By Annie Dabb •
Updated: 22 Nov 2022 • 13:05
Image - widow: Ground Picture/shutterstock
To alleviate the added stress and confusion of having to deal with all the legalities and financial side of things if your husband or wife does die whilst you’re in Spain, this guide will explain how to deal with all of the technical things you need to do so that you can properly mourn your late spouse.
It can be a very difficult time when your husband or wife dies and you can end up feeling very isolated, especially if you have to deal with everything on your own. While it’s important to get to all of the legal and financial dealings around your spouse’s death, if they have friends or family who aren’t in Spain with you, it’s a good idea to tell them that your husband or wife has passed immediately so that they know what’s going on. This will help you all through the process of mourning as you can support each other, and make coping with everything else a lot easier if you have a shoulder to lean on. It might even be worth asking their relatives or your relatives to come over to Spain if you plan on staying there so that you’re not on your own and so that they can process the death of the deceased properly themselves as well.
If your husband or wife dies in Spain, one of the first things you need to do is contact their insurance company as soon as you can. If your husband or wife had life insurance, their provider may help to cover the cost of repatriation if you wanted to take their body back to their original country of origin.
If you’re not sure whether or not your late spouse had life insurance, it’s worth checking with their bank, credit card company or employer.
If your husband or wife was not insured, you or another relative or formally appointed representative will have to take on the responsibility of appointing a funeral director as well as the costs involved with this. If this is the case, there are several UK-based international funeral directors available, including Co-operative Funeralcare, Homeland International and Rowland Brothers International. See a list of their contact details as well as other international funeral directors here.
In some instances, funeral directors and lawyers may provide their services for you at a reduced cost depending on your circumstances. This is what’s known as Pro bono work and is decided relative to your situation.
If you or an appointed relative is responsible for the funeral costs and other financial implications of your late spouse’s death, you can also appeal to certain charities and organisations for support. You can see a list of UK-based charities and organisations here.
You must also register the death of your late spouse with the local Spanish civil registry in order to obtain a death certificate. It is a legal obligation to register the death of your spouse in the country where they died, even if they are British and the country where they die is not Britain. This will usually be done by the funeral director appointed by the company that managed your husband or wife’s life insurance. Insurance providers will also usually help with any medical, legal, interpretation and translation fees which can occur.
The local death certificate will be published in Spanish and does not show the cause of death of your late spouse. If you need an English translation, which is often necessary for probate in the UK, it will cost around €25 per page through a professional translation service.
You can also apply through your funeral director for additional copies of the standard death certificate, as well as an international multilingual copy. The Spanish Ministry of Justice website also has a section where you can request additional Spanish death certificates. You can see what you need to request here, which includes a digital copy of the original death certificate.
If the cause of death is unknown, unnatural, sudden or violent, a post-mortem will usually be performed. This would be carried out by a forensic doctor appointed by the court, regardless of cultural or religious sensitivities. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is also prohibited from intervening in a post-mortem if it has been ordered by the court. To obtain a copy of the post-mortem report you have to apply through a UK-based coroner (if the body is repatriated back to the UK) or to the local court in Spain dealing with the death.
This is the process of returning the body of your late husband or wife back to their country of origin if they wanted their body to be sent back home or to the family members for burial or cremation. The process of repatriation usually takes between 7 and 10 days and will be organised by a funeral director. Often local funeral directors will coordinate with a UK-based funeral director to ensure all the necessary requirements are met in each country. The documents which are necessary to carry out this process include a local civil registry death certificate, a certificate of embalming, and a certificate authorising the transfer of the body to the UK.
If the deceased person had insurance, the insurance company is usually responsible for covering the cost of repatriation. This can be around £5,400 from Spain to the UK, although this is only a rough guide and a more accurate quote should be sought on a case-by-case basis.
On the topic of travel, it is also worth noting that you should cancel your late spouse’s passport in order to avoid a case of identity fraud. To cancel a British passport with Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO), you will need to complete a D1 form which can be accessed here.
If you want to bury or cremate your late spouse in Spain, this process should also be organised through a local funeral director. A list of funeral directors in Spain can be found here.
Unlike in the UK, a Spanish burial is not a 6ft deep plot in the ground, but rather an aboveground niche in a cemetery which you would usually have the rights to for 5 years. After this, the body will be transferred to a common burial ground. It’s also worth noting that in Spain burials usually take place within 48 hours of the death, and it is the law to embalm and preserve the body within this time, so if you have friends or relatives who wish to pay their respects they need to move quickly.
If you require coffin bearers in the funeral service, make sure to specify this with your funeral director as it’s not a standard custom in Spain, especially in more rural areas. If you require an English translator and one is not available, the British Consulate will be able to speak with a local funeral director on your behalf.
Cremation is also a common way of commemorating your late spouse in Spain and will also be organised through a local funeral director. If you do decide to bury or cremate the body of your late spouse in Spain, it is against the law to scatter their ashes in public places. This includes the sea.
If you cremate the body in Spain and wish to take the body home to the UK to scatter the ashes there, this is possible. It’s important that you check with the airline beforehand to see about any restrictions or requirements. For example, airline companies EasyJet and British Airways will let you take the ashes with you in your cabin bag as long as you have a copy of the death certificate, a copy of the cremation certificate and the ashes themselves are securely packaged in an appropriate, airtight container. In general, you will also have to fill in a standard customs form when you arrive home and follow local rules in Spain about departing with human ashes.
If your spouse dies with certain assets you think you or other friends or relatives would be entitled to, it’s essential that you hire a lawyer to deal with probate, everything from their bank accounts, to their property and pension. You may also wish to appoint a lawyer if your husband or wife dies in suspicious or unknown circumstances. You can see a list of English-speaking lawyers in Spain here.
In Spain, probate, which is the legal right to deal with someone’s property, money and possessions (their ‘estate’) when they die, doesn’t work the same way that it does in the UK. The standard procedure in Spain to deal with your husband or wife’s estate depends on whether they had a will granted or not. If they had an English will relating to their worldwide assets, this will include any Spanish properties.
In either case, their assets may be decided and divided by a Spanish Notary which your lawyer will deal with. This process can take a maximum of 6 months and usually a minimum of 3. Usually, any descendants (children) of your spouse will automatically inherit at least a third of their Spanish estate over yourself as the surviving spouse. There is also a nationwide law in Spain that states that if the deceased had a spouse at the time of death, the spouse keeps 50 per cent of all jointly-owned property, whilst the remaining 50 per cent goes towards their estate. This means that you could retain the rights to your half of your shared property and you and any children you may have could keep up the payments on utilities and maintenance costs for the half that your late spouse had rights to.
As well as the lawyer’s fees if your spouse didn’t have insurance, there is also an inheritance tax that will need to be paid which corresponds to the amount that each of the beneficiaries will receive, rather than the total value of any inherited assets. The payable inheritance tax rate in Spain begins at 7.65 per cent and is banded on the amount gifted, with the highest rate reaching 36.5 per cent.
A lawyer is also useful to deal with any bank accounts your late husband or wife may have had. These bank accounts will need to be closed and a certificate will need to be obtained from the bank to confirm the amounts in these accounts.
If your late spouse had any credit card debts you will not usually be liable to pay these off unless you are a co-signor for the card or if you shared a joint bank account from which the debts are owed. If the latter is the case, expect the bank to freeze this account until the deceased person’s estate has been settled.
If your husband or wife dies and you jointly rent your property in Spain, you will have legal rights to the tenancy and can continue to live there if you can afford to keep up the payments on your down. The landlord must be notified within three months of the death of your husband or wife. If the landlord is not notified and/or no proof is provided of the death in the form of a death certificate, the contract will be terminated.
You would also be able to have a family member of your late spouse stay in the property and take over the tenancy of your husband or wife, however, the landlord must be provided with the identity of the person who would be taking over the tenancy agreement. If you do not supply this information, again the contract would be terminated.
In the instance that your rental contract is terminated, those who succeed the tenant, which could be you as the surviving spouse or another relative of theirs, will be liable to pay the rent for the outstanding three-month period since their death.
If your late spouse paid into the Spanish Social Security System before they died, as their widow you could be entitled to a widow’s pension (Pension de Viudedad). They must have been contributing to the Spanish Social Security System (SS), for at least 500 days in the 5 years prior to their death, or have had an overall contribution period of at least 15 years.
You may also be entitled to your late spouse’s pension if they were receiving, or had the right to receive, their pension in Spain before they died, if they were a pensioner with a permanent disability, or if they had a pension for a temporary disability, or a maternity or paternity risk.
In order to apply for their pension, you must have been legally married for at least one year prior to their death or have children together. The benefits usually amount to 52% of the regulatory base, depending on the average contribution of the deceased to the SS.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article on what to do if your husband or wife dies in Spain. Do remember to come back and check The Euro Weekly News website for all your up-to-date local and international news stories. Remember, you can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
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From Newcastle originally, Annie is based in Manchester and is a writer for the Euro Weekly News covering news and features.
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