Nov 072011
Death in Spain


I was sent a poignant article yesterday from a Spanish friend of mine, which I think makes the current economic crisis in Spain all the sadder.  Evidently, the general shortage of money amongst most people here has meant that markedly fewer flowers are being left on graves on All Saints’ Day (1st November every year).

All Saints’ Day in Spain is a national holiday and notable for immaculately dressed Spaniards, laden with flowers, visiting the graves of loved ones.  Usually the day before All Saints’ Day any town will suddenly have flowers, wreaths and bouquets for sale everywhere to service this tradition.  However, the article states that less flowers than ever before are being left at gravesides – and increasingly artificial flowers are being used instead.

If this was not bad enough increasingly people are opting to have cremations rather than burials.  This is against Spanish tradition, as normally a death in Spain is followed by a burial.  However, cremation is cheaper and also does not have the on-going rental costs of a burial plot.

Meanwhile, there is a predictably horrible increase in charitable burials for people with no money or family who cannot afford to pay for the burial – the cost of which is absorbed by the local town hall.  It seems that many of these charitable burials are immigrants and homeless people.

One of the shocking things for us Britons is the speed of burial or cremation after a death in Spain.  Here, should someone die, they are normally buried or cremated within 24 hours!  This is almost heresy in UK terms when burials and cremations are frequently (to the utter horror of the Spanish!) weeks after the death of the individual concerned.

I am still not sure what system I prefer – the speed of the Spanish or the delay of the British?  Certainly, when burials are done so fast it feels terribly hurried, here today and, literally, gone tomorrow.  Perhaps this is kinder to family left behind and allows them to grieve freely without the torture of waiting weeks for a burial service?

As I say, on this morbid subject, it is hard to know what is best although one obvious problem with the Spanish system is that it gives people far away from the deceased little chance to attend the burial service.  This is of consequence, I think, for expatriates who will naturally have family and friends abroad.

The other ‘odd’ aspect to death in Spain is that the Spanish do not have Wakes.  After a service they disperse, whereas for Britons the Wake is an important occasion during which the life of the deceased can be celebrated and the family publicly comforted.

Unfortunately, I have been to a number of funerals in Spain, mostly of expatriate friends.  Generally, these have taken a form that would be completely recognisable to the UK (apart from the sheer speed of time that elapses between death and burial).  Most communities have someone experienced in arranging funerals in Spain, with my community no exception.  So, the deceased’s family are looked after with arrangements made for the funeral with the minimum of fuss.

The funerals have ranged from religious (with a British Anglican or Catholic minister) to secular with a lay preacher or close friend conducting the service.  Without exception the funerals in Spain I have attended have been conducted sensitively and been profound and dignified occasions…

Finally, may I urge any expatriate in Spain to make a Spanish Will and also ensure that they know all about Spanish tax residency and Spanish inheritance tax?  I have written about this many times before and yet still hear of awful inheritance tax problems for a surviving partner – because of a misunderstanding about residency (Spanish residency and Spanish tax residency are two very different things).

Contact me, if you need to know more or get my book (which has sections on Spanish Inheritance Tax and Residency).

Nick Snelling




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  2 Responses to “Death in Spain”

  1. Hi my sister apparently died in Lanzarote a month ago and I have not been informed by her husband. Can I find out the circumstances and get to know if she has passed away.

  2. Rhona – I would contact the UK Embassy.

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