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Panama - Death

Once a person has died in Panama the death must be registered with the Civil Registry. In order to do this you must have the death certificate. However, in some communities it may be that there is no medical professional to issue a death certificate. In this case a relative of the deceased may go to the Registry with two independent witnesses to declare the death. This visit to the Registry must take place within 3 days of the death occurring. It is not necessary to attend the main office of the Civil Registry as there are smaller offices around the country which are located in the regional offices of the Electoral Tribunal, in some hospitals and in some remote areas the Assistant Registrar of the Vital Records can register the death.

A funeral – whether it is a burial or a cremation – cannot take place without the official registration of the death. The Civil Registry will issue a certificate confirming that the death has been declared and registered and this is the document that you will need to be able to hold a funeral. Once you have this you can contact the funeral home to begin making plans. Finding a funeral home in the cities is relatively easy, although in remote areas you may find it difficult to locate a local one but funeral homes in the nearest town are normally prepared to travel.

The people who are eligible to register a death include the spouse, relatives, anyone who lives in the same house as the deceased, neighbours and anyone who runs an establishment which was the last home of the deceased such as a hospital, prison, hospice, nursing home or barracks. Along with the death certificate there are other items of documentation that need to be presented. Official ID papers of the deceased must be presented so that the deceased can be removed from electoral registers. If you go along to the Civil Registry without the relevant paperwork you may find that there is a delay before you are able to arrange the funeral. Once the paperwork has been completed you can arrange the funeral.

A minimum of three days must pass between the date of death and the funeral and most are held within a week. If a person should die at the weekend their death can only be registered on the Monday at the earliest, so the funeral can usually take place on the Thursday or Friday. Arrangements are made with a funeral home and it is very rare that anyone actually checks with the priest or minister officiating to see if they are available before they confirm the date, but the funeral home will make all the arrangements for you.

Most funerals will be held in the mornings and most people consider 10 am to be a convenient time. Depending upon where you are in the country you may be holding the funeral service in a chapel within the grounds of the cemetery itself, although in urban areas it may be that the church you use is a short distance from the cemetery. There are different practices between the Catholic and Protestant churches. The Protestant minister will go to the cemetery to conduct a short service at the interment itself. The Catholic ministers rarely do this in Panama. This is usually because the Catholic priest will expect an extra fee for going to the graveside while others do not expect this fee.

Funerals in Panama tend to attract a lot of attention and many people who do not know the deceased will go along just to pay their respects. It has become a modern custom for them to read the numbers on the headstones to use them in the lottery and you may find people crowding around as the headstone is set down. In the cities there are a number of large municipal cemeteries as well as crematoriums, but in the rural areas the cemeteries will be much smaller.

When the official ceremonies are over there are extra at the graveside if the deceased was a member of a lodge. The type of ceremony will depend on the lodge and societies that the deceased was a part of. Among the indigenous peoples death is considered to be a return to nature and celebrating the life of the deceased is normal.

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