As we live through these extraordinary times, I believe each of us has paused a moment longer to think about our lives and probably realised how fragile they are, and how suddenly they can end. As we realise that our time on earth is limited, it should make us enjoy and appreciate every single moment, and at the same time it may lead us to accept the fact that we will not be here forever. Recently we experienced the loss of a dear client of ours; it was the most sudden and unexpected death, which left behind a heartbroken husband and children, and devastated friends and family. This experience has made us reflect and think about this final aspect of our lives in more detail.
When the situation for the family is unbearably hard already, managing burial or repatriation procedures due to language difficulties and cultural differences can add an incredible amount of stress. Here in Spain, the funeral normally takes place within 48 hours of the person´s death, which will not give you enough time to do your own research and take things slow. Who do you contact? What are the steps? Burial or cremation? In Spain, or in their home country? Religious service? Organ donation? Assets? The will?
What Happens After a death?
In Spain, the death should be reported to the authorities within 24 hours. If the person who passed away has received medical care prior to death, their doctor should be contacted to attend to the body, confirm the death and the identification of the deceased and eventually notify the local authorities (in Spanish: Policía local), and the funeral home (in Spanish: tanatorio) which will collect the body.
The doctor will issue a Notification of Death from which one copy will be taken to the funeral home with the deceased, and the other two should be brought to the Civil Registry Office (In Spanish: Registro Civíl) within 24 hours, where they will register the death. If you have an agreement with the funeral home, they can do this for you.
REMEMBER- If the deceased had a prepaid funeral plan or repatriation/burial insurance (in Spanish: seguro de decesos), contact the company immediately, as they will take care of all the administrative processes and coordinate the collection of the remains, the burial or cremation, or repatriation.
If there are no doctors or prior care involved, you will need to contact the local police directly.
If the death has occurred in hospital, most of the administrative procedures will be done by the hospital, but you would need to know which funeral home to contact in order for them to collect the body.
In the case of accidents, the procedure may take longer, as it is important to verify the cause of death, and the authorities may prolong the process if an autopsy is required.
Spanish culture has always been focused on socializing and even after a death, it is common for loved ones to spend time with the deceased until the funeral is held. Family and friends take turns to be present in the funeral home where the body is kept. During this period, a special wake is held where people get together to share their memories. Also, the flowers ordered by family, friends and colleagues are sent over to the funeral home from the florists.
There are two main ceremonies known in Spain.
The most common is the religious ceremony (mostly a Christian tradition).
It is conducted by a priest in the chapel of the funeral home or in a church. It can take around twenty minutes and it´s focused around religious traditions in order to guarantee peaceful liberation of the soul. The Christian religious ceremony is not in favour of cremation, although over the last few years it has softened its views and will allow it, but only after the ceremony is held with the deceased body present. In the case of a burial or the placing of the coffin in a niche, everyone walks to the cemetery to say their last goodbyes after the ceremony.
Seven days (or sometimes nine days) after the ceremony, a special prayer service is held (in Spanish: misa or rosario). Close family and friends, as well as people who couldn´t attend the funeral come together to share their memories and pray for their loved one who has passed. A similar process is held every year for the anniversary of the death, as an act of remembrance.
Additionally, there is a day in the Christian religion when people pay their respects and bring flowers to the dead. It is on the 1st of November- All Saints day (in Spanish: Día de todos los Santos). Most of the cemeteries are open all day.
An alternative option is a secular ceremony (in Spanish: funeral civil or laico), which is conducted by a funeral celebrant and its focus is on the dead´s secular life expressed through their own philosophy and spiritual beliefs. People express their thoughts about death, usually through poetry, and it is often accompanied with the deceased’s favourite music.
There are seven state cemeteries in Valencia city and more in the surrounding areas. The British Cemetery is the only international cemetery in Valencia, which has been operating since 1870. It opens for burials but there are no open visiting hours, as unfortunately, the cemetery has suffered from vandalism in the past.
Funeral costs in Spain
Burial costs can be an unexpected expense, totalling around 4,000€ or more. It can depend on the region, and if it is a burial, cremation, religious ceremony or repatriation. Costs start from 2,200€ in Cuenca and go up to 6,400€ in Barcelona, making 3,500€ the average cost (3,100€ in the case of cremation). Studies shows that prices can vary up to 2,000€ between different funeral homes within the same city. *
If the family opts for the repatriation of the deceased to their country of origin and there is no prepaid funeral plan or insurance in place to cover the costs, including the services provided here in Valencia (securing the necessary permits and copies of death certificates, body preparation, the ceremony, embalming, the coffin, the morgue, use of the funeral home for the viewing etc.) and the repatriation itself (the transportation to the airport, the flight costs), it can cost up to 15,000€.
In recent research carried out in 2019 by the Consumers’ Organization (in Spanish: Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios), more than 1300 people were questioned who had experienced recent death of a family member – about their main experience and the costs. 84% of the 63% that had burial insurance were satisfied with the service they received, highlighting the fact that there were no surprise additional expenses or unnecessary stress. In Spain, burial insurance is available or funeral expenses can be paid in advance to the undertakers. The only downside that was mentioned was that the insurance companies have a list of funeral homes that they work with and you have to choose from that list.
Interesting fact: Two out of three people don’t know the cost of dying.
One of the saddest facts mentioned in the research is the lack of information regarding costs. Only 13% of funeral homes from 31 different cities have clear information about costs on their websites. Even worse, in 35% of cases, no real quote was offered, only some figures written on business cards or simple verbal confirmation with no explanation. This could make it confusing and frustrating since there is not a clear idea of how much it will cost.
Though expenses will vary depending on the region, here are some estimate numbers: administrative paperwork costs 200-300€, the burial fee in a graveyard in the Valencia Community region costs 168€, the graveyard space for five years costs around 250€, the fee for a niche is 88€, rental for a niche for 10 years is around 450€ (this number is different in each town and depends on the location and height), a coffin costs around 1200€, the hearse can be 60-150€, the urn for the ashes costs 30€. Additional costs: one funeral wreath costs 150-400€ (the insurance policy usually includes up to two wreaths), a religious ceremony is around 60€, a death announcement (depending on the paper, font size, day of publication) is from 70€ and can go up to 12,000€ (the insurance policy will usually include the basic publication cost), funeral home services varies from 500€ up to 1800€ (depending if services such as the hearse, memory book, flowers and similar are included), embalming services (in Spanish: tanatoestética and tanatoplastia) costs 95-250€, every extra day in the funeral home costs 180-200€.
A thoughtful approach is preparation
A quite simple approach is to think through the most important aspects of death (who to call, how to cover the costs, the funeral ceremony, the choice of burial or cremation, the country and cemetery in which you would like to be laid to rest, organ donation and last will and assets), as well as your personal wishes such as clothes and music preference for the funeral, and leave them written down somewhere safe for your family and friends. Even if you do not wish to make any pre-arrangements, we encourage you to leave your family the information they will need when the unfortunate moment comes.
When living overseas, we believe it is essential to make the necessary arrangements to show you care about your loved ones. Your family and friends may not know the language, bureaucracy procedures or the local traditions to handle the process themselves, your other family and friends may be too far away, and on top of that there may be unpleasant and unexpected financial surprises, therefore we would like to go over some options that might help to spare some distress.
There are several types of insurance plans that you could consider depending on your specific situation. The most common is probably a burial insurance plan for which the insured person pays a monthly premium until the day of death, but it is important to take into account that the insurer may set an age limit for this type of policy (normally 80 years old). The monthly premiums normally are quite low for people of a younger age and get slightly more expensive as you get older. They normally increase on a yearly basis by approximately 3%. When the person passes away, the family has to notify the death to the insurer (they provide different numbers to call depending on your language), and after picking a funeral home, they take care of all the paperwork, the funeral ceremony, repatriation, legal assistance, etc. Relatives can pick the services from those that are covered by the policy, the price of which is raised yearly by approximately 3% to keep up with the inflation and increase in prices. As the insurers collaborate with funeral homes, the services quoted by funeral homes are comparably lower when you have a policy than if you were to go independently. This insurance can be very beneficial and save your family lots of money, but if you are lucky to live a very long and happy life, you may be overpaying when compared to the average funeral cost, as it is still an insurance plan and not a pre-paid funeral plan. This type of policy is worth considering for young families who plan to stay in Spain temporarily and would like to be covered, or for older residents who plan to stay in Spain for life, but haven´t reached the age limit yet.
A modification of the previously mentioned insurance plan is a policy with a complete pre-payment of the premium. For residents over the age limit to access the previously described plan with monthly payments, this might be the only insurance option available. This insurance has the same benefits and also the insured capital is increased yearly. If less funds are used for the funeral or if the person passes away in another country and the funeral takes place elsewhere, the heirs can claim the rest of the capital.
If you are an active expat who loves travelling or you would prefer your body to be repatriated back to your country of origin, you should pay close attention to the repatriation coverage. Most complete private health insurance policies and travel insurance policies cover repatriation back to the country of residency, i.e. Spain, but not to the country of origin. International health insurance plans should cover repatriation to the country of origin as well. When setting up burial insurance or a prepaid funeral plan, most of the time it is possible to add your country of origin to the repatriation coverage, if that is your wish, or even set up a separate policy solely to cover the repatriation.
Another type of insurance policy to consider is life insurance or setting up a savings plan. Although it wouldn´t serve for practical aspects of the funeral, it could ease the financial burden your family might face when you are no longer with them.
A sensible option is to purchase a prepaid funeral plan which is not an insurance policy. There are special international plans available for expatriates to pre-plan all the important aspects of their funeral. Some of the advantages of taking out these plans are the possibility to pre-arrange all funeral details and make sure your wishes will be taken care of, securing a plan for a fixed price (at current prices), or even to have dual-country coverage. For example, the Golden Leaves International plan covers funerals both in Spain and in the UK, which is quite convenient for British expats who live most of the time in Spain but spend some time back in their home country or visit their families frequently, or even at some point in their lives decide to move back to the UK for good and want to keep their plan. Normally, these companies provide several plan options from basic to premium or even tailored packages based on your requests. The costs can vary between 3650€ to 9,000€, and offer several payment options, including a lump sum payment or instalment payments.
Why have a Spanish will?
If you have any assets in Spain (properties, vehicles, bank accounts, saving accounts, investments etc.), it is advisable to draw up a will to save money, time and hassle for your family. Without a Last Will and Testament, you allow the Spanish government to apply Spanish law to all your assets in Spain. A will in Spain can be, and is suggested to be, a complementary will to the ones you may have in other countries. Remember that if you have another will in another country but you haven´t mentioned that you would like another country’s law to be applied, all your assets here in Spain will be under Spanish law. You need to specify this in your will, and it needs to be legalised and translated into Spanish, which can sometimes be more expensive than drawing up a Spanish will.
By Spanish law, which is different from some other countries where you can leave 100% of your assets to your spouse, the will is limited and 2/3 of the assets have to go to direct family members and the rest can be left to whom you define. If there is no will, the first people with rights to your possessions will be any children, then parents and grandparents, followed by your spouse and other family members, such as brothers and sisters, cousins and so on, and if there are no relatives it will go to the government.
The average solicitor’s fee to draft a will is 250€, but this can increase if you want it to be in two languages and/or signed abroad. If the deceased had burial insurance, contact the insurance company shortly after the death, as legal advice is usually included and would help you to manage the process smoothly.
Residents and non-residents are liable for paying Spanish inheritance tax. Having a Spanish will is essential for saving time and eventually saving you money on inheritance taxes (in Spanish: impuesto de sucesiones y donaciones) which are calculated differently in every region and should be paid within six months of the death. In the first five months it is possible to prolong this period for another six months or choose to have a payment plan for up to five years. Remember that this tax must be paid from your own resources as the inheritance will not be in your possession until the tax is paid. You will be fined for any delays on the payment which may add a significant financial cost.
For a non-Spanish national, each document obtained outside Spain will have to be properly legalised and translated into Spanish by a sworn translator.
Simple acceptance of our limited time will allow us to be grateful for every new experience, every moment we spend with our loved ones and every time we are happy and fulfilled in our lives. At YES VALENCIA we do not offer assistance with funeral organisation and related formalities so we encourage you to think through the main questions and make responsible decisions concerning your will, assets, funeral ceremony, life and repatriation insurance options and pre-paid funeral plans or burial insurance options. We hope you will find this post useful! Stay healthy and well!
Source of information: Organization of Consumers (In Spanish: Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios) in 2019, https://www.casacochecurro.com/cuanto-cuesta-morirse-de-los-6-400-euros-en-barcelona-los-2-200-en-cuenca.html#Precios_de_las_Flores_para_las_sepulturas