Sometimes, sadly, we have to deal with tragedy, and the time when someone dies is no time to be at a loss as to what to do for the best. Here, hopefully, is a fairly straightforward ready reckoner on what to do in the saddest of circumstances.

First of all, when someone dies unexpectedly, you must call the policía local – the number is 092. If the person was already under medical supervision, call the doctor who was treating them. If the police are called they themselves will normally call a doctor to certify the cause of death and issue a certificate (not a formal death certificate). If the death occurred in suspicious circumstances or involves an investigation, an autopsy may have to be carried out, or if death was the result of a road traffic accident or criminal action, the body will only be released after application to the Court. Normally, however, at this stage, you will need to contact a funeral director, and they will arrange for the body to be removed.

This is a reasonable point at which to clarify procedures which frequently cause distress if police are involved. It evidently sometimes appears to onlookers as though bodies are “just left” somewhere for a considerable time, and I’m occasionally asked “couldn’t they show some respect and put them somewhere while they decide what to do”. Just to be clear: there is no confusion about what to do, nor is there any disrespect. A body must always remain under police cordon in the place at which it is found until the Courts approve the removal by forensic teams and transfer to judicial police, usually for autopsy, but always for legal procedures and formalities to be completed.

In cases where there are no police involved, you will need to give the undertakers the full ID of the person who has died, as well as instructions for what is to happen next – is there to be a funeral service, for example? Ask them what services they provide in full, because within 24 hours or so the death will need to be registered at your local Registro Civil; there is a list of registry offices HERE, but if in any doubt, check with your local town hall for the one nearest to you. It is the registry which then issues the formal death certificate (certificado de defunción), and as a foreigner, you will almost certainly be given both Spanish and international copies. Various officials and organizations will need a copy, so get the maximum number of copies permitted. Please note that deaths of British residents in Spain must be registered with the Spanish authorities. After this, if you wish, you can also apply to register the death in the UK, although this is not a requirement (please also see THIS information from the British Government).

The undertaker will take care of many of these arrangements for you, and he can himself only obtain a burial licence after the death certificate has been issued. The body should be cremated or buried within two days of death. If it is to be buried, it will be interred in a wall niche in the municipal cemetery; these niches are leased from the local authority, and once the pre-agreed period (normally between 1 and 50 years) has expired, the body is usually moved to a communal burial ground. Many people, particularly expatriates, prefer to be cremated, and this needs to be clarified from the start with doctor and funeral directors. A formal funeral can be arranged, or in the absence of relatives or as a result of personal preference, no funeral service as such need be held, and the funeral directors will return the ashes a few days later.

At this point it will be important to establish whether the deceased made a Will. If this is not known, it can be ascertained by contacting the appropriate registry. This is the Registro de Últimas Voluntades del Ministerio de Justicia. It will also be appropriate to start (or instruct your lawyer to start) probate proceedings, since inheritance tax (see HERE) on any bequests must be paid within six months to avoid incurring any penalties for late payment. It cannot be stressed enough that dying intestate in one’s own country is bad enough; dying intestate in a foreign country with different inheritance laws is hardly worth thinking about. To avoid triggering an Intestado Estate Transfer process, and the possibility of Spanish rather than British inheritance law applying to an estate, please do consider getting a Spanish Will drawn up.

If the body is to be taken back to the UK, this, like funeral choices, needs to be clarified from the start when the doctor first issues the death certificate. You should be aware that expenses may be covered by travel or life insurance, and that any bodies transported must be embalmed beforehand. This obviously does not apply to cremated remains, but airlines have to agree to carry the ashes when arrangements are made to transport them. Whether the deceased’s body or ashes are returning to the UK, their ID, death certificate, and a certificate of cremation if applicable must be carried along with them. Permission must also have been obtained from the authorities here in Tenerife to allow the body to be removed from Spain. Don’t forget that there will be some help available from the consulate in such circumstances, though such help will be of a practical and advisory nature, rather than financial; the consulate will also help smooth your arrival in the UK with the remains of your loved one.

Finally, do bear in mind the possibility that the person who has died may have wished to pass on some organs to other people. Spain is a world leader when it comes to organ donation, and it is not necessary here to carry a donor card because the country operates an opt-out system. In other words, we are assumed to be donors unless we actively take steps to ensure that our organs cannot be taken after our death. Families are almost always informed and consulted by doctors where the death occurred in a hospital, but if at home, it might be something to discuss with the attending doctor and funeral directors at the earliest opportunity. Alternatively, if the deceased wished for their entire body to be donated to science, arrangements will need to be made with the relevant legal and scientific authorities (see below).

When the initial arrangements have been finalised, it will then be necessary to begin the sad task of informing all the organizations which will need to be told of the death. In Spain, these include the Ayuntamiento for removal of registration from the Padron; Tráfico to cancel any driving licence; the Policía Nacional for deregistration from the lists of foreigners resident in Spain; and any bank in which the deceased had an account. British authorities which will need to be informed include the Dept for Work and Pensions (DWP) if the deceased was a pensioner; the Inland Revenue if tax resident in the UK; and again any banks with which the deceased held accounts. Insurance companies, whether here or in Spain, also need to be informed to begin the process to recover life insurance or other relevant policies.

The UK Government has issued THIS information leaflet on what to do when someone dies abroad.



I have been asked several times about the possibility of leaving a body to science in Tenerife. Sometimes this has been for practical reasons, perhaps to avoid funerary expenses, but at other times people genuinely want to do something useful with their body after their death.

A promotional campaign has been running for around five years now to inform the public on the possibility of donating a body to science, and Diario de Avisos has a piece (HERE), for example, on “the dead who give life”, perhaps by giving students the means to learn from practical experience, or by allowing doctors and forensic scientists to test or improve surgical or pathological techniques.

It’s important to note that written consent needs to be given in advance. Since the beginning of 2014, it is no longer necessary for the donor to have his/her signature witnessed by a consular officer. The form to complete and submit is HERE – it’s in English thanks to the British Consulate. The potential donor must print and complete two forms and have a witness sign them both.  A photocopy of both the donor and the witness’s passport must accompany the forms when they’re sent to the appropriate department at the University; the instructions are on the form. It’s important that the donor reads all the information at the back of the form as it gives examples of when a body may be refused by the University. In this case the family would need to make alternative arrangements.

Apart from sending the form by post, the donor can take it personally to the University, or take it to any Tenerife Cabildo Registry Office and Citizen Service Centre. They facilitate the relationship with the government offices and movement of paperwork within public administrations and they can send the form officially to the University (no charge involved).  The address for the one in Tenerife South is:

Oficina de Registro y Servicio al Ciudadano, Calle Roque de Jama s/n, Edificio Verodal, Local 7 letra A, bajo, Los Cristianos. Tel: 901 501 901.  English is spoken in this office and they can also provide information on other Cabildo Services.

There are registry offices all over the island, however, and they are listed HERE.

While on the general subject, I am sometimes asked about blood donation because there are often calls for blood donations, whether because supplies in general are running low or because a particular group is needed. Unfortunately, anyone, whether British or not, who was in the UK for more than twelve months (consecutively or in total) between January 1980 and December 1996, the period in which meat was not controlled cannot heed these calls because Spain, like most other EU countries, has rules in place due to fears about CJD. This information has been confirmed to me personally by the British Foreign Office, and in addition, the Spanish emergency services confirm it thus:

En relación a su consulta, por normativa de la UE, no puede trasfundirse sangre de personas (británicos o no) que hayan estado más de 12 meses (consecutivos o en total) en Reino Unido entre 1980 y 1996, la etapa en la que la carne no estaba controlada.


  1. Hi Janet,
    May I ask if you know what happens regarding joint bank accounts after the death of one of the account holders.
    Thanks, Fiona

  2. Author

    Hi Fiona, the official answer is that when it is informed of the death of an account holder, the bank freezes the account until all procedures are completed. The real answer is that normally banks are helpful in this situation and assist the surviving account holder to set up a new sole account, transfer all funds and direct debits, etc, and only then freeze the old joint account.

  3. Hello Janet, have there recently been some changes made to the wording of Spanish wills? I remember seeing a comment on you forum but cannot find it again. My husband and I both have Spanish wills drawn up in 2007 and we also have UK wills.
    My second query is : in respect of Spanish wills we plan to update them later this year.Do you advise splitting the assets 50-50 between surviving partner and other beneficiaries to reduce inheritance taxes? Our property is worth approximately £1000.00.
    Thanks, Vivien

  4. Author

    Yes, the issue with Wills applies to residents, and the detail is HERE. As to splitting assets between heirs, yes, that is confirmed advice from tax specialists. Bear in mind, too, that there are to be changes from January to inheritance tax, effectively wiping the tax out completely … we are yet to know the detail, but the measure is confirmed as being introduced.THIS is what we know so far.

  5. Hi Janet, is it nessessary to have a will here as well as at home, my wish would be to be cremated here, as it would save my children a lot of worry !

  6. Author

    It’s not a legal necessity, but it simplifies and expedites matters, and so is highly recommended.

  7. Hi Janet
    My partner & I have just arrive in Cehegin & already been approach by a funeral plan guy!! as I have my funeral plan sorted in the uk do you think it’s advisable to take another plan here as mine like many others in the small print!! only cover the area when taken out & hate to think my family will be stuck with expense in getting my ashes back to the uk or my partner!!!!

  8. Author

    I really don’t know how to answer this. Will you be living in Spain? Spending most of your time here? It’s impossible to know where and when we’re going to die, but if you spend equal time here and the UK, and have a funeral plan in the UK, then it’s possible to argue that you should have a plan in both places. But that would be costly, and it’s possible for the body of someone who dies in Spain to be repatriated to the UK, possibly under insurance – and the type of policy you have for travel is another unknowable. I’m sorry but the issue of insurance is too personal, and too complex, to allow a simple answer.

  9. I have been quoted around 5000/5500 for a funaral plan so it will all be taken out of my hands or my partners to save unnessersary upset but that is in Lanzarote it seems a bit steep or am I wrong. also our wills are made out to each other if something happens but have been told as they were done about 10 years ago they might noy be valad ,can you help clear this up for me befor I spend more money

  10. Author

    There are two separate issues here. Funeral plans involve paying up front for a funeral, and obviously could eventually far exceed the actual cost at the time of engaging an undertaker to arrange everything. Some people, however, prefer to know that everything is taken care of in advance, and choose these plans. Evidently it’s not possible for me to offer any sort of statement of relative value: it’s a matter for the person taking out the plan to “shop around” and compare like for like policies and plans.

    As to Wills, however, yes there are new regulations. Please see HERE where I hope you’ll find it all explained.

  11. A sad but necessary article with very helpful advice.

    Anyone requiring a no obligation quote and coverage details for SegurCaixa funeral insurance please contact me at The insurance covers all costs and formalities necessary when a person dies and assists the family members in these difficult times. It gives support to the families of the insured by simplfying all the bureaucratic formalities with funerals both burials and cremations. No health questionnaire required. Tenerife Adeslas Insurance Agent.

  12. I live her in Tenerife and are From Denmark so I still pay tax in denmark
    I like to know.How much will it cost for a simpel funeral
    Urne and no coffin,my friend will keep the Urne.Can i Make a insurance

  13. Author

    Yes, you can take out funeral insurance, but in my opinion one ends up paying over time far in excess of what the actual cost would have been. The most simple funeral arrangements I have known have been €1,500, which will be a cremation, ashes returned in an urn direct from the crematorium, and no service. Normally with a service included and the arrangements made by an undertaker, it’s nearer €3,000.

    Those who die in hospital and have no money at all, and no dependents able to pay, can have what we used to call in the UK a “pauper’s burial”, which is carried out by the hospital for free, with the ashes placed with the merest of respects in an unmarked niche (though there is an identity number, so it’s not an “unknowable” niche).

  14. Anyone wishing more information on funeral insurance can read up about what it covers on my blog.
    You don’t end up paying in excess over time with the Adeslas plan, for example, a 50 year old pays 51,24€ per year, if they lived to 100 that would equate to €2,562. Upon death the capital insured is €4,201 to cover the funeral burial or cremation + €6,000 accidental capital assurance for their heir.

  15. I an a funeral celebrate and am trying to find out what happens to a person who dies in a nursing home and has no family, I hope you can help, thank you

  16. Author

    As I replied to Peter Berg above, those who die with no money at all, and no dependents able to pay, can have what we used to call in the UK a “pauper’s burial”, which is carried out by the hospital for free, with the ashes placed with very simple ceremony in an unmarked niche (though there is an identity number, so it’s not an “unknowable” niche).

  17. Plese can you tell me where i can get the forms for body donations thanks

  18. Author

    You can download it from the link in the third paragraph of the Donating a Body section just above.

  19. I have been asked by a friend who is a resident here how to opt out of the automatic donor scheme?

  20. Author

    Technically, Spain operates a “presumed consent” system rather than an “opt-out” one, but doctors are required to check where possible that a deceased person *did not* make it clear that they did not want to donate organs. In other words, they must “verify the absence of opposition”. To do this they normally speak to family, and of course if the deceased had a donor card then that would prove that the deceased was not at all opposed to donation!

    Where someone actively seeks to ensure they are not made a donor after they die, therefore, they need 1) to make it very clear to their nearest and dearest who might be interviewed by doctors that they oppose this, and 2) not to have a donor card.

    Thirdly, they could also register their instructions in the Registro de Intrucciones Previas. This is something that’s managed at regional level so all regions will have one. In the Canaries, it’s HERE, and it is essentially a Living Will.

  21. Janet, Thank you for the explanation, I will pass it on to my friend. Not sure why she is so worried as she is late 70’s!!!

  22. Hi, can you tell me what happens to an unclaimed body and how can I find out about the details of a death of a relative,

  23. Author

    I don’t know for certain but would imagine that an unclaimed body would be buried in a niche with a minimal plaque in a similar way to those who die with no-one able to pay for funerary services. As to the details of a relative’s death, the Consulate will be the first port of call.

  24. Hi Janet,
    I am a resident here in Tenerife and also tax resident, do I need a separate English will to deal with my UK bank accounts and Shares or does the recently signed Spanish will suffice ?

  25. Author

    As a British national you would normally have an English Will as well as a Spanish one, but it will depend on the terms of the Will you recently signed. The person who helped you or the notary where you signed will need to confirm.

  26. We took our forms for donating our bodies to science to the registry office in Los Cristianos and she would not accept them as they were in English not Spanish. We now intend to post them so do we post 2 forms each and 1 copy of ours and witness’s passport?

  27. Author

    Yes, the instructions as above from the Consulate are to fill out the form and submit it as two forms both signed by a witness, with a photocopy of both the donor and the witness’s passport.

  28. Dear Janet,

    Researching family history and found out that an uncle had died suddenly in the Playas Los Americas hotel Adeje (Palm Beach), Tenerife in 1989. How would I find out what hospital he was taken to, or what funeral director dealt with him before bringing him home to the UK?

  29. Author

    I don’t know, Garry, I’m sorry. The best I can suggest is finding someone who dealt with him at the time, maybe contact the Consulate to see if they have any records of helping a British national around that time.

  30. Dear Janet,
    My partner and I are residents of Spain living on our own land in the rural mountain side of Barcelona area. My mother is now reaching her old age and wishes to have a burial upon her death. I want to have her burial on our land and would like to know how can I go about to do that? … please advice.

  31. Author

    As far as I’m aware, the law requires burials in approved locations, so normally niches or cemeteries. I don’t know of any penalties that can be imposed on anyone who breaks the law and buries someone in their own land but the Courts can, if they become aware of the situation, require an exhumation. Do bear in mind, however, that there might be regional differences, and so you should check what deviations from national law exist in Catalonia.

  32. hello Janet
    I am trying to find out where I can get some information on someone who died in Tenerife in 1994. he was a British citizen living there. Any help would be gratefully accepted

  33. Author

    I would have thought a reasonable starting point would be the Consulate to see if there are any records they keep from that time where their involvement was pretty likely.

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