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When the dream is over: The realities of dying in Spain

It’s a cliché, but so many people move to Spain to ‘Live the dream.’ But what happens when, inevitably, to use another well-worn cliché, you ‘Face the final curtain?’ The procedures following death in Spain can be very different to those in the UK, and if you don’t know what to expect or how to deal with it all, it can add to the anguish at a very stressful time. Here are just some of the ways in which dying in Spain is different.

The immediate aftermath

Following a death in the home in the UK, the normal procedure is to summon a doctor to certify death. If the death is sudden, or the doctor believes there are unexplained circumstances, he will notify the Coroner’s office and/or the Police. In Spain, the system is different. The Policia Local attend the scene, and they will summon the doctor and undertaker. The number to report a death is 092.

If the deceased was receiving medical treatment, you may wish to call his doctor at the same time.
The undertaker the Police use may not be local to the area, and the costs of transporting the remains will be added to the cost of the funeral. It’s also necessary to register the death at the Civil Registry at the local Ayuntamiento within 24 hours.

The funeral

In the UK, it’s not unusual to experience a delay of two weeks or more between the bereavement and the funeral. Here in Spain, most funerals take place within 24 – 48 hours, and if you want to delay it to allow relatives to attend, you will be charged a daily ‘storage’ fee which can be in excess of €200 per day.

In Spain, the funeral director requires payment in full for his services before the event, so unless you have a prepaid funeral plan, you will need to be able to access the funds quickly, otherwise your bank account may be frozen. Another thing to bear in mind is that you will not be given an ‘up front’ cost of the funeral beforehand. Signing the undertaker’s paperwork means you relinquish control over the deceased and the funeral location and costs, unless there is a pre-paid funeral plan in place.

Internment or cremation?

In Spain, cremation is relatively rare, other than for expats who are more inclined to go for cremation over burial. That said, younger generations are coming around to the idea of cremation. The Tantatorio – or chapel of rest – may surprise you, as it’s likely to be an anonymous looking building near to a hospital or even on an industrial estate. A short funeral service is held there, and the coffin will then be taken to a crematorium for cremation of the remains.

Internment in Spain is above ground, in a ‘niche,’ which is a recess in a wall in a municipal cemetery. Even the smallest village will have one, and you can rent a niche from the Ayuntamiento for a specific period, after which the remains will be removed to a communal grave in the area. Some local authorities will allow you to pay for the niche in advance, while others will not make it available until death occurs. Prices vary according to the region, but it’s generally cheaper than buying a burial plot in the UK.

It’s not usual to hold a wake at a Spanish funeral, although expats may make their own arrangements for this following the service.

The death certificate

In the UK, the official death certificate is needed before funeral arrangements can be made, but in Spain, the Police issue a document certifying death, which allows the funeral to proceed. The official certificate, which enables you to claim on life insurance policies for example, can take anything between a few days and several weeks to arrive. This means that you cannot rely on that money to pay funeral costs.

Planning for the funeral

These days, both in Spain and the UK, more and more people are opting for funeral insurance or a pre-paid funeral plan to cover increasingly rising costs and spare their loved ones the anguish and expense of arranging and paying for their funeral. The best plans offer an English-speaking helpline, and someone to deal with all the practicalities on your behalf. This is particularly helpful if your Spanish is limited, or you don’t understand how the Spanish system works, and of course it eases the stress for the next of kin.

Another advantage of a pre-paid plan is that the price of the funeral is fixed at the time of purchase, so you know exactly how much you will be paying. There’s no need to worry about foreign exchange fluctuations, and many plans cover funeral costs in both the UK and Spain and can arrange repatriation of the remains if required.

Nobody likes to think about dying, but it is a fact of life, and it makes sense to make provision ahead of time, particularly given the language barrier. You may speak fluent Spanish, but does your next of kin? All these things need to be considered.

The big players in pre-paid funeral market in Spain are Avalon and Golden Leaves. Both are well established in Spain and come highly recommended. If you don’t already have a pre-paid funeral plan, maybe you should check it out for your peace of mind and your family’s convenience.

Published March 31st by Sandra Piddock
Posted to Expat Blog

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