Death in Germany
What Red Tape Needs to be Cut

The law regulating the formalities of a person’s death cannot be precisely described on LG2G because this is state law. The German constitution determines that these regulations are determined by the 16 individual federal German states. For this reason, the exact legal situation will be slightly different in various regions. All states have public cemeteries. All states allow via treaties all religious denominations to have their own commentaries – as long as they are formed in a statutory body (Körperschaft des öffentlichen Rechts). If they are not formed in a statutory body and this denomination significantly differs from Christian religious / European traditions, this will raise problems. These problems will not be discussed on LG2G as they are too specific.


What happens in Germany when a person dies? Can I just take the corpse back home? The dead person has left behind his body which nobody really needs.

It is by no means possible to simply wrap the body like a piece of luggage and post it. The office for vital statistics must formally register the death and the body must be buried in a cemetery.

Finally, the nightmare is over. My father has ceased to exist. His body can rot wherever. I don’t want to bury him.

Everyone will understand and respect your motivations but law remains that a dead person must be buried. You, as all other next of kin, will have to bury him.

Well, I don’t care. I am not going to move even my little finger to deal with him. May the other next of kin do so! BTW: Who is next of kin?

Next of kin will typically be:

  • spouse or registered partner,
  • offspring,
  • parents,
  • siblings,
  • partner of a non-married couple, who have been permanently living together,
  • other persons having legal custody of minors,
  • grandparents,
  • grandchildren,
  • other relatives until third generation.

The exact order will depend on who has remained and state law.

Yeah, fine. You still have not convinced me. You are communicating that the heirs have to burry him. Hah! My father has disinherited me. So, that duty passes on to the next.

Nope. You might not be an heir, but that has nothing to do with you being the daughter of your father. Being the daughter of your father means, that you belong to the next of kin. Next of kin have to bury their relatives. The rule to take care of one’s dead relatives exists customarily since the Middle Ages. (Totenfürsorgepflicht)

But I did not have any contact to my dead relative and therefore it is just not fair that I have to bury him. Is that really true??

Yes that is really true. Many courts have decided not in your favor. To wit: OVG Lüneburg on July 9, 2002 (re 8 PA 94/02), VG Koblenz on June 14, 2005 (re 6 K 93/05), VGH Mannheim October 19, 2004 (re 1 S 681/04), VG Karlsruhe, September 10, 2001 (NJW 2002, 3491).

What am I supposed to do with that dead body?

You are to care for:

  • Physician’s examination to testify the death (Leichenschau),
  • Issuance of the physician’s report on the death of a person (Todesbescheinigung),
  • Burial (Begräbnis).
    • Casketing, (Einsargung),
    • Transportation of corpse,(out of dwelling tocold storage as interim and last to cemetery),
    • Physical burial (Beisetzung):which kind of cemetery, type of burial: coffin or cremation – within statutory time limitations.
Wait a second! Are you saying that the corpse must be casketed for burial? Come on! My belief demands that the dead be buried in linens only.

Yes, that is exactly what we wanted to express. The corpse must be buried in a casket. If you have a problem with that, you will need help. Exceptions are imaginable but that will not come easy. Best contact your spiritual leader for support.

What do you mean “kind of cemetery”?

Exactly what was said. You have the option to choose between a normal grave (casketed body), urn grave with grave stone or a completely anonymous burial.

Is there no way around me having to bury that son-of#@!M N?

Well, yes and no – only indirectly. If the deceased person has taken out a death insurance, then you can practically, not legally, delegate this duty to the insurance. Having such insurance is voluntary! So, if you and a next of kin love each other like cats and dogs, then it’s best that either one of you have taken out such an insurance.

Now don’t tell me that since I have to bury him that I also have to take care of the costs?

As a general rule, the heir, who has been obliged to bury a person, has to bear the burial costs – be it directly or by disbursement (§1968 BGB).

Who has to pay for the burial, if the heir cannot pay?

In such cases, those who would have to pay for maintenance of the deceased will have to pay (§§1615, 1615m BGB). In the event that no duty of maintenance exists, the municipal police will substitute the execution of the burial by the next of kin, having the requirement to bury. Though they will later charge them for the costs and the administrative fees.
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My relative innocently died in a traffic accident. Do we really have to pay for the burial costs?

For this case, the law provides a special regulation that the initiator of an accident has to pay these costs (§10 StVG). N.B. There is no possible exculpation for this – so the person who caused the accident has no chance to wiggle out of liability.

That sounds encouraging, my kinfolk was killed by the incompetence of a physician. Can we demand this person to reimburse us for the burial costs?

Yes, §844 BGB provides for such liability.

Since my elder is living in a senior citizens residence, they will surely have to come up with the costs for the burial, or?

Nope. A nursing home or senior citizens residence are not responsible to take care of the costs unless there is a clear contractual obligation to do so (VG Trier, re 2 K 522/06.TR.). If you are not able to personally organize the burial,  consider hiring a burial institution.

What are the typical flowers I can bring to a funeral in Germany?

Due to the gloomy mood and dark color of clothes, flowers on German funerals are typical bright: white or cream colored lilies, roses or callas. Near relatives often throw a red rose into the grave to express their loving bond to the person passed away. Funeral wreaths are typically decorated with pinewood und autumn flowers.

What do these flowers symbolize?

The rose symbolizes love and affection; whereas the red rose is exclusively for a lover, maybe also a parent / or a child at a burial. This flower is also a symbol for the beauty of this person during their life. The calla symbolizes resurrection and the lily both affection and sorrow. The most favorite funeral flower however is the carnation. It stands for love and friendship.

Disgusting! My religion demands that bodies be buried as soon as somehow possible and not three days after death. Best would be on the day death occurred. Now I have to learn that burial may take place earliest after three days. This is outrageous! What can I do to keep my commandment?

Well, exceptions are theoretically possible but religious reasons will not typically give reason for such an exception. If you have a problem with this contact your spiritual leader, (s)he may have a solution for you.

A good German friend of mine has passed away. His relatives have invited me to the funeral. What is the dress code for such event?

This is very simple for men. You are expected to wear a dark blue, if not black suit, white shirt, and black tie. Anything else is an offense! If you do not belong to the funeral party, exceptionally a dark tie will still be appropriate. Women have it almost as easy. They are best to wear black dress, black nylons (when daring or inconvenient, dark skin color nylons will do, best without any embellishments), black hat (if you so wish) and black shoes.

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