It was written on 1 June 2016. The law and practice in Spain change all the time. Our guides are updated as frequently as possible - typically every three years - but may be out of date.
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This guide is only about the process of dealing with a death in Spain. It covers the steps you need to take locally and any steps you may need to take in your home country.
It describes, in particular, how to deal with a death in the area of Andalusia/Andalucía – which contains the Costa del Sol. See a map here. Please note that certain aspects of the law in Spain vary from one "autonomous community" (comunidad autónoma) to another.
This guide does not cover the process of dealing with an inheritance in Spain. See our Guide to Inheritance on the Costa del Sol for that information.
Dealing with the death of a loved one is always stressful and upsetting. It can also be time consuming and expensive. The stress, time factor and expense are often worsened by distance, language and differences in procedure.
If you're reading this guide it's probably too late to say that it's much better to reduce all of these problems with forward planning. This includes speaking to the person concerned as to their wishes and speaking to a local funeral director as to what can and cannot be done and the likely cost involved.
This is particularly important as many foreigners still put in their wills or tell their relatives that they wish to be buried "back home". Many would change their minds if they knew the cost and trouble that this wish causes their loved ones.
Finally, in this guide we realise that we use some terms - such as deceased and body - which can sound a little callous. No disrespect is intended but there are few expressions that meet the right balance between practicality and respect.
It is very helpful if your friends and your family know the whereabouts of certain key documents.
As far as the death itself is concerned, these will include:
Any residence card
Any medical insurance policy or card
Your social security card
The names of both of your parents - even if you're 90!
There are other documents - many documents - that are needed to deal with the inheritance of your assets. See our Guide to Inheritance for details. It is helpful if they are kept together and the whereabouts of the documents is known to a trusted local friend.
The location of documents should be known by a local friend because, in many cases, all of your family and other relatives will be living hundreds or thousands of miles away and unable to take action quickly at the time of your death.
Many people are nervous about entrusting information such as this to friends - even friends they have known for a long time. In this case, the best thing to do is usually to tell your lawyer where the documents are stored. You should also give the lawyer the means to get access to the house when needed. This doesn't normally involve giving them a key - but more telling them which of your friends and neighbours has the key and giving the lawyer a letter of instruction asking them to assist him and to permit him to remove the documents.
If somebody dies at home the steps to be taken depend upon whether the deceased had received recent medical treatment.
If a person is found deceased after an illness, the procedure will be as follows:
Call the doctor
The doctor will attend and examine the body. The death can only be certified by a doctor.
In case of sudden but expected deaths, the doctor will sign the Death Certificate. Other sudden deaths require the intervention of the Courts Authorities.
If the doctor suspects that it is not a natural death, he or she will contact the police or Courts Authorities
The doctor will then sign a document stating that he has called the relevant authorities. This is not a Death Certificate.
If the doctor contacts the police, do not be alarmed. It merely means that he cannot be satisfied as to the cause of death from what he has seen and his knowledge of the deceased's medical condition.
If the doctor notifies the police, they will come to the house. They may call in a member of their forensic team before authorising the removal of the body to the office of the local coroner.
The post mortem examination is usually done quickly - within 24 hours.
If the death occurs in a hospital then they or the police will notify the next of kin.
Unless there is something suspicious about the death, the corresponding certificate will be issued.
If the death occurs elsewhere (such as in a road accident or a restaurant) the body will be transferred to a local hospital and the procedure will then be the same as if the deceased died in the hospital.
The person in charge to the funeral is usually a relative or alternatively a friend or - if all else fails (which it rarely does) - to the deceased's lawyer.
The funeral director will need to receive the following documents and information:
A copy of the deceased's passport
A copy of the deceased's residence permit
Details of the deceased's insurance company
A copy of the deceased's social security card
The full names of both of the deceased's parents
The deceased's place and date of birth, marital status and permanent address
Funerals normally take place quite quickly in Spain: usually on the day following or at the most two days after the death.
The ordinary questions asked after the death will include the following:
If not already known, did the deceased wear a pacemaker? This may have already been removed by the attending doctor.
What type of coffin do you require?
Do you want a burial or cremation?
If you want a burial, in which cemetery?
If you want a cremation, what do you intend to do with the ashes?
Do you wish the deceased to be embalmed?
Do you wish the deceased to be repatriated (taken to their home country)?
Do you wish to take in any special clothes for the deceased to wear?
Do you require a religious service and if so of which denomination?
Choice of music
Whether the body is to be available for viewing prior to the burial or cremation
These are a lot of things that need to be decided quite quickly and it is obviously helpful if the family have thought about these issues in advance and if they and/or the deceased have told the friend what is required.
A few of these points warrant special comment.
In Spain it is normal for people to be buried rather than cremated, although recent years have seen more people being cremated.
Local law requires that, if more than one day is going to pass before the funeral, the body should be embalmed or preserved (for example, refrigerated).
If the deceased is going to be cremated, there are different types of urn depending upon what you want to do with the ashes. If they are to be scattered a different type of urn is used from the one that would be used if the ashes are to be buried. If you want to have the ashes taken "back home" there is another type of urn (more robust and sealed) which is certified for the international transport of ashes.
Be aware that if you want to have the body sent back home then the cost can be very substantial.
In Spain, cemeteries belong to the municipality and "burial" is usually by placing the coffin in a niche. The appearance is rather like a white-painted filing cabinet. The niche needs to be purchased and they rarely can be reserved in advance. It is sometimes possible to buy a niche with sufficient space for a second body.
Nearly every cemetery on the Costa del Sol has a crematorium associated.
The Town Hall will, on production of the certificate you have received from the doctor, issue an official death certificate (certificado de defuncion). If you need more than one certificado de defuncion (and you almost certainly will), copies can be requested.
The death must be registered at the Civil Registry 24 hours after the death.
Wills registry (in order to retrieve the official copy of the deceased's will)
The consulate of your country in Spain
If the deceased had a Will in Spain, the Notary who it was made in front of
If the deceased had life insurance, the beneficiaries and the insurance company (showing the Death Certificate)
The Town Hall (so the deceased can be removed from the list of residents)
The traffic department (to cancel any driving licence)
The president of any apartment building/condominium in which the deceased was resident
The deceased's medical insurance company
The deceased's bank
The Spanish tax department
The Department of Social Security
Any places where the deceased had investments - e.g. shares, insurance policies, bank accounts, investment funds etc
The international equivalents in the deceased's home country of all the above agencies and organisations are likely to need copies of the death certificates.
It's also a good idea to keep a copy of the death certificate for yourself.
The first thing you should do, though it's not strictly at home, is notify your consulate on the Costa del Sol about the death (you can see a list of their contact details in our Useful Websites page. They will then remove the deceased from the list of nationals who they know to live locally and can be useful in other ways.
In order to do this you will need to have a copy of the local death certificate.
There is no legal requirement to do this.
In most countries there is a legal requirement that you surrender the deceased's passport to the local consulate or to the passport office back home.
Any institutions in which the deceased held money or investments will need to be notified so that the state can get its hands on those assets.
The requirements here vary from country to country but, in many countries if you repatriate the body or (in some cases) the ashes the coroner back home will have the legal responsibility of "signing off" the death and, if it's necessary in order to do so, of holding an inquest.
Check the deceased's medical and, if appropriate, travel and insurance policies. You may find that some or all of the costs of dealing with the death are covered by those policies.
Have you had experience with dealing with a death in Spain? Tell us about it and share your story by emailing email@example.com.
Dealing with a death is stressful and time consuming. It is unfortunate (but probably human nature) that so few people make the job easier by a little bit of advance planning.
|Dealing with an Inheritance on the Costa del Sol
This guide covers the rules on the Costa del Sol concerning who inherits what when you die. It also deals with how to deal with an inheritance on the Costa del Sol. It also looks briefly at the question of inheritance tax on the Costa del Sol.
|Inheritance Planning on the Costa del Sol
This guide looks at planning your inheritance before you die - preserving as much wealth as possible for your heirs.
|Wills on the Costa del Sol
This guide is about how to make a will that will be valid for use in Spain. It covers both wills prepared in Spain and those prepared in your home country.
|Spain - Death
A guide to dealing with a death in Spain from ExpatFocus.
We hope you have found this guide useful. If you need any further help, please contact us.Manzanares Abogados S.L. 1 June 2016