What you should know if a family member dies in Spain?

by Lorraine Williamson
when a family member dies

MADRID – Living under the Spanish sun can be great, but it also has its practicalities. Formalities and other regulatory matters can cause headaches. For example, what should you do if a family member dies in Spain? 

Which documents do you need and how do you get those documents? What steps do you take if there is an inheritance? What about the pension benefit? Furthermore, short processing times apply to many procedures and formalities after a death. While emotions can run high during that period. Then you don’t have to wait to reinvent the wheel. That is why we list a few things here. 

A family member dies at home, now what? 

If your family member dies at home, a doctor must come and determine the death. You are not authorised to do this yourself. Call 112 as soon as possible so that a doctor can come. If the person has died in hospital, the attending physician will determine the death and of course, calling the emergency number is not necessary. In both cases, the doctor issues a written certificate of death, the death certificate. Keep the death certificate carefully: you will need it regularly in the coming period. 

If there is a suspicion of unnatural death, the doctor makes the body available for autopsy via the judge and his court order. 

Is there funeral insurance? 

It is important to know whether the testator had taken out life insurance and, if so, with which insurance company. This is because access to the life insurance policy provides an answer to the important question of whether there is a funeral and/or term life insurance policy. 

If it turns out that the testator had funeral insurance, you can contact the funeral director concerned after the official determination of the (natural) death. They will then arrange transport to the funeral home. The costs for (part of) the organisation of the funeral are also taken off your hands. Think, for example, of arranging the memorial stone, having obituaries printed, the flowers, and so on. If the testator did not have funeral insurance, you, as the next of kin, are responsible for the administrative and financial settlement. 

No funeral without a permit 

It is not possible to register a death at the registry office without the presence of certain documents, such as the death certificate. And without a dying declaration, the registry office will not issue a permit for the funeral. 

So first of all, make sure you have a death certificate. In the case of criminal proceedings related to an unnatural death, the ‘court order’ is the equivalent of the death certificate. 

To issue the death certificate, the providing physician must have the following information: 

  • Date and place of death 
  • DNI of the deceased 
  • Copy DNI applicant 
  • Copy from the (family) pedigree book (proof of relationship) 

With the death certificate in your hands, you can register your death with the registry office. Please note: you must do this within 24 hours of death. 

When registering a death, bring the following documents with you: 

  • Death certificate 
  • Copy of DNI or copy of deceased’s passport 
  • The printed official ‘death declaration form’ 
  • Written permission from the funeral director 

After you have registered your death, you will receive the permit for the burial (or cremation) at the registry office. You discuss this with the funeral director. Burial or cremation can only take place with possession of this permit. 

Notify Social Security of the death 

To be able to claim benefits such as a survivor’s pension and/or a supplementary survivor’s pension, you must report the death within 30 days to one of the CAISS offices (the Social Security Office in Spain). 

Is there a will or inheritance? 

To start an inheritance procedure, you need the ‘last will’ (certificado de últimas voluntades). This shows whether the testator had a will and at which notary it was drawn up. You can request the last will digitally via the website of the Ministry of Justice. Please note: this cannot be done earlier than 15 days after the date of death, counting from the first day after death. 

Requesting the last will

You can request the last will using form 790. This form is used to request a Criminal Record certificate, Last Will and Testament certificate, or Life Insurance Policy certificate. This can also be downloaded from the website of the Ministry of Justice. You will then receive the deed by e-mail. Another option is that you receive an appointment confirmation to collect the deed at the counter. If you physically come to the Civil Affairs department to collect the document, make sure then that you can provide the following information: 

  • your DNI 
  • Full name of the deceased 
  • Date of death 
  • Place of death 
  • Type of document you are requesting (Spanish extract, extract in Spanish, and, if applicable, also in the official language of the Autonomous Region or an international extract with a choice of languages) 

If it appears from the last will that the testator has left a will, you can request a copy of this from the notary concerned. You do this by submitting the original or certified copy of the death certificate plus the will. The will then shows what the will of the testator is about his or her leftover money and possessions. 

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What if there is no (valid) will? 

If it is not clear who the heirs are because the will is missing, incomplete, or invalid, you can request the notary concerned to draw up a ‘declaration of heirs’. When submitting the request, you must provide the following information: 

  • Original death certificate 
  • DNI deceased 
  • Last Will 
  • Birth certificates heirs 

The purpose of going through this notarial procedure is to identify the heirs who are entitled to the inheritance. 

The deed of acceptance and assignment of the inheritance 

A recurring doubt with inheritances is whether it is wise to have a deed of acceptance and assignment of the inheritance drawn up by the notary. The answer is: not necessary but recommended. 

One of the most common cases in this deed is recommended is when there are many heirs involved, or when there are several properties in the estate. With this deed in hand, you prevent any subsequent legal proceedings. 

You can also use the deed to register the inherited movable property in the name of the heirs in the land registry. 

Inheritance tax, real estate, and movable property 

Inheriting also entails obligations. Six months after the death, for example, you have to pay the inheritance and gift tax to the tax office of the relevant autonomous community. Keep in mind that when you inherit real estate, you are only an official heir if the property is registered in your name in the land registry. For this, you need the inheritance and title deed of the real estate. 

The same applies to movable property, such as a car: make sure that the vehicle is registered in your name so that you become the insured party. Please arrange this through the provincial headquarters of the Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT). 

Is there life insurance? 

 How do you find out if you are the beneficiary of a life insurance policy? In some cases, even after going through all the paperwork, you’re left in the dark. That is why the Department of Justice has set up the Register of Life Insurance Contracts. This contains information about all policies that the testator had taken out and with which insurance companies. The data is stated on the “Certificate of Insurance Contracts for Death Cover” (Certificado de Contratos de Seguros de cobertura de fallecimiento). You can request the certificate online via the website of the Ministry of Justice. 

You can also apply in person at one of the Territorial Offices of the Ministry of Justice or at the Central Citizens Advice Bureau in Madrid. In that case, you must bring the completed form 790 with you. This can be downloaded from the website of the Ministry of Justice. 

Life insurance benefit 

It is extremely important to keep an eye on the applicable terms for the payment of life insurance. You must notify the insurance company of the insured person’s death within 7 days of death. There is a term of five years for claiming life insurance. After announcing the death, you will be required to submit a series of documents by the insurance company’s requirements, including: 

  • The death certificate 
  • DNI of the policyholder (deceased) or birth certificate of deceased 
  • The life insurance policy 
  • Certificate from the ‘Testament Register’ 
  • Copy of the will or declaration of heirs 
  • Marriage certificate (for spouses) 
  • Family book/studbook book (demonstrate kinship) 
  • Proof of payment for inheritance and gift tax 

After receipt, the insurance company will pay out the capital insured in the policy, subject to the maximum term for processing your request. 

Spreading ashes: what do you have to take into account? 

After cremation, you are faced with an important choice. What do you do with the ashes? Moreover, there are several possible destinations for this. The guide to ‘hygiene guidelines for morgues’, published in 2018 by the Ministry of Health, Consumption, and Welfare, lists the following options: 

  • Burial of the urn in an urn grave 
  • Burial urn in a family grave 
  • Interment in an urn wall 
  • Scattering ashes* in the designated place 

*Scattering the ashes in an unauthorised place, such as in the sea, is seen as an illegal discharge and can lead to a fine of €750. Only in exceptional cases is it possible to obtain a permit with the approval of the Directorate-General for Shipping. There are requirements: the ashes must be thrown away in a biodegradable urn.  

Also read:

Getting married in Spain

Registering a birth in Spain

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