Escape to an Island in the Sun

A New Adventure Every Day!

The Expat Guide to Death in Spain

Death is possibly not the best subject to be talking about over breakfast, but it is one of the many topics that I am regularly asked about; it only just beats 'Trying to Watch Brit TV in the Sun' in popularity. You see, we Brits do have our priorities in the right order, but only just!

I hope the following article is helpful, if only to encourage thinking about the inevitable and making appropriate plans in good time. Please also be aware that this information is for general guidance only, and that the various regions within Spain may have their own ways of doing things.

If the deceased has been treated by a doctor within the previous four weeks and has been receiving medical care, contact and advise the doctor of the death. The doctor will attend the body and issue a certificate. (This is NOT the Death Certificate). The Doctor will arrange to have the Tanatorio collect the body. The Doctor who attends the death should be informed if the body has been left to science, in which case the relevant documents would have been obtained prior to death. The Tanatorio, which acts on behalf of the University, will be contacted by the doctor. They will arrange to have the body collected by their own funeral director.

If a Doctor has not treated the deceased recently, the local police (Policía Locale) must be contacted and advised of the death. They will need the name and address of the deceased. You need to have the passport and residencia of the deceased available as means of identification, and the names of the next of kin. The police will visit the home to authorise the removal of the body and, if needed, will advise the Forensic Judge who may also have to visit the home. An autopsy is unnecessary unless the Forensic Judge or the doctor of the deceased is in doubt as to the cause of death. The doctor or police will contact the Tanatorio, who will collect the body. Before the body is removed, ensure that all rings, necklaces etc., have been removed.

On arrival at the Tanatorio, the staff will ask if a burial or cremation is required. You will be requested to visit the office of the Tanatorio (usually the next day), to make further arrangements. Immediately contact any relatives who will want to attend a service of remembrance in case they have to make arrangements at work or organise travel.


If the death occurs in hospital, the next of kin may be contacted by telephone from the hospital or by the police. You must decide where you want the funeral or cremation to be held. Visit the Tanatorio within 24 hours in order to make the funeral arrangements.


It is necessary to attend the Tanatorio as soon as possible after a death, in order to make arrangements for the burial or cremation. This is done by speaking to the Director and filling out a simple form of Contract.

Please note that if death was the result of a road traffic accident or other situation where some criminal action may have occurred, then the body will only be released after an application has been made to the Court. This will require the intervention of a Judge (Juzgado).

Be ready to produce the following documents or information at the Tanatorio:

Passport or residencia of the deceased. Passport or residencia of the person (usually next of kin) giving instructions to the Tanatorio
Particulars of the insurance company, if applicable Names of parents of the deceased
Details of the place, date of birth, marital status
Permanent address of the deceased in Spain or elsewhere.

TheTanatorio will want to know if the deceased wore a pacemaker.
You will be asked if you want to see the coffin that is being purchased.
You may be asked to take clothes to dress the body.
You will be asked to state whether you want a cremation or burial. In the case of a cremation, the ashes will be available for collection at some point later, so ask when this will be.
You will also be asked what you intend to do with the ashes, because different urns are used for different requirements. For instance, if the ashes are to be scattered at sea, they will be put in a different container than ashes that are to be buried or returned to the U.K. or Ireland (in this case the urn has to be of a special kind and sealed).

The Service

The Tanatorio has a chapel and can arrange a service by a pastor or priest. If a service is to be held, you will have to specify the minister i.e. Protestant, Roman Catholic etc However, if you wish to arrange the service yourself, contact a local minister or suitable person to officiate at the service. Any other special requirements should be discussed. These may include:

a. Whether the body is to be clothed in any particular way for burial. (You may be asked to supply a set of clothes for the deceased.) b. Any particular requests that were made by the deceased. c. The choice of music to be played d.  Whether the body is to be 'laid out'. e. Whether the body is to be available for viewing before the funeral.


Find out whether the Tanatorio is in possession of any documents that were with the deceased in hospital, such as a passport, residencia card or driving license. Any such documents should be collected at a later date from the Tanatorio. Normally, the passport is sent directly to the relevant Consulate for cancellation and then returned to the Tanatorio. However, if the passport of the deceased is returned intact to the next of kin by the Tanatorio, a photocopy of it should be sent to the British Consulate. This should be done as soon as possible, so that the passport can be cancelled.


The Tanatorio can arrange floral tributes i.e. wreaths, bouquets, sprays and they will have the donors names placed on the ribbon. Any personal messages should be on a card placed by the donor just prior to the service.
If desired, flowers can be arranged privately with a local florist. If this is done, be sure to give delivery instructions so the flowers are available before the service. Personal messages should be on a card placed by the donor just prior to the service.


You may wish to have donations offered by family and friends collected by a responsible family member and forwarded on to the appropriate charity or beneficiary.


Funerals are normally held within 24 hours of death in Spain, but they can be delayed to allow for family or friends to arrive.  In this case, the body will be kept in a morgue at additional cost. If a burial is required in the cemetery, the coffin is normally placed in a recess, known as a niche (nicho). The cost of a niche is determined by its position and also by the number of years required, which can be 10 or 50. The cost of the burial includes deeds to the niche. A plaque or stone for the niche has to be arranged privately. The cemetery can recommend a suitable mason. The Tanatorio can also arrange this at a later date.


Once all arrangements are agreed, request a total cost and ask for a full breakdown of the bill and ascertain when payment is required. You will be presented with an invoice and a deposit may be needed. If a funeral policy exists, advise the insurer immediately as insurance companies sometimes make their payments directly to the Tanatorio. The transport of a body to the country of origin for cremation is a very expensive procedure, because the body has to be embalmed and transported in a lead-lined coffin. 


The death certificate, issued by the Civil Registry (Registro Civil) at the Court Building (Juzgado) has to be signed by a judge and it can take anything between three days and three weeks to be available for collection. The Tanatorio sometimes obtains this for you. Request as many original death certificates (copias originales) as you think you will need.  As a guide, if the deceased was a British citizen, the following authorities/agencies will require a death certificate:

Registro Civil in Madrid for a certificate stating whether the will presented was the last one registered (Certificado de Ultimas) or, if no will has been registered.
British Consular Office
Ayuntamiento . The Town Hall for removal of information from the padron regarding the deceased.
Traffico for driving license cancellation.
DVLC in UK if the deceased had a UK Driving License.
Department For Work And Pensions in the UK (Newcastle upon Tyne) if the deceased was in receipt of a British state pension. 
Paymaster General if the deceased received payment from a state or company pension in the UK.
Inland Revenue if the deceased paid UK tax
Probate Office if a UK will existed, or if the deceased owned property or had assets in the UK
Banks (in UK, Spain and elsewhere) where the deceased held accounts
Insurance Companies which held life policies on the life of the deceased
Yourself, for your own records. You will need this if you decide to rent a niche for the deceased or remove the remains to a different place at a future date.

If, in due course, you discover that you obtained insufficient original certificates, go back to the Registro Civil and request more.  In case you have to explain why you need extra certificates, be ready to produce a list of those requiring the extra death certificates.


This information is given in good faith and is intended for general guidance and support only. Different rules may apply to different regions in Spain. Regulations change regularly and so, if in doubt, always consult a professional.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: and or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions. Protection Status © Barrie Mahoney