Wednesday, 21 January 2009

A grave problem indeed

(Source: Our fellow blogger and journalist, David Eade, recently published an article in the Costa del Sol News with the title 'A Grave Problem' in which he cites peculiar and alarming incidents about funerals in the area and beyond. He also kindly refers to our own item Living and Dying in Jimena, which is about to undergo some additions. We have reproduced David's entire article, also published on his site,, below.>

A grave problem By David Eade
Hundreds of thousands of ex-pats live happily in Spain but if they happen to die here then in the moments of utmost grief they can leave their partners with major problems. It is usual in Spain for a person to be buried or cremated within 48 hours of their death but those left behind are expected to pay for the funeral costs immediately. Indeed it is literally cash on the coffin with no allowances made for probate or settling of finances. Jimena resident Roger, who parents lived in nearby San Pablo de Buceite, contacted me to tell his appalling tale. Several weeks ago his mother died.

On the morning of her funeral he received a telephone call from the undertaker in Algeciras who informed him he had to pay the full cost before the ceremony in cash. He offered to pay immediately by credit card but was told that was not acceptable. He phoned the bank who allowed him to draw the 3,200 euros required from the ATM machine later that day. Hence after the interment he was driven in the hearse to the bank and whilst the black vehicle waited outside he withdrew the cash. He then sat in the passenger seat and counted out the money before being duly handed the receipted invoice.

Earlier this year in Jimena a widow was asked to pay the 4,300 euros upfront before her deceased husband was moved out of their home into the mortuary in La Línea where he was to be cremated. Again a credit card payment was refused. It was only after the funeral director was repeatedly assured that the wealthy son living in Marbella would settle the account within days that the body was finally removed.

There are numerous other reports in Jimena of cash being demanded up front, family members from the UK travelling to funerals bringing with them thousands of euros to settle the bill or in the rare case where credit had been allowed the widow being chased for the money despite probate in the UK not having been settled.  

So was this a Jimena problem? Did the expats in the village have a bad reputation with funeral directors that warranted the cash up front policy? There is the widely known case of a woman who died some six years ago who is still believed to be “on ice” because her grandchildren have refused to pay the undertakers. Was this affecting their credit rating?

The foreign residents can rest assured that they do not live under a cloud and are being treated no differently than is the norm in Spain but with one exception. I contacted a leading undertaker that has offices from Valencia down to Cádiz and inland to Toledo. I made the enquiry as an ex-pat and via a Spanish colleague to see if there was any difference in the terms offered. There wasn’t. They assured both enquirers that whilst payment was due at the conclusion of the service it could be paid by cheque, in cash or via a bank transfer. Certainly unlike the Jimena experience there was no demand for cash in advance.

On the same basis I then contacted a well-known undertaker in Marbella and again there was no difference based on nationality. Here the terms were slightly different, 50 per cent payment at the time of ordering the service, the balance at the end of the funeral with payment made by cheque, bank transfer or in cash. The Valencia to Cádiz undertaker was reluctant to discuss prices other than a firm quote at the time of need. However the Marbella undertaker quoted from 2,743.23 euros for a funeral with a cremation starting from 2,782.25 euros. There was no price difference for the two nationalities. Those prices are for the very basic provisions and additions such as a more expensive casket can quickly boost the cost. Hence 3,000 euros or more is needed in cash to meet these expenses.

One other word of warning. It is usual at Spanish funerals for just a hearse driver to arrive with the coffin as the men of the family usually then carry it to the church, crematorium or cemetery. Therefore either additional pall bearers must be hired or friends or family should be ready to step in to transport the coffin. One final word.

Alberto Bullrich has compiled an excellent advice page entitled “Living and Dying in Jimena”. You will find it at his website at: – click on the banner on the sidebar. It is packed with general information about the procedures to be followed after a bereavement wherever you live in Spain. It also has helpful tips on the traditions to be honoured by the deceased’s family and how you should react to a death in the family of your Spanish neighbours.

(Prospero comment: as has been commented about several of the incidences reported in Eade's article: Why, in the 21st Century, don't funeral homes accept credit cards? One answer we had from a local funeral home representative is that 'it costs too much', which beggars another question: Why don't they add it to the cost?)


PROSPERO said...

From Capricious
Disturbing news indeed, it must have been dreadful for the family. As funerals happen so quickly in Spain, it does help if you have funeral insurance. I found that the undertakers were wonderful, they arrived quickly at the hospital, we just had to communicate to them that we wanted a simple cremation, no mass, no flowers and no niche and they took care of everything for us very courteously.

On the positive side for Jimena, we now have the San Pablo Tanatorio in operation. Juan, who is in charge of the cemetery could not be more helpful, as are the people in charge of the cafeteria at the Tanatorio. They went out of their way to make things as easy and comfortable as possible for us.

For those of you who opt for cremation, be warned that the crematorium in Algeciras is simply what it’s name suggests and there are no frills or niceties whatsoever. We were lead behind the coffin to a basement resembling a factory floor, the coffin was curtly wheeled up to the furnace and as the furnace door was opened a tatty curtain was snapped shut in our faces. Also, if you want to take the ashes with you, be warned that you will be in for a very long wait of 3-4 hours. Our funeral insurance covered the cost of having the ashes delivered to our house the following day.

Another down side for Jimena is if you are planning on planting a tree with the ashes in the campo, it is likely to get nicked. We planted a beautiful olive and made it obvious why it was there by placing a pile of stones around it. We were horrified to find that within days it had been uprooted and stolen. We have since found out that this has happened to other people, so perhaps the best thing to do is plant a type tree which is not particularly valuable or attractive to thieves.

PROSPERO said...

From Sancho (23/1/2009
Capricious is sadly right about the cremation offered at Algeciras – basic it is. When I returned after three hours to collect the ashes of my partner – I was told -she’s still burning. When I did collect the ashes -the urn was still warm. Not to worry – we all then went for lunch at the El Molino del Conde – when we all huddled round the fire as it was a cold February afternoon -with the urn in a chair by the fire!

PROSPERO said...

From Trish Peterson (24/3/12)
My father was recently cremated at Algeciras crematorium. We were led into a viewing room where the curtains were left partially open. Without warning they opened the coffin of my dear father exposing his dead body to us all (they had to check for any non-burnable items). I cannot express how distressed and traumatised we all felt – it broke our heart to see our father like that. Lack of sensitivity and matter of fact attitude just shocking.

PROSPERO said...

So sorry to hear that, Trish. The fact is, though, that the culture and customs surrounding death are quite different to what Northern Europeans are used to.
To all our readers: You are strongly advised to read Living & Dying in Southern Spain: