When someone dies
Updated: Jul 4, 2022
About this factsheet This factsheet gives practical information about what to do when someone dies in Spain.
It gives detailed information about the procedures in Spain that are useful for everyone, with additional information relevant to UK nationals.
The information is grouped into the following sections:
Informing the authorities
Protecting funeral wishes
Registering a death
Wills and inheritance
When someone dies there is a lot to do. The process in Spain is different from that of other countries. Planning ahead will mean that if you have to make funeral arrangements for another person’s funeral in Spain, or someone has to make arrangements for you, some stress can be alleviated by understanding the process and decisions that need to be made.
If you are reading this guide for general information only and you live in Spain, it is strongly recommended that you consider:
Finding out which local funeral companies or funeral agents speak both English and Spanish and keeping a note of their details to hand so that you and your family know who to contact
Preparing written instructions of your wishes for your funeral arrangements and leaving them in a ready place known to your next of kin or with the funeral company. (See also Living wills below)
Investigating the costs of taking out a funeral insurance or a pre-paid funeral plan.
Informing the authorities
If a person dies in hospital, the hospital authorities will make the initial administrative arrangements.
If the death occurs at home, you need to:
Call the 112 multi-lingual emergency service (this service is for all emergencies) or the policía municipal (municipal police) on 092. They will advise the Juez Forense (Forensic Judge/Coroner) who will come to the home to authorize the removal of the body. It is important that you do not touch or move the body.
If the deceased had been receiving medical care and had been seen recently by a doctor, you should also contact that doctor who will certify the cause of death and issue a medical death certificate.
Contact a local tanatorio (funeral parlour), pompas fúnebres (undertakers) or a funeral agent of your choice.
If the death occurs in a public place such as in a traffic accident, on the street or in a commercial establishment, the Police will be called.
If the Forensic Judge or doctor that attends is in any doubt as to the cause of death, the death is deemed a judicial case and an autopsy will be necessary. If this is the case, the deceased will be taken to the Instituto Anatómico Forense (Forensic Institute) where an autopsy will be carried out to establish the cause of death.
Once this has been ascertained, you need to go to the court to obtain the permits for the body to be released. In some cases a funeral company can do this on your behalf. In all cases, you will have to make the funeral arrangements yourself (see Funeral arrangements below).
Protecting funeral wishes
In Spain, the hospital, police or doctor will automatically call out the nearest funeral director if you do not tell them that you have a particular funeral director/agent that you want to use.
Many employees in Spanish funeral companies do not speak English. If you do not speak Spanish, communications between you might be difficult if they cannot offer you an English-speaking person to help arrange the funeral, so get a Spanish-speaker to help you. You will be asked to sign a written contract which contains the provision of services, so it is important that you understand what you are agreeing to.
To ensure that the funeral arrangements are carried out in line with your wishes and those of the deceased:
make sure you understand which services you are contracting before signing any paperwork, ask a Spanish-speaking friend/neighbour to help if you are unsure.
try to avoid handing over passports, especially that of the deceased: offer a photocopy if you have one.
In judicial cases, the police may insist on taking the original passport which will be given back when the judicial permits are completed.
If you do have a particular funeral company in mind, make sure that you tell the people who come to deal with the death and that you contact the funeral company immediately. Funeral companies have a 24-hours contact number, so keep that number in your telephone book or other handy place.
The ruling which applies to deaths that occur away from home is different:
in judicial cases, the police will automatically call the local funeral director
if a person dies in hospital in a different municipality from where that person lives and the family want a local funeral director in the place in which they live to collect the body, they should tell the hospital authorities.
In some areas, you can appoint an English-speaking funeral agent. This company will act as an intermediary and will liaise with the local (and international, if necessary) funeral directors, the crematorium or cemetery, civil registry and courts on behalf of the family. It will sort out all the necessary paperwork and organise arrangements, including repatriation of the remains if required. There is a charge for this service.
There are two categories of death certificates:
Certificado médico de defunción (Doctor’s medical death certificate), which confirms the identification of the body and the cause of death
Certificado de defunción del Registro Civil (Civil Registry death certificate), see Civil Registry death certificates below.
Registering a death
All deaths must be registered in the country where the death occurs.
In Spain, this can be done in person or by post (or via the internet in some locations only) at the local Registro Civil usually situated in the Juzgado (Court building) and must be done within 24 hours of the death. Normally the Funeral Director will do this for you.
A death cannot be registered at the Registro Civil without the presentation of a medical death certificate either obtained from the hospital or from the doctor who attended the deceased at home. If the deceased has undergone an autopsy, the registration of the death will be processed by judicial means.
If you are registering the death, make sure you have sufficient information and documentation about yourself and the person who has died. This should include:
The medical death certificate obtained from the hospital or from the doctor attending the deceased at home
Name, surname and passport or National Identification Card/DNI number of the person requesting the certificate
Details of the next-of-kin of the person who has died
And should also include the following relating to the deceased:
Name and surnames of the deceased
Names of the parents
Date of birth and location where born
Passport number, DNI (National identification number) or NIE
Last known residence/address
Date, time and location of the death (as detailed in medical death certificate)
Place of burial, if indicated on the declaration of death or the certification from the Authority or civil servant in charge of the cemetery
The type of certificate you would like to receive (see Civil Registry death certificates below).
Finally, provide a contact telephone number where you can be reached to clarify any of the above information.
Civil Registry death certificates
There are several types of local Civil Registry death certificates in Spain:
1. Extracto (Extract): these contain the basic information necessary for the following certificates
a standard Spanish death certificate (written in Spanish)
an International Death Certificate (written in a number of languages including Spanish and English).
2. Literal (Literal): these consist of all the information relevant to the death.
A standard Spanish death certificate will be needed for Spanish bank accounts, life insurance policies or most entities in Spain that need to be advised but an International certificate is recommended for all UK entities.
A literal death certificate is not normally needed for matters relating to a death in Spain.
The death certificate, issued by the local Registro Civil is usually available within two to three days and can be collected in person or be sent by post. In some towns it will be issued at the offices of the local Juzgado de Paz (Justice of the Peace). Remember to ask for as many original copies as you need. These are normally free of charge.
As a guide, if the deceased was a British citizen, the following authorities/agencies may require a copy of the death certificate (see section Useful Contacts below for contact details):
Registro Civil in Madrid (see Wills and Inheritance below)
HM Revenue and Customs, if a UK will exists, or if the deceased had property/assets in the UK (see Wills and Inheritance below)
Department of Work and Pensions in the UK, if the deceased was in receipt of a British State Pension
Instituto de Seguridad Social INSS ( National Social Security Institute), if the deceased had worked in Spain and/or was in receipt of a Spanish pension
Government Banking Service, if the deceased received payment from the State or company pension in the UK
HM Revenue and Customs, if the deceased paid UK tax
Banks (in the home country, Spain and elsewhere) where the deceased held accounts
Insurance companies which held life policies on the life of the deceased (see also Spanish life insurance policies below)
Private pension companies
Yourself, for your own records. This is particularly important if you decide to rent a niche for the deceased as you will need to produce the death certificate if you have to transfer the remains to another place at a future date.
Some British government agencies and UK-based executors need the International death certificate to be verified by a Notario (Notary Public) based in Spain.
The British Consular Offices in Spain no longer verify death certificates.
Different rules may apply under Scottish, Channel Island or Isle of Man law.
Nationals of other countries may obtain information about the certificates required by contacting their local Consular Office
It is advisable to make a list of all the authorities/agencies both in the UK and in Spain, needing death certificates. If you realise at some point that you don’t have enough copies, you will have to go back to the Registro Civil to request more. Remember to keep a copy for yourself.
Registering the death with the British Consulate
It is not obligatory to register the death of a British national in Spain with the British Consulate-General. However, if you do there are the following advantages:
a British form of the death certificate is then available and
a record of the death is then held at the General Register Office in the UK.
The documents you will need:
application form available from the British Consulate offices or downloaded at: www.gov.uk/register-a-death
the local death certificate from the Civil Registry
the deceased’s passport or full British birth certificate as proof of citizenship
You then have to take (or send by post) the above documents to the British Consulate-General in Madrid (see below for contact details) with the appropriate registration fee.
Here is the UK Government’s guide on what to do after a British person dies in Spain.
Once the death registration has been completed, under normal circumstances, a burial licence will be issued and the burial or cremation can take place. In the case of cremation this has to be specifically authorised by a member of the deceased’s family; if you have no family alive and you wish to be cremated then you must put this in writing, appointing a named person/persons to authorise the cremation, and deposit this with the person/persons concerned. It is advisable to leave another copy easily available and make sure that people are aware of your wishes and where to find the necessary document of authorisation.
Normally in Spain, funerals are held within 24 - 48 hours of death 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 an additional cost.
In Spain, undertakers are formally licensed to manage funeral arrangements. If you do not have any contact details, your local Consulate may be able to provide a list of local/international funeral directors or funeral agents.
When the funeral company/agent has been appointed, you have to provide them with:
the passport of the deceased and your own
the forenames of the mother and father of the deceased
sign the appropriate documents relating to the services you have contracted, e.g., type of coffin or urn, religious service, obituary, flowers, etc.
Although all arrangements will be organised by the funeral company, you will have to decide the details. Before meeting the undertaker, consider details like:
if the body is to be clothed in any particular way
if any personal jewellery is to be removed from the body
if the body contain any pins, plates, pacemakers, hip/knee replacements, dentures, etc.
if the deceased had made any particular requests in respect to the arrangements
if the funeral should have special arrangements due to the deceased's faith or wishes
if there is funeral insurance or a pre-paid funeral plan for the deceased
whether the body is to be available for a velatorio (viewing), before burial/cremation. You can decide the amount of time for viewing by arrangement with the funeral company.
There is a wide range of burial services available. Costs vary from location to location, so ask the funeral director you use about the options available to you.
In Spain, a common burial method is to place a coffin in recess, in a nicho (niche). In some circumstances, funerals may be obtained for a low price by the use of a common grave. In cases of great need and depending on the local authority, it may be possible to get this service free of charge providing it is authorised by a local social worker. Cremation is also an option (although not all locations have a crematorium) and costs vary from place to place. There is a small charge if you want the ashes deposited in a common depository.
The transport of human remains to another country for burial or cremation is a very expensive procedure as the body has to be embalmed and transported in a lead-lined coffin. Repatriation of ashes is an alternative: an appropriate certificate is required.
For a burial in Spain, in some areas you can buy a niche, in others you can make a one-off payment which covers its rent in perpetuity or on a five-year renewable basis. The cost of purchasing a nicho is determined by its position in the group. The highest is the cheapest and the middle the most expensive. Some niches may be underground. You must advise the Ayuntamiento (Town Council) that maintains the cemetery of any change of address so that when the period of rental comes to an end, you can be contacted about renewal of the contract. Failure to pay the rent results in the removal of the coffin from the nicho and the bones being put in a common ossuary.
Here is a list of funeral directors in Spain provided by the UK Government.
Remember that despite the emotional stress and responsibility you might be experiencing
Do not be rushed - if you are doubtful, have someone with you
Be sure you are aware of the full cost of the services on which you decide
If you are asked to sign a document, be sure that you know what responsibilities you are accepting by doing so.
Wills and inheritance
Assets in Spain
The following is given as a guide only. All wills made in Spain are executed before a Notario (Notary Public) who in turn will automatically lodge a copy with the Registro Civil (Civil Registry) in Madrid.
For information about making a will and the Age in Spain will making service, see our Info Guide Why you should make a Will.
The Certificado de Últimas Voluntades (Last Will and Testament Certificate) is applied for once 15 working days have elapsed following the date of death.
The first step is to apply to the Registro Civil in Madrid for the Certificado de Últimas Voluntades. The simplest way to do this is through a lawyer or a gestor (an agent with specialised training in certain legal/fiscal activities, but who is not a lawyer - there is no direct equivalent in the UK) who will send an original copy of the Certificado de Defunción (Death Certificate) from the Registro Civil with full details of the deceased. It is also possible to apply yourself. All the information is available in English on the website of the Ministerio de Justicia (Ministry of Justice: see Useful contacts for contact details).
The documents required are:
the application form Modelo 790 (available from your local Registro Civil or online at the Ministerio de Justicia website), duly completed with the same information as on the death certificate (if you make a mistake, you can exchange it for another one, free of charge)
a death certificate issued by the Registro Civil in the town where the deceased died
proof of payment of the corresponding administration fee for the Certificado de Actos de Última Voluntad (Last Will and Testament Certificate) paid into the relevant bank.
You can apply:
in person at the Registro de Últimas Voluntades (Registry of Last Wills and Testaments) in Madrid (see Useful Contacts for the address) or at your local Registro Civil office
by writing a letter with the above detailed documents to the Registro de Últimas Voluntades in Madrid (see below for the address which is different from applications in person) and by using one of the two envelopes supplied with application form Modelo 790. The Certificate will be sent to you in the other envelope which you should stamp and address to yourself.
When you have this certificate, take it to a Notario (Notary Public) where the Escritura de Aceptación de Herencia (Inheritance Deed) will be prepared. This is the deed that has to be signed by all heirs (or their representatives) simultaneously which by doing so denotes they accept their inheritance.
One is not obliged to accept the inheritance but once the papers are signed the heirs are responsible for any payments for the reception of the inheritance, i.e., taxes, etc. Any heirs not in Spain can appoint a representative (through a power of attorney issued in Spain) which can be arranged by a Notario in Spain.
To prepare the Inheritance Deed, the Notario will need full details of all assets, deeds and the last Urban/Rural tax receipt for any property, documentation covering bank accounts, shares, etc. Be sure you understand exactly what is required so that the Escritura de Aceptación de Herencia is correctly prepared.
Once the Escritura de Aceptación de Herencia has been signed, you will be given an original and several official copies. These must be taken to the local oficina de Hacienda de Comunidad Autónoma (Autonomous Community tax office), not to be confused with the Agencia Tributaria or Ministerio de Economía y Hacienda, to pay the death duties.
Death duties must be paid within six months of death or surcharges will be applied.
If you are unable to complete the Escritura de Aceptación de Herencia within this time, you can present an autoliquidación (Self Assessment tax return) by going to your nearest Oficina de Hacienda (tax office), completing the appropriate form and paying the estimated taxes. These taxes will be adjusted later when the deed is available.
Where property is involved (after you have paid taxes and you are in receipt of the stamped inheritance deed), the inheritance deed must be taken to the Registro de Propiedad (Property Registry) for the name(s) of the new owner(s) of property to be registered. Another copy of the inheritance deed must then be taken to the local Town Hall to pay the Plusvalía (Capital Gains Tax). That must also be paid within six months. It is advisable that you take professional advice in all these matters.
A British Power of Attorney is not valid in Spain unless it has been legalised by the Spanish Embassy. If a Power of Attorney has been signed by the deceased, it is automatically revoked upon death.
Assets in the UK
The following is given as a guide. Assets held in a country other than the UK are subject to the laws of that country.
If the deceased has left a British will appointing an executor, that person should be contacted immediately and should be sent an original copy of the international death certificate verified by a Notario (Notary Public).
If no executor has been appointed, or you have been named as the executor, there are two courses open to you:
You can appoint someone in the U.K. (usually a lawyer) to act on your behalf by power of attorney
You can do the work yourself.
To do the work yourself, the first thing to do is to apply to the Probate Office for the necessary forms. As you will have to go to the Probate Office for a personal interview, it is wise to choose an office within easy reach. The forms come with complete instructions but, should you have any doubts, seek expert advice.
There’s normally no Inheritance Tax to pay on estates in the UK if either:
the value of the estate is below the tax threshold
you leave everything to your spouse or civil partner, a charity or a community amateur sports club
An extra stamp duty form (for the Inland Revenue) must be completed in this case.
UK inheritance tax, if due, must be paid within six months of death. If, for some reason, you are unable to complete the Probate Forms within this time, you should contact the Inland Revenue and pay estimated taxes. Any difference will be adjusted later when the Probate Forms have been completed and Probate granted.
Spanish life insurance policies
The Ministerio de Justicia (Ministry of Justice) holds a register of life insurance policy holders called the Registro de Contratos de Seguro de Cobertura de Fallecimiento, which can be used to check if a Spanish life insurance policy had been taken out by the deceased.
A certificate can be applied for 15 working days after the person’s death by producing the literal death certificate from the Registro Civil along with proof of payment of the corresponding fee. Further details can be obtained from the Ministerio de Justicia (see Useful contacts for contact details).
In most areas of Spain, it is now possible to register a Testamento Vital (Living Will) with the local health authorities. Doctors can consult this registry to ascertain the wishes of the testator on the extent of therapeutic treatment they would like to receive, should they be in a position whereby – for physical or mental reasons – they are unable to express them. The document could also contain instructions regarding burial or cremation, and authorisation for organ donation. You should check with your lawyer for details.
NOTE: It can be helpful to employ a professional to assist with the paperwork if you are not familiar with the funeral systems in Spain and/or find communicating in Spanish difficult.
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Instituto de Seguridad Social - INSS (Spanish Social Security Institute)
Phone: +34 900 16 65 65
Ministerio de Justicia (Ministry of Justice)
Customer helpline: +34 902 007 214 /91 837 22 95
Locations of Civil Registry offices in Spain:
Last Will & Testament Certificates
Registro General de Actos de Última Voluntad
Ministerio de Justicia, Planta Baja
Plaza de Jacinto Benavente, 3
Registro General de Actos de Última Voluntad
Ministerio de Justicia
Plaza de Jacinto Benavente, 3
British Consulate in Spain
Contact information for the different British Consulate Offices in Spain
Tel: l +34 91 714 6300.
If you're in the UK and worried about a British person in Spain, call 020 7008 5000.
International Pension Centre
Mail Handling Site A
Phone: +44 (0)191 218 7777 (Monday to Friday 08.00 - 19.30)
Government Banking Service
HM Revenue and Customs
Inheritance tax and probate advice