We have all been confronted at one time or another by the myriad bureaucratic problems that living in Spain entails, and unfortunately the red tape doesn’t end with death. Below is a guideline for information purposes only on Procedures to be followed at death:
1. Death at home:
If the deceased has been treated or was receiving medical care during the four weeks prior to death, you should contact the doctor concerned to advise of the death. In most cases the doctor will notify the Tanatorio (funeral home) to arrange to have the body collected. It is very important therefore to advise him which Tanatorio you wish to deal with. The doctor may also contact the Policia Municipal (local police). The doctor will come to your home to attend the body, and on confirming death and verifying identification of the deceased, he will issue a three-part Notification of Death form. (This is NOT the death certificate). One part of this form goes with the body with the undertakers; the other two parts should be taken within 24 hours to the Registro Civil (Civil Registry Office) located in the local Town Hall to register the death. The Tanatorio will do this for you.
If the deceased has not been treated by a doctor recently, the Policia Municipal (local police) must be contacted and advised of the death. [If you don’t happen to know the telephone number you can call the Emergency Services on 112.] A police patrol with medical services will be despatched in order to verify the scene of death. The police will need to see the identification papers of the deceased [passport or residencia] and name of the next of kin and identification papers, so have these to hand. Once death has been certified by a doctor, and the police have authorised that the body may be removed, the preferred Tanatorio should be contacted to come and collect the body. You may wish to remove any personal effects such as rings or necklaces etc.
[The nearest Tanatorio in our area is in Javea, where they speak good English and are on 24 hour call. If the first telephone call happens to be made to them, you can ask them to contact the Emergency Services for you.]
The funeral director will come to the home with the undertakers who will be removing the body. He will require the deceased’s passport and Notification of Death form. If, at that time, you feel unable or just do not wish to go through the funeral arrangements right there and then with him, you can tell him that you will attend the Tanatorio office the next day.
Relatives should be contacted immediately as they will have to make their arrangements if they wish to attend the funeral service.
2. Death in hospital:
If the death occurs in hospital, the procedures are much the same although obviously the hospital doctor will confirm the death. The hospital authorities will take care of many of the administrative details. They will need to know where the funeral or cremation is to be held, so that arrangements can be made with that particular Tanatorio to collect the body.
3. Death in an accident:
When a death occurs in an incident such as a motor vehicle accident, or under circumstances other than illness, things are more complicated. The police will call on a local Justice of the Peace (Juez de Paz) or Judge on Duty (Juez de Guardia) depending on where and what happened.
Once the police investigation has taken place, the judge will issue an order to move the body (levantamiento de cadaver). This can take time, and the order will include where the deceased is to be taken. Depending on the circumstances, this may possibly be to a local or provincial Forensic Medical Institute (IAM – Instituto Anatomico Forense) with autopsy facilities. The preferred Tanatorio should be called as soon as possible so that they can liaise and make the appropriate arrangements with the IAM involved.
Liaising with the Tanatorio:
The Tanatorio should be visited within 24 hours of the death in order to make the funeral arrangements. In Spain funerals are normally held with 24-48 hours of death, but for non-nationals the service can be delayed to allow overseas family or friends to attend, but there is an additional cost of at least €180 – €200 for every day the body is kept at the morgue. You will need to speak to the Funeral Director and complete and sign a simple contract.
The Tanatorio will require the following documentation: (They may already have some of this documentation)
• Passport of the deceased. The Tanatorio are obliged by law to send this directly to the British Consulate. [It is advisable to inform the British Consulate in Alicante of the death and that the Tanatorio is sending the deceased’s passport to them. You can email them: firstname.lastname@example.org If you wish the passport returned, tell them and they will cancel and return it, otherwise it will be cancelled and destroyed]. They can also advise on the procedure for getting a record of the death registered with the General Register Office in UK. This has the advantage that you will then be able to obtain a British form of the death certificate
• Doctor’s Notification of Death
• Passport or Residencia of the person (usually next of kin) giving instructions to the Tanatorio
And the following information:
• Names of both parents of the deceased
• Details of the place of birth, date of birth, nationality, marital status and permanent address of the deceased
• Particulars of the Insurance Company, if applicable
• Whether you want a cremation or burial
• Whether the deceased has a pacemaker or any other type of metal device
• Whether you want to bring in particular clothes to dress the body
• In the case of a cremation, what you intend to do with the ashes. (There are different types of urns dependent on, for example, whether the urn will be buried or whether it will be transported back to the UK)
• A date and time for the funeral
You will be shown catalogues with prices from which to select a coffin, an urn, and a wreath etc.
Burial or cremation:
Cemeteries are owned by the Town Hall in the area in which they are situated. The coffin is placed in a niche (nicho) in a wall. The higher niches are more expensive to purchase than the lower ones. A niche cannot be ordered or purchased in advance of a death. The Tanatorio will organise the purchase of a niche and obtain the relevant documents from the Town Hall to pass on to the next of kin. Niches cannot be purchased in perpetuity, and the costs and procedures should be discussed with the Tanatorio.
Some family members may consider repatriating the body back to the UK for burial. Due to the exorbitant costs involved, this would only be practical if there is a funeral policy in place which will cover this procedure.
A cremation is the more usual option for British Nationals. The Funeral Director will discuss with you your intentions in regard to the ashes. For example, if you intend to transport the ashes by air back to Britain, you will need certain documentation. In this case, it is also a good idea to check the airline’s own policy on the transportation of ashes. The Tanatorio will contact you when the ashes are ready for collection.
The Tanatorio can arrange a service by a priest or pastor in their chapel. If you want them to do this, they will need to know which religion, if any, to be followed. However, if you wish to arrange the service yourself, you should contact your local minister who will liaise with the Tanatorio directly.
Other things to discuss:
Choice of music to be played
Any particular requests made by the deceased
Whether the body is to be available for viewing before the funeral
This is dependent on many things – burial or cremation, choice of coffin, urn etc. Once all the arrangements are agreed, ask for the total cost as well as a full breakdown of the bill. The Tanatorio will require an immediate deposit, so ask when the balance will need to be paid. The final cost is likely to be in the region of at least €3,500 upwards. They will accept a cheque or cash. If a funeral policy exists, advise the insurance company immediately because many make their payments directly to the Tanatorio.
Wills and Inheritance:
In order to avoid complications and inheritance problems, it is most strongly advised to have two Wills – a British Will covering any British assets held, and a Spanish one covering Spanish assets. A British National who has assets in Spain should have a Spanish Will. Making a Spanish Will is not difficult. The money spent on a good lawyer to handle this, who is experienced in both British and Spanish legal systems, is well worth it. Unlike UK, a Spanish Will must be filed with the appropriate authority to make it legal, and any change to it requires the filing of a completely new Will.
Previously in practice, the Spanish civil code enabled a foreign property owner with a Will, whether resident or not, to leave Spanish assets as governed by the law of their country of birth, although Spanish assets are always subject to Spanish inheritance tax.
Although a Spanish Will, for the reasons stated above, is still recommended for non-residents, for foreign residents it has now for all practical purposes become ESSENTIAL.
In 2012 The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union passed the following Regulation (EU) No. 650/2012 which states: “EU citizens habitually residing in Spain (Residents) will be subject to the Spanish succession law, despite their nationality, unless they specifically state in their Will the wish for the succession law of their country of origin to apply”.
Although this regulation does not come into full force until 17 August 2015, foreign residents who have made a Spanish Will should immediately contact the lawyer who drew up their Will. Since in Spain, an existing Will cannot be altered, it will require the drawing up of a new Will to have the correct clause included which can then be filed with the appropriate authority to make it legal.
If the correct clause is not included, then the distribution of the inheritance in Spain will automatically revert to Spanish law. If you have no Will at all, then Spanish law will also apply, and Spanish inheritance law has strict rules as to exactly how any inheritance is to be divided up. Making a Spanish Will is not difficult. The money spent on a good lawyer to handle this and to explain everything, and who is preferably experienced in both British and Spanish inheritance legal systems, is well worth it. Non-Spanish adults, and this includes adult children, who are beneficiaries under a Spanish Will, for example, will need to get an NIE before they can acquire their inheritance, and this is much better done now rather than waiting until the bereavement.
Under Spanish law, all assets of the deceased are frozen from the time of death to the granting of probate, even if you have a Spanish Will. This includes any joint bank account. If you can afford it, you should keep separate accounts in your individual names with enough money in each to ensure that you can pay for the funeral and other bills and have some living expenses until the probate comes through. Failing that, though technically illegal, one option might be to remove most funds out of the joint account before the bank is informed of the death and put the funds into your own account. Do not close the joint account though, as any tax refunds can only be paid into an account which has that person’s name on it. In this case, if you do open your own account and transfer any standing orders to it, do not forget to advise the UK pension office and any other UK income sources of the details of your new account.
It is most strongly advised that professional advice and assistance is sought in regard to Probate procedure, as the process also requires the payment of Inheritance Taxes which must be paid WITHIN SIX MONTHS to avoid financial penalties.
List of organisations to be informed of the death
The death certificate which is issued by the Civil Registry (Registro Civil) – located in the local town hall, has to be signed by a judge and this can take a few days before it is available for collection. The Tanatorio will usually deal with this for you. Leave a contact telephone number with the Tanatorio, so that they call you to advise when the documentation is ready for collection.
Six original death certificates (Copias Originales) are generally issued, three Spanish certificates and three International ones. If you subsequently find you need more original certificates, you will have to go to the Registro Civil to ask for them. You may have to explain why you need extra certificates, so take a list of names of those requiring copies.
Make photocopies of the original certificates as some institutions will accept a photocopy, although these will have to be counter-signed and verified as a true copy. Your bank manager or gestoria can do this for you.
Registro Civil in Madrid for a certificate stating whether the will presented was the last one registered (Certificado de Ultimas Voluntades) or that no will has been registered
British Consular Office in Alicante
Banks (in Spain, UK etc) wherever the deceased held accounts
Department for Work and Pensions UK if the deceased was in receipt of a British State Pension
Insurance Companies if the diseased had a life or any other policy
Probate Office if a UK Will exists or the deceased owned property or assets in the UK.
Executor of the UK Will if it is a person other than yourself
Inland Revenue if the deceased paid UK tax
Paymaster General if the deceased received a State or Company pension in the UK
DVLC in UK if the deceased had a UK driving license
Traffico in Alicante if the deceased had a Spanish driving license
Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) to remove the deceased’s name and information from the Padron
Yourself it is essential you have a death certificate for your own records
List of Tanatorios in our area:
Tanatorio Crematorio Javea
Camino de Cementerio 2,
03730 Javea/Xàbia (Alicante)
Tel: 965 790 188
Tanatorio Crematorio Marina Alta
Ctra Ondara-Denia 2 Rotonda
03700 Denia (Alicante)
Tel 966 453 000
Tanatorio Crematorio de Benissa
03720 Benissa (Alicante)
Tel 965 732 625
Tanatorio Crematorio Marina Baixa
Ctra Nacional 332, Km 142, 3
Tel 965 895 858
Death is not an optional event. It is something we don’t like to discuss, but we should discuss it with our loved ones in order to help alleviate the confusion and uncertainty that often occurs at death. Consider……….
• Making a Will, if you have not done so already.
• Leaving detailed written instructions with one or two people, such as a spouse/partner, and the executor of your estate (note that this requires a will, but can be your spouse/partner). Some items you might include are the location of important papers, relevant passwords if you bank online, a list of assets and debts, contact information for legal and financial advisors, the types of prayers, music, poems, and other items desired for a memorial service.
• Letting loved ones know whether you prefer cremation or burial, and whether or not you wish to donate your organs, or your body for medical research.
• Storing all legal and financial documents in one place.
• Taking out a funeral insurance policy. These are widely advertised in the local papers and they will take care of most or all of the administrative details. With ever increasing funeral costs, it might be well worth considering one of these.