Death and Dying

Information on how to proceed in the event of the death of a family member in Colombia. Also information on the repatriation of remains for a burial or cremation...

In the event of a death due to natural causes, a doctor certifies the death and issues a medical certificate. A Notary then submits the death report to the Civil Registry (Registro Civil) in the place where the death occurred.

The registration of a natural death must be done within two days of death, and the following documentation is required by the Notary:

  • Medical certificate certifying the death (Certificado médico)
  • Identification papers for the deceased

In the event of a non-natural death or one that occurs in suspicious circumstances, the National Institute of Medical and Forensic Sciences (Medicina Legal) department carries out an autopsy to determine the cause of death after the prosecutor's office (Fiscalia) has issued the report of their investigation. Once this is concluded a Notary can register the death with the Civil Registry.

In this case, the Notary may require one or more of the following:

  • Court order if the death was suspicious or if is foul play is suspected (Orden Judicial)
  • Police report if the registration is more than two days after death (Oficio de la Fiscalía)
  • Death certificate from the Statistics Office (DANE) (Certificación de defunción del DANE)

The death certificate form (Registro Civil de Defunción) must be completed at the Civil Registry, and the District Health Office (Secretaria Distrital de Salud) can then issue authorisation for cremation or burial.

The original form is kept by the Civil Registry, and two copies are provided; one is for the person registering the death and the other is kept by the National Registry office (Dirección Nacional de Registro Civil de la Registraduría Nacional)

Funeral homes generally organise all notary services and document submission as part of their services.

Other things to take into account following a death are:

  • Autopsies are mandatory if the death is linked to crime or violence, accident, drugs, or if there is no apparent explanation
  • Remains can be kept for up to six months to allow for identification. This can only be done scientifically (DNA, dental records for example)
  • Colombian authorities may request proof of relationship in order establish who is the next-of-kin. This could be in the form of passports, birth certificates and marriage certificates

Cremation and Burial

The most economical and subsequently the most popular method of laying remains to rest in Colombia is through cremation. Other options include burial and the embalming of the body for repatriation.

Cremation must be requested by the next of kin either in person or by power of attorney to authorize the funeral home or local representative to act on their behalf. Permission is likely to be granted unless the body is involved in an ongoing criminal investigation.

Colombian burial plots are usually leased for four-year terms. When the lease expires, remains are exhumed, at a further cost.

There are numerous funeral directors across the country to manage the process and provide the next of kin with all the options and the costs involved.

Repatriation

Bodies may be embalmed and repatriated abroad along with the relevant embalmer's certificate. Embalmers are located throughout the country and funeral homes can provide contact details. The process is done as soon as possible after release from hospital or medical authority and after permission is granted from the next-of-kin. Bodies may be embalmed and repatriated for cremation abroad even if cremation permission has been refused in Colombia.

Repatriation of remains and the cost thereof, is the responsibility of the next of kin. While many embassies and consulates provide a service in assisting with repatriation, it is important to use an experienced funeral home in Colombia that is capable of making the process as easy as possible.

For a list of recommended funeral homes that provide a repatriation service, contact your embassy or consulate in Colombia for guidance.

Documents required for repatriation usually include:

  • Death certificate (Registro Civil de Defunción)
  • Permit for moving the body (Permiso para el traslado de cadáver)
  • Embalming certificate (Certificado de embalsamado)
  • Authorisation from the District Health Office (Certificado sanitario del buen estado del cadáver)
  • Passport of the deceased
  • Cremation certificate (issued with the remains, if relevant) (certificado oficial de cremación)

Consulates and embassies requirements may differ from nation to nation, while requirements for transporting cremated remains will be significantly easier.

Euthanasia

Since 2010, it has been permissible in Colombia to aid the death of a terminally ill patient. The ruling stated that no one can be held criminallly responsible for helping a terminally ill patient to die where clear authorisation has been given. The phrase "terminally ill" was defined by the court as meaning experiencing extreme suffering, from an illness such as AIDS, cancer or organ failure. The ruling specifically noted that this excluded people with degenerative diseases.

Donor Cards

Becoming an organ donor is voluntary in Colombia. The organisation that deals with donations and registration to become a donor is the National Health Institute (Instituto Nacional de Salud - INS).

A card (Carne de donante) can be applied for online after completing the form or from the following: