Dying is the last thing I intend to do, but it seems where you die can make quite a big difference. Dying in Spain doesn’t only leave your British-trained friends and family with a language barrier to be surmounted, it is handled completely differently.
In the UK the process between death and farewell takes a while: apart from anything else there’s frequently a wait of a week or more for a date at the crematorium, there could even be an inquest, and it means lots of time for that assembling of the bereaved for a service somewhere along the line. So if you want that sort of delay, do try not to die in Spain.
Say you’re in Spain visiting a friend who drops dead, or falls down the stairs and breaks their neck (don’t let’s dwell but these things happen) here’s what you do and don’t do
- Phone the policia on 112 (the operators speak English) who will arrive pretty quickly.
- Normally the policia will accept the death as an unsuspicious tragedy. There is no mortuary van or private ambulance system here. They will call the nearest funeral director.
- He will bring a body release form. If you sign that form, you have just committed to paying all funeral expenses. He won’t take the body if you won’t. So this is definitely the point to look in your friend’s wallet for any card showing pre-planned funeral arrangements. If there is one, all is well, the funeral director will take the body and deal with the plan-holders, who will also know what arrangements were desired.
- The default procedure is overnight at the closest tanatorio, cremation booked for the first slot available the next day, off in a plain basic coffin to the crematorium by hearse, there’s a service for any hastily assembled friends and relatives, the funeral director may choose to add a flourish or two such as releasing a hundred white doves, and in the fullness of time an urn in handed over. All done and dusted. If you signed that body release form for your friend, and there’s no funeral plan to bail you out, that’s several thousand euros, ta very much.
- Autopsies are, for the main part, only required by the State for car accident victims, and while the authorities pick up that tab, they don’t pick up the tab for any storage delays. This is a hot country. Storage at a tanatorio can cost up to 1000 euros a day depending on location, time of year, demand: hence the speed, hence the expense.
Take the bloke who dropped dead on holiday in a rented cabin on a Friday night – the policia came, decided there was nothing suspicious, and called a funeral director to collect the body. The couple’s travel insurance didn’t specify what it would cover and his distracted wife couldn’t learn more, or sort out any finances, until Monday. Okay, said the funeral director, I’ll be back Monday.
And he left, leaving the bloke on the floor of the kitchen.
Or the chappie who was on holiday in another part of the country. He was covered for death expenses, had his card with all the contact numbers, and the hotel phoned the funeral planners and his next-of-kin. Quite a shock for his son, but after two days he got his head together enough to phone the funeral company to ask what happens next, when should the funeral be . . . there was an awkward pause. Um. Your dad was cremated yesterday.
This is no criticism of the Spanish system, which is sensible, efficient, and the accepted way of life death – but it isn’t something you want to learn the hard way, especially if you fall in with an unscrupulous or overly sentimental funeral director and the costs spiral higher than those doves.
The lesson here for the future customer is if you want to make specific arrangements, make them in advance, and make them easy to find. The policia routinely notify your banco, which will freeze your account(s) instantly, so it also makes sense for any couple with a joint bank account to have separate emergency funds. If nothing else, that will also pay for the rather nice Spanish tradition, in some areas, of a street party open to all in memory of the friend gone before.
A surprisingly large number of people plan to leave their bodies to medical research – unless you have a very unusual condition, that is no longer usually an option (anywhere – supply has exceeded demand) and even when it is you will still be expected to pay those tanatorio rates.
Although I’m not planning any imminent demise I don’t want to leave my daughter, who speaks no Spanish and lives a thousand miles away, tangling with technicalities: it seemed a good idea to get that useful card from English-speaking professionals tucked into my wallet, with a copy in my car documents. Too awkward to otherwise have some hapless guest here faced with the choice of either having to sign for my lavish arrangements, or stepping over my crumpled body at the bottom of the stairs for a few days, eh? So I am now sorted.
Ever researching on your behalf,