When the death of a loved one happens in a foreign country there can be a multitude of procedures to carry out and people to notify that you have never had to think about. It is an unfortunate subject to have to write about, and our thoughts naturally go out to anybody in need of our advice. We only hope that this guide proves useful to those needing a little extra help and direction and that we can help make the whole process a little less stressful.
When death occurs at home
If the deceased has been treated by a doctor at any time during the 4 week period before the death, you should contact the same doctor and advise them of the death. The doctor will attend the body and issue a certificate; however this is a requirement in addition to the usual death certificate. In some cases the doctor will notify the Tanatorio (funeral parlor) for you and arrange to have the body collected. If the Doctor is unable to do this for you, you should contact your local police who will do this on your behalf.
If the deceased has NOT been treated by a doctor in the 4 week period before death, the local police must be contacted and advised of the death. On reporting the death you will need to provide the name and address of the deceased, along with the passport and Residencia (if available) as a means of identification. You will also need to advise them the next of kin of the deceased.
The police will visit then visit the home of the deceased to authorise the removal of the body and in certain, more unusual cases will need to advise the Forensic Judge,(Similar to a Coroner in the UK), who may also have to visit the home. An autopsy will need to be carried out if the Forensic Judge or the doctor is uncertain of the cause of death.
Once requested the Tanatorio will collect the body and ask to you to visit their office the next day to make the necessary arrangements. This is the time to take any jewelry etc... for keepsakes. At this point you should ensure that all friends and relatives have been informed so they can make arrangements to attend the funeral.
When death occurs in hospital
In circumstances when death occurs in hospital, the next of kin may be contacted by telephone from the hospital or in some cases by the local police, when they will ask the next of kin where and when the funeral or cremation is to be held. On your instruction the funeral director at the Tanatorio may be able to arrange a cremation. This arrangement is common in Spain and is sometimes less expensive than transporting the body elsewhere and does not require the presence of relatives. After the cremation, the ashes will be returned and if desired, a service of remembrance can be held at the Tanatorio, giving friends and relatives more time to gather.
If death happened as the result of a road accident or in circumstances where some criminal action may have happened, then the body will only be released after an application has been made to the Court, and the action of a Judge.
Arrangements with the Tanatorio
You should make arrangements for the burial or cremation with the Tanatorio as soon as possible after the death has occurred, by speaking to the Director and filling out a simple form, stating whether you want a cremation or burial. In the case of a cremation, the ashes will be available for collection, so you should ask when this will be.
When you visit the Director you should have the following information with you: Passport or Residencia of the deceased (unless the police have taken them there on your behalf already); Passport or Residencia of the person instructing the Tanatorio; Names of both parents of the deceased; Details of the place of birth; Date of birth; Marital status and the address of the deceased (Permanent address as opposed to Holiday / temporary address).
The wishes of the deceased
When completing all the necessary paperwork, the director will also ask the person making the arrangements a number of other questions: Did the deceased wear a pacemaker? Would you like to choose a particular coffin, or urn?; Should the deceased be dressed in any particular way?; Would you like to take the ashes away yourself? Are the ashes to be transported back to the UK? - You need to be aware of this because different circumstances dictate that different types of urn should be used.
The Tanatorio can also arrange a service to be held in their chapel, but will need to know the religion to be followed. i.e. Protestant, Roman Catholic, etc , but you can also choose to arrange the service yourself, using their facilities. Now would be the time to ask that question.
Other points to discus at this time would be the particular wishes of the deceased: Any special clothing to be worn ; any music played or readings to be made ; should the body be laid out to view before or after the funeral ?
It is possible that the Tanatorio may have the documents that the deceased had with them in hospital, like a Passport, Residenciacard or driving license etc... you should ask if this is the case.
The passport should be sent to the relevant Consulate to be cancelled and will then be returned to the Tanatorio. However, if you request to take possession of this from the Tanatorio, then it is your responsibility to ensure that this is carried out. If you choose you can request that the cancelled passport is returned to you.
If the deceased was a resident of Spain, 3 Copies of both National and International death certificates will be issued, however, if the deceased was not a Spanish resident then only the 3 International Death certificates will be issued.
Flowers & Donations
You can choose to let the Tanatorio arrange any flowers and make a selection from an album of photographs, and then decide on any messages to go with them. Any other personal messages can be written on a card and added to the flowers just before the service. You, and anybody else, can also order flowers privately – but make sure that you know the correct address and time & date to have them delivered.
If donations to a particular charity or cause are requested instead of flowers, then it is usual to ask a friend or relative to supervise the collection of donations during the service.
Cemeteries are the property and responsibility of the Town Hall, and involved the placing of the coffin in an above ground ‘Niche’, and these can not be pre-ordered or a particular niche specified before of after death.
A niche is purchased directly from the Town Hall and costs around 500 euros for a ‘rental’ of usually 50 years, after which point the remains will be interred. Once payment has been made and Escritura will be presented stating the location and number of the niche.
This, together with the arranging of a plaque, can be arranged with the Tanatorio for a small cost.
In Spain it is not usual for a religious ceremony to accompany the burial itself – this would be done in the chapel at the Tanatorio and then the mourners would follow the hearse to the cemetery for the interment.
The total cost will be largely unknown as it varies greatly depending upon the wishes of the next of kin and deceased, but once all the formalities and arrangements have been agreed, you should ask for a full breakdown of all the costs. You will usually be required to pay a deposit. A modest funeral can be held for around 3’000 Euros. In cases where the deceased hold a funeral plan, some providers may make payments directly to the Tanatorio.
It can also be an expensive process to repatriate the body to the UK, due to the special embalming process and coffin required.
Who needs to be informed
The death certificate should be issued by the Civil Registry and signed by a judge and can take between three days and three weeks to be available (The Tanatorio can sometimes sort this for you, so be sure to ask). It is wise to ask for multiple original copies to help you with the paperwork that will follow. You can return to the Registry at a later date if needs be to request extra copies, but these will come with a small charge and you will need to justify exactly why you need them.
Assuming that the deceased was a British Citizen you may need to inform some, or all of these agencies of their death :
The Civil Registry - in Madrid for a certificate stating whether the will presented was the last one registered or, if no will at all has been registered. The lawyer in Spain of the deceased should be able to help with this.
The Town Hall - to remove the details of the deceased from the ‘padron’.
Traffico - to cancel any Spanish drivers license they may have held.
DVLA (UK) - to cancel any UK drivers license.
Department For Work (UK) - to cancel any benefits paid to the deceased.
Inland Revenue (UK) - to stop any tax payments the deceased may have been making.
Probate Office (UK) - to administrate a will & assets held in the UK.
Banks - Both in the UK & Spain.