Bereavement benefits: what are survivors entitled to in Spain?

The Spanish National Social Security Institute (Instituto Nacional de la Seguridad Social, hereinafter 'INSS') provides various social benefits in the event of the death of a spouse, partner, parent or close relative. Applying for these pensions is relatively simple, but the conditions that must be met by beneficiaries are many and often depend on more specific details that must be examined in each individual case.

In principle, widows’ and widowers’ pensions (hereafter "widow's pension/s"), orphans’ pensions and relatives’ pensions (in Spanish "pensión en favor de familiares") are among the pensions due to death, that is, those pensions that require the death of the insured person as a condition for being granted. In addition, the INSS provides a death benefit or grant (in Spanish "auxilio por defunción"), which is mainly intended to compensate for funeral expenses incurred.

Who is entitled to these pensions? What are the conditions that applicants must meet and what are the deadlines? These and other questions are answered below.

Widow's Pension / Bereavement Allowance

As is the case in Germany, for example, the widow's pension replaces the widow's maintenance. It is therefore a lifelong financial support paid to those who had a marital relationship or a registered partnership with the deceased and who meet the statutory requirements.

The INSS provides an application form which can be submitted online (with digital certificate) or at the Centros de Atención e Información de la Seguridad Social (CAISS). The INSS is responsible for granting this form, except in the case of maritime workers (in which case the Instituto Social de la Marina is responsible) and if insured persons die as a result of an accident at work (in which case the Professional Social Security Association is responsible). Another exception is the civil servants of the Spanish State, who until now have depended on the Tax Office, that is the Directorate General of Personnel Costs ("Dirección General de Costes de Personal"), and due to the restructuring of the ministries by one of the royal decrees issued by the Spanish Government in the context of the emergency measures due to COVID-19, from 6 October 2020 on they will also depend on the INSS or rather the Ministry of Integration, Social Security and Migration.

There is no deadline for claiming the widow's pension. There is no limitation of a claim for a widow's pension either. However, if the application is submitted outside the first three months after death, the pension is paid with a maximum retroactive effect of three months from the date of application. However, if the application is submitted within the first three months after the death, the pension is paid as follows: A) If the deceased was affiliated to the general social security system or in an equivalent situation: from the day after the date of the causal event. B) If the deceased was a pensioner: from the first day of the month following the date of the causal event.

The pension is cancelled if the widow/widower remarries or enters into a new civil partnership, although this does not happen if the survivor is older than 61 or younger but has a disability of more than 65%, or if the survivor can prove that the widow/widower's pension is his or her main source of income and that this together with that of the new partner does not exceed a certain amount.

The pension is irrevocably and definitively cancelled if a final judgement declares that the survivor was guilty of the death of the insured or if it is established that the person declared dead is not dead. The beneficiary of the widow's pension cannot transfer his or her entitlement further, and the pension entitlement therefore also expires on the death of the beneficiary.

Entitlement to a widow's pension only arises if the deceased was registered with the general social security system or in an equivalent situation and the deceased had paid social contributions for at least 500 days in the previous five years. If a registration was no longer registered, a minimum contribution period of 15 years is required. If the death is due to an industrial accident or occupational disease, no minimum contribution period is required.

If the deceased insured person received a contributory retirement pension or was entitled to it at the time of death without having applied for it; or if he was a pensioner with a permanent disability or was entitled to benefits for temporary incapacity to work and the insured person completed the contribution period required in these cases, a widow's pension is also payable. Temporary incapacity for work also includes incapacity for work due to the risk associated with pregnancy, maternity or paternity, or the risk associated with breastfeeding.

The surviving spouse must prove either that there were joint children with the deceased or, if not, that the marriage had been contracted at least one year before death. Otherwise, a temporary (not life-long) widow's pension can be claimed. However, a civil partner must prove that the civil partnership had been duly registered 2 years before the death of the insured person and that they had lived together permanently for the previous 5 years without either of them being married to or separated from another person during that time.

If the survivor was divorced or legally separated from the deceased and received a compensatory pension which ends on death, the survivor is entitled to claim a widow's pension. In the case of separations or divorces before 1 January 2008, the requirement for a compensatory pension is not necessary if no more than ten years have passed between the separation and death and if there are joint children or if the survivor is over 50. From 1 January 2013, people over 65 years of age who are not entitled to another pension and whose marriage has lasted for more than 15 years will also be entitled to a widow's pension, without having to draw a supplementary pension.

In general, the pension is 52% of the monthly insurance contribution base (“base reguladora”), although in certain cases (from 2018 and 2019) it can be 56% and up to 60% (if you are over 65 years old; do not receive any other Spanish or foreign state pension; have no income from work carried out for others or on a self-employed basis; have no capital income, capital gains or income from economic activities exceeding € 7,569.00 per year), and even up to 70% in the case of other family burdens and low income.

In any case, there are minimum amounts, which in certain cases are guaranteed by law, even if the amount resulting from their calculation is lower.

For certain civil servant collectives, a special rule of 50% of the insurance contribution base applies. Under certain conditions, the pension percentage increases by four points and from 2019 by eight points. Furthermore, no minimum contribution period is provided for civil servants.

The widow's pension is compatible with any earned income and with the retirement or permanent disability pension to which the beneficiary is entitled.

Relatives’ pension

The relatives’ pension is paid to family members who lived with the deceased or were financially dependent on the deceased for at least 2 years before the death and who meet certain conditions.

The application procedure is the same as for the widow's pension. The competent authorities are also the same (with the same exceptions -s. maritime workers, accidents at work and civil servants). The application is not subject to a time limit, nor is the claim subject to the statute of limitations.

Beneficiaries may be grandchildren, siblings, parents and grandparents of the deceased. Also children if the deceased was a pensioner or had a permanent incapacity to work. In order to receive this benefit, beneficiaries may not receive any other public assistance and must prove a lack of means of subsistence.

Similarly to the widow's pension, the deceased must have a minimum contribution period. The pension amounts to 20% of the insurance contribution base. Only in special cases can the percentage be increased further.

If the deceased was a civil servant, there are also special features for this type of pension. The relatives’ pension is reserved for the deceased’s parents, provided that they are financially dependent on their late child at the time of death and there is neither a spouse or ex-spouse, civil partner nor children entitled to a pension. Each parent is entitled to a pension equal to 15% of the insurance contribution base (or 7.5% if the civil servant was declared unfit for work or was subsequently granted a special pension).

Entitlement to the general relatives' pension lapses for various reasons: in the case of the insured's grandchildren and siblings, by reaching a maximum age, by adoption, termination of incapacity for work, marriage, death, or because the insured declared dead has not died. The last three reasons also apply to the insured's parents, children and siblings of pensioners.

Orphan's pension and financial assistance in case of death

The application procedure and official administrative responsibility –with the pertinent exceptions– also applies to the orphan's pension and financial support from the national insurance system in the event of death.

It is mainly the children of the deceased who are entitled to an orphan's pension. Under certain circumstances, however, the children of the surviving spouse are also entitled.

In any case, the children must meet the following conditions: they must be under 21 years of age or older but then prove total permanent incapacity to work or suffer from a severe disability. If the orphan is in education and turns 25 during the school year, the orphan's pension continues to be paid until the first day of the month following the start of the next school year. In the case of a simple orphanhood, i.e. if one parent survives and the orphan does not work or his or her income is below the gross minimum wage, the 25-year age limit will apply from 2014. Until that date, the age limit will increase gradually: in 2011, 22 years; in 2012, 23 years; and in 2013, 24 years.

If the deceased died before 01.01.2008, he or she must have a minimum contribution period, as in the case of the widow's pension and relatives' pension, unless the deceased was already a pensioner. Deaths after 01.01.2008 are not affected by this rule if the deceased was registered with the general social security system or in an equivalent situation. A minimum contribution period is also not required if the death occurred as a result of an accident at work or work-related illness.

In general, the orphan's pension is 20% of the monthly insurance contribution base (25% for civil servants' children if the orphan is an only child), the exact percentage depending very much on the deceased's employment situation, the date of death and the cause of death. If the deceased was employed by the Spanish State, the pension also depends on the number of children. In the case of orphans (both parents are deceased), the pension increases accordingly. The orphan's pension is compatible with the earned income of a person who is or was married to the deceased or of the orphan himself/herself, and, where applicable, with the widow's pension that the wife or husband of the deceased was receiving. However, in certain situations, the pension may be suspended or incompatible with other social security benefits.

However, entitlement to an orphan's pension, which, like widows' and relatives' pensions, is not subject to any time limit or limitation period, ceases when the maximum age is reached (except in the case of incapacity), by adoption, termination of incapacity for work, marriage, death or because the insured person declared dead has not died.

The financial support provided by the social security system in the event of death –similar to UK’s funeral expenses payment– is intended to help cover funeral costs. It is available to those who have paid for these. Unless the contrary is proven, the beneficiaries would be the following persons: the spouse, the survivor of a civil partnership, the children of the deceased who usually lived with him or her, or the family members who lived with the deceased.

The claim expires after 5 years. Assistance is also conditional on the insured person's registration with the INSS or an equivalent situation (see allowances for temporary incapacity to work, maternity or paternity, etc.).

However, with an amount of € 46.50, this payment is like a drop in the ocean and is therefore hardly worth mentioning.

An insured person can simultaneously cause different pension claims. If there are several beneficiaries (widow(er), orphans and family members), the sum of the amounts of death and survivors' benefits may not exceed 100% of the corresponding contribution base. This restriction applies to the initial determination of these amounts, but does not affect any periodic revaluations that may be carried out in the future. Orphans’ pensions take precedence over pensions for other family members. However, this limitation does not prevent the recognition of the temporary allowance for family members, since they are not affected by this limitation.

All the pensions mentioned above are centrally (not regionally) regulated, meaning standardised by the State, so the rules apply to all Spanish regions.

May 2020