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Although it’s definitely not a nice subject, we have to face the reality that one day we might be confronted with the death of one of our relatives.

First things to do

If the death occurs in hospital, the hospital administration will take care of the initial procedure. If the death occurs outside hospital you should immediately call the Guardia Civil or the National Police. A Magistrate (Juez Forense) will have to come to authorize the removal of the body or to order an investigation if he believes that there are suspicious circumstances surrounding the death. If death was caused by a criminal act there will be a full police investigation and this will inevitably delay the release of the body and the funeral ceremony. In either case the doctor will issue a death certificate.

The first 48 hours

You should contact an undertaker (funeraría). Normally in Spain the burial or the cremation will take place between 24 and 48 hours after death. If you need additional time for relatives and friends to come to Spain, this can be arranged at an additional cost. The undertaker will be able to assist you in most of the administrative procedures for either the ceremony or the repatriation.

Will and inheritance of Spanish assets

There are two possible situations:

  1. If the deceased had a Spanish Will the process should be relatively easy.  All Wills in Spain are recorded in the Central Wills Registry in Madrid. You should contact a lawyer who will apply for a “Certificado de Ultimas Voluntades” which shows whether there was a Will registered in Spain and a “Certificado de Contrato de Seguros de Cobertura de Fallecimiento” which shows whether there were any insurance policies covering death. These have to be applied for by using special forms from the Ministry of Justice and a nominal fee has to be paid prior to sending the forms along with an original death certificate to the Ministry.  The death certificate has to either be a Spanish or an International certificate, if not it has to be translated by an official translator and an apostille has to be attached.
  2. If the deceased didn’t have a Spanish Will the process to reclaim the inheritance could be potentially long and complicated, risking the loss of the Spanish assets if things are not done in a timely manner. You should immediately contact a lawyer in Spain who will apply for the “Certificado de Ultimas Voluntades”. If the certificate is returned showing that there was no Will registered then the process to determine the legal heirs will begin.  This will lead to a “declaración de herederos abintestato” or declaration of intestate heirs.

Once either of the above has been completed your lawyer will contact the notary to prepare the inheritance deeds (Escritura de aceptacion de Herencia). This document will have to be signed by all heirs or their legal representatives, stating that they accept the inheritance.

In order for the inheritance deeds to be correctly prepared you will need information regarding all assets, the deeds and last tax receipts for any property.

Fiscal matters

As from the moment of death you have 6 months to:

  • Pay all Spanish inheritance taxes (these could be quite low if you are a Spanish fiscal resident). You cannot pay these taxes from the estate.  However you can request a delay in payment or to pay in installments.
  • Inscribe the new owners of any property in the land registry.
  • Pay the municipal the capital gains tax.

The non-declaration of the inheritance within 6 months after the death could lead to high fines on top of the inheritance taxes.

Your lawyer will be able to assist and guide you through this painful but important process.