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​The Cost of Expats Dying Letters from the Canary Islands by Barrie Mahoney

'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

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​The Cost of Expats Dying

The Cost of Expats Dying

With the exception of articles about receiving British television in Spain, the most popular article on my ‘Living in Spain and the Canary Islands’ website continues to be ‘Death in Spain’, which is why I repeat the publication of this article from time to time. Death is a subject that no one really wants to talk about, but most wise expats know that they should give it some thought, if only to spare their loved ones’ unnecessary problems during a distressing time.

I came face to face with this issue several years ago following the death of a good friend living in Spain. Peter had no living relatives either in Spain or in the UK, and it was left to local friends to ensure that his wishes were carried out. Peter had willed his body for medical research, but because he died of cancer, the body was rejected by the research institute. Peter had expressed no other wishes, and his friends therefore decided that cremation would be the next best alternative.

Meanwhile, Peter’s body was resting in a makeshift mortuary in a private hospital, which sadly also doubled up as a laundry and storage room, with open doors to the car park outside the building. It was imperative that the body be moved as a matter of urgency, because of the heat of the summer. It is not due to lack of sensitivity, but for good reason, that most bodies are either cremated or buried within two or three days of death in most parts of Spain and the Canary Islands.

Calls to the funeral directors revealed that they would require a deposit of around 4000 euros before they would even remove the body from the hospital. By that time, Peter’s bank accounts had already been frozen, and it was unlikely that there were sufficient funds available in the account anyway. It was up to Peter’s friends to collect the funds necessary to pay the undertakers before the body could be moved. Eventually, the deposit was paid, and the funeral company removed the body from the hospital; the funeral and cremation could then go ahead.

As a friend witnessing these events during a distressing period, it made me realise that everyone, and certainly all expats, should make provision for their passing to avoid unnecessary distress and burdens placed upon those that are left. Although it was always something that I had intended to do, this experience made me visit a Spanish insurance company that had been highly recommended a few days after the funeral. For a very modest monthly premium, both my partner and myself are now fully covered - nothing too fancy, just a dignified, and hopefully efficient, end of a story.

Although I am not going to make any recommendations as to the best companies to insure with, I would urge all expats to take out some kind of cover, unless wealthy enough to have a substantial reserve of cash that is readily available to the next of kin. Readily available is the key phrase here, since bank accounts in Spain are rapidly frozen upon death, which can make access to funds difficult at a time when it is most needed.

There are currently many insurance companies advertising funeral plans to expats, with some requiring substantial payments up front. Realising that there is a ready market in expat death, headlines such as “Funeral Costs Rising at a Shocking Rate”, and depressing graphs showing “The Cost of Dying” are currently appearing in many online publications (my apologies if one appears next to this article, but I have no control over it). Of course, these advertisements are meant to frighten as well as to inform, but they do have a useful function in alerting expats to potential problems that they may face.

Experience tells me that whilst some may prefer to pay the full cost of their funeral up front, it is not necessary, and good, basic cover is available for a reasonable monthly or annual premium. For me, a Spanish insurance company with a good track record, together with recommendations from friends was the best choice. As with most of the larger purchases in life, carefully shop around for the best prices and ask questions before you commit yourself.

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© Barrie Mahoney

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