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Spain - Death

When somebody dies in Spain there are a number of procedures to be followed. The police should be called (if this happens outside a hospital) and either yourself or the police can contact a doctor. The doctor will certify a cause of death and will issue a death certificate. This is usually the doctor that last treated the deceased. If there are suspicious circumstances then an investigation will begin.

A funeral home can be contacted for the body to be removed, although the body must be formally identified before this happens. Within 24 hours of the death it should be registered at the local registry office (registro civil) which can normally be found at the local town hall. It is usual practice in Spain for a funeral to take place within 48 hours of the death occurring. Undertakers (pompas funebres) must be licensed and can manage all the funeral arrangements, dealing with local churches and crematoriums on your behalf.

When registering the death it is necessary to take the death certificate issued by the doctor to the town hall. The registration will confirm details such as the time and location of the death. Anyone close to the deceased is able to register the death, although neighbours and friends are able to do this too. It must be a person who has knowledge of the death. There is no charge to register a death and the details given should include the full name of the deceased, the names of the parents of the deceased, marital status, nationality, the birth details of the deceased, confirmation of the last known address of the deceased, details of the death and planned details of the funeral.

It is only when the registration is complete that a burial license can be issued. The registry office will issue a death certificate (certificado de defuncion) and if a number of copies are needed these can be requested. A funeral can be delayed beyond the usual 48 hours if there is a good reason and the funeral home can arrange this for you.

Occasionally a deceased person may have left detailed wishes for their funeral and if this is the case then it is obligatory to follow them. It is most common to have a burial in Spain but if a cremation is preferred this should be mentioned to the doctor who certifies the death as this will need to be noted on the certificate that he issues. It is possible to purchase funeral insurance to cover costs and many people in Spain choose to do this, or opt for a pre-payment scheme with a funeral home.

There is a cemetery in each area and the system in Spain works by inserting the coffin in a ‘niche’ rather than burying it in the ground. This is rented for a number of years and when the rental period expired the coffin is buried in common ground. The number of years that the niche is available is different in each area, as is the cost of renting. It is not very common to opt for a cremation in Spain although this is becoming a more popular option. There are not crematoria in every region.

If the deceased wished to be repatriated to their home country then the doctor certifying death should also be informed of this. The deceased will need to have a valid passport for this as it will have to travel with the body and the official paperwork.

If the deceased had lived and worked in Spain for some time there may be a will in place and this can be checked by contacting the wills registry in Madrid (registro general de actos de ultima voluntad). When 15 days have passed a copy of a will can be applied for by anyone who has the correct documentation such as the death certificate.

There are a number of organisations that will need to be informed of the death. These include the social security department, if the person had been registered with them, the tax office and the embassy of their home country. It may be that the death should also be registered in the home country and the embassy will be able to help with this.

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