** The information below is aimed at British nationals living in Spain, but can easily be adapted to include those from other European countries.
Losing a loved one is never easy. Unfortunately, death comes to us all at one point or another and is something that we have to deal with.
When a relative dies, there are a number of matters that need to be addressed, one of which will be the burial, cremation or in some cases, the repatriation of the deceased to their country of birth.
Living in a foreign country can present a number of issues such as the language barrier, cultural differences and the funeral/repatriation procedures themselves which can often seem alien from what we are used to "back home".
If you are living in Spain permanently, it is important that you have at least a basic understanding of the procedures involved and how to deal with such an event. This will help you deal with the situation a lot better and minimise what will already be a very sad and stressful time in your life.
Below we list the main aspects and processes of dealing with the death of a British national here in Spain. We understand that speaking about death is never an easy subject, but it's important that you are well informed and prepared for any eventuality while residing here in Spain.
Please remember that the British Consulate is always on hand to assist wherever possible and can often liaise on your behalf with local Spanish funeral directors where necessary.
Firstly, it is important to note that Spanish undertakers are modern and in most cases fully equipped. They are also familiar with dealing with foreigners and will usually have someone who is able to converse in English with you. It is always worth checking in advance by checking their website or by giving them a call. The British Consulate should also be able to help you find an English speaking undertaker if required.
Unlike in other countries, a relative is not required to identify the deceased, as this can usually be done by checking documentation, such as passports, driving licences and fingerprint records. If there is any doubt, a judge will request DNA for identification purposes, although this can take some time.
It will then be down to a close relative to decide on whether the deceased is to be buried locally, cremated or repatriated.
It's worth noting that in Spain, it is the law to embalm and preserve the body within 48 hours. If the deceased is a foreign national they will usually embalm the body as opposed to just preserving it as this is a requirement for all remains that are to be transferred out of Spain.
If the deceased has travel or some other form of insurance, it is important that the next-of-kin speak to the insurance company as quickly as possible so that burial, cremation or repatriation costs can be met. If the deceased is not insured, the family will need to pay the costs. Unfortunately, the British Consulate or Foreign and Commonwealth Office are not liable for any of these expenses.
Repatriation, Local Burial or Cremation
Once you have contacted the funeral directors and insurance company, you will need to decide on whether you want the deceased to be buried locally, cremated locally or repatriated to the country of their birth.
Repatriation To The UK
In the event that the deceased has some form of insurance in place, it is usually the case that the insurance company will have a working agreement with an international funeral director in the UK who will arrange repatriation.
If the deceased does not have any insurance, the next-of-kin will have to make arrangements with an international funeral director in the UK or a local one in Spain which provides repatriations to the UK.
All necessary documentation such as death certificate, certificate of embalming and permission to transfer the remains to the UK will be provided by the Spanish undertaker.
In most cases, repatriation from Spain to the UK usually takes around 8 to 10 days to complete.
Local Burial In Spain
If you wish to proceed with a local burial here in Spain, you will need to instruct a local Spanish funeral director. In most cases they will have someone who can speak English, but if this is not the case the British Consulate in Spain will be able to speak with them on your behalf.
In some cases, coffin bearers may not be included in the price, so it is important to establish this when making contact with the funeral director.
Local Cremation In Spain
As in the UK, cremation is common in Spain. Crematoriums in Spain are modern, well equipped and on a par with those in the UK.
If you wish to take the ashes back to the UK, the local funeral directors will be able to provide the necessary documentation and transportation if necessary.
You should also check with the airline to see if there are any restrictions or any necessary procedures that will need to be followed.
If the circumstances surrounding the death are unusual, a preliminary examination will need to be carried out by an examining magistrate and in some cases a post-mortem may be required.
If further investigation into the cause of the death is required, interviews may also need to be conducted which can ultimately delay the release of the remains, registration of the death and repatriation.
In cases of unexpected or sudden death or where a person dies alone, a summary report of the investigation is prepared by the examining magistrate after which time the deceased can be released for cremation, burial or repatriation. These reports are retained by the Court and can only be released to the legal representative of the deceased's relatives.
If there was a criminal act involved, the police will need to undertake a full investigation. The State Prosecutor will then decide whether to prosecute or not. This can take time and delay the burial, cremation or repatriation.
Post-Mortems and Removal of Organs
In some cases, a post-mortem may be required, which is conducted by a court appointed forensic doctor.
During the post-mortem, tissue samples and/or organs may need to be removed for testing. Consent from the next-of-kin is not required and are not usually made aware of any removals.
Burial, cremation or repatriation can be carried out before the testing of any organs has been completed.
So there you have it. Death and bereavement is never an easy subject to speak about, but unfortunately it does happen. If you retain the information above, it should help you to deal with the process more easily.
Remember that the British Consulate is there to help you and are only a phone call away. It is what they are there for and what they do best. If you need any assistance with funeral arrangements or to overcome the language barrier, they will be able to help.
You can contact the British Embassy in Madrid on +34 917 146 300 who will be able to connect you to your local British Consulate. You can also visit their page at https://www.gov.uk/government/world/organisations/british-embassy-madrid