home can make the arrangements for you.

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Giving Instructions to the Funeral Agent:

  • Undertakers will like to have some information about the deceased and yourself
  • The identification number of the deceased and yourself
  • The names of the father and father of the deceased
  • Signing documents that relate to the type of service you wish to have. This may include the type of religious service, coffin, flowers and obituary, among others.

You should also consider the following and give adequate instructions to the undertaker:

  • Do you need to have the body dressed in a particular way (traditional, formal, or such)?
  • Will the deceased be buried with jewellery such as earrings, necklaces or wedding rings?
  • Will the body be available for viewing before the interment?
  • Did the deceased make any requests related to how they would like to be buried or with respect to the funeral arrangements?
  • Are there any special requirements with regard to the deceased’s faith or cultural preferences?
  • Did the deceased have any prosthetics or artificial replacements, such as dentures, knee replacements, plates or pacemakers?

Remember, these arrangements come at a price. In Spain, most local burials take place where a body is placed in a recess (called a nicho or niche). Depending on the area where you have bought the burial ground, a niche may be available on a one-off payment or renewable rent after five years. If you do not pay for the renewable lease, the town council will remove the coffin from the niche and bury it in a common ossuary.

On the other hand, you may bury the loved one in a common grave. These are cheaper compared to niches. Sometimes, you can get them free as long as the burial is authorised by a social worker.

The cost of cremating the body varies from one location to another. You can ask for the ashes to be collected and deposited in a common depository or given to you. There is a cost for this too. Consider this when making your choice.

Repatriating the Body

You may decide to repatriate the body to another country for burial. This procedure is quite complicated compared to a local burial. It will also involve additional paperwork as well as international funeral directors. Your local funeral director will liaise with the international service providers to prepare the body for transport.

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The process of repatriation starts when you obtain an international death certificate. You will then obtain additional documentation that may vary from one home destination to another. The common documentation includes the following:

  • The passport of the deceased
  • Embalming certificate
  • Freedom from infection certificate
  • Permission to take the body out of the country
  • Permit from the destination country

The timeframe for the repatriation of the body is dependent on the length of time it takes to get the necessary documents. After obtaining the necessary documents, the body will arrive in the destination country in five to ten days. The international funeral director will be at the destination airport to receive the body and proceed with the funeral arrangements as you wish.

Repatriating the Ashes

Repatriating the ashes of the person who died in Spain is a cheaper option than bringing the body home. There are fewer requirements for these, although you still need to have the death and cremation certificates with you. Then, check with your chosen airline on the protocols for transporting the ashes.

Most airlines will ask you to check in ashes with your hold luggage. However, there are others that will allow you to bring them with your carry-on luggage. You may be asked to provide copies of the death and cremation certificates upon arrival at the destination. So, have them with you during the flight.

Planning for the Costs of Expatriate Burial

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spanish death certificate

Costs should be a major consideration when determining the type and place of burial for the expatriate. Many people have life insurance that comes with last expense coverage or separate burial insurance coverage. If the loved one had any of these, contact the insurance companies as soon as the death occurs so that they can cover the costs of the final rites as specified in their policies.

Once you get the full information about the payments, you can go ahead and source the remaining amounts from friends and family. When looking for a funeral home, compare quotes and pick the best option based on the amount you have at hand. Go for options that honour the dead without placing an unnecessary burden on the surviving members of the family. Besides, be in agreement with the family members before executing the burial plans so that you have the required support when needed.

If you are an expatriate, consider taking up a plan that offers burial cost coverage or pre-arranging your interment. Where you wish to be interred in your home country, arrange for travel insurance coverage that takes care of the cost. This helps ease the financial burden on family members in the event that you die.

Other Tips to Keep in Mind

Travel Restrictions

Stay informed about travel restrictions and pandemic-related regulations that may affect funeral arrangements. Prepare contingency plans in case there are limitations on travel or repatriation due to COVID-19 or other emergencies. This may include a prolonged stay at the mortuary or going for a local burial.

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Comply with local and international health protocols for handling the deceased’s body during pandemics or infectious disease outbreaks. Besides, consider virtual memorial options for family and friends who may be unable to travel.

Language Barrier

Utilise language assistance during interactions with the local authority or institutions to avoid miscommunication. Also, seek bilingual funeral directors or agents who can effectively communicate funeral arrangements and preferences.

Grief Support and Counselling

Seek out grief support groups or counselling services in the local community or through expat support networks. Also, encourage family members and friends to participate in grief counselling to deal with the death of a loved one together. You may also organise a memorial gathering or ceremony to remember and honour the deceased, providing an opportunity for shared support.

Living Wills

In some parts of Spain, residents can register a living will with their local health authorities. The will states the therapeutic treatment they wish to receive if, at some point in the future, they are not able to expressly state it (due to physical and mental problems). This document may also include authorization for organ donation and instructions on the type of burial they would like to have. Check if the deceased had made such wishes before their demise.

Organ Donation for Medical Research

There are people who choose to donate specific organs or their whole bodies for medical research. In Spain, the deceased must have expressly stated that they wish to donate their organs for this cause. If the express wish is available, your burial plans may need to be adjusted accordingly.

Start by researching the legal procedures and requirements for organ donation or body donation in Spain. Then contact the research bodies that may be in need of the organs or the body to collect it. In most cases, the deceased will have made contact with the relevant bodies for the collection of the body or harvesting of the organs. Where a few organs are to be donated, you will proceed to bury the rest of the body as previously discussed.

What Happens to the Deceased Assets?

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The treatment of the assets of a person who died depends on the presence of a will or treatment. A will is a legal document where the deceased indicates their dying wishes before they pass on. It will be in the possession of their lawyer or a trusted entity at the time of death.

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Where a Will Exists

In Spain, you must execute a will before a notary public. They will then lodge a copy with the Civil Registry in Madrid. You can apply for the Last Will and Testament Certificate (Certificado de U’ltimas Voluntades) 15 days after the death of the expat.

You start the process by applying to the Civil Registry for the Last Will and Testament Certificate. A lawyer or a gestator (a person with training in some legal aspects) will help you through the process. Otherwise, you can do it on your own at the Ministerio de Justicia (Ministry of Justice).

Here are the requirements for the application (which you can make in person or via a letter):

  • Modelo (Form) 790 that is duly filled with the same information as found on the death certificate. You can pick it up in the local civil registry or on the Ministry of Justice website.
  • A death certificate issued by the civil registrar in the town where people died
  • A proof of payment of the administration fee for the processing of the certificate

If you make the application via letter, you should enclose another envelope that is stamped and addressed to yourself. It will be used to send you the Last Will and Testament Certificate when it is ready.

Where the Deceased Died Intestate

If the person dies intestate, close relatives will need to agree on how to subdivide the property. The Spanish law requires them to have completed the process in six months. The procedure involves applying for a grant of probate, which will then be legalised for public notaries.

You will need to provide proof that you are close relatives of the deceased by providing the relevant documents, such as birth and marriage certificates. Sorting out inheritance without a will is a long process that could need the help of a lawyer.

The Inheritance Deed (Escritura de Aceptacio’n de Herencia)

Once you receive the Last Will and Testament Certificate, take it to a notary public for them to prepare an inheritance deed. The deed executes the will and has to be signed by all heirs as a way to show that they accept the inheritance.

When the heirs sign the inheritance deed, they are responsible for all legal obligations and taxes applied to the property. However, they are not obliged to accept the inheritance. Those who do not reside in Spain can appoint a representative in the country through the power of attorney. A notary can take care of this. Otherwise, they can obtain a Spanish visa to reside in Spain legally, the most commonly used are the non-lucrative visa, digital nomad visa, golden visa

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You need to furnish the notary public with the details of all the assets, including properties, shares, bank accounts and deeds owned by the deceased, for the inheritance deed to be accurate.

Spanish Life Insurance Policies

The Ministry of Justice holds a register of life policies taken in the country. You can use it to determine if the deceased loved one had taken out a Spanish life policy. If they had taken one, you can apply to have a Last Will and Testament Certificate that allows the survivors to enjoy the benefits.

You can apply for the certificate using the details discussed above. The same certificate will be used in the subdivision of all the deceased assets as discussed above, including the insurance benefits.

Conclusion about died in Spain

What is the procedure when someone dies in Spain? Like any other country, you have to notify the relevant authorities of the death and obtain a death certificate. This becomes official proof that the deceased has passed on. You have the option of burring or cremating the remains of the loved one in Spain or expatriating the body home.

You will need a funeral home to prepare the body and arrange for a funeral or cremation. Be sure to follow the wishes of the family or the deceased in each case. If the deceased had property in Spain, you would follow the will to subdivide the assets among the heirs. If no will is present, the closest relatives will agree on the same in presence of a notary public.

We always recommend our clients to prepare a will in Spain, to avoid future problems, if you need to prepare a will in Spain contact us.

2 thoughts on “What happens when an expat dies in Spain?

  1. Kevin |

    Thanks for the information in the article! I am thinking that I will need a will in Spain for my children, can you help me?

    1. My Spain Visa |

      We can help you to make your Spanish Will. You can send us an email or whatsapp so that one of our lawyers can help you in the process.

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