When someone passes away

Last updated: 23 7 2021

About Sweden – an orientation about Swedish society.

This text is about when someone dies. It talks about funerals and how you can get help in arranging a funeral. It also talks about the period after someone has died and what you need to think about.

Two hands holding a lighted candle.

Photo: Pixabay

This text also talks about inheritance and other legal and financial issues that may come up after someone has died. It also asks you to consider your position on organ donation.

  • Rights and the elderly

    You are entitled to a good life throughout your life. You are entitled not to suffer discrimination because of your age. You are also entitled to good health. You are entitled to social interaction, to an income and to security, regardless of how old you are. You are entitled to participate in society and to feel that you are in control of your life.

    In Sweden, a healthy older person can live an active and meaningful life for many years.

    Just as during other periods in your life, support and help are available when you grow old. This is known as care for the elderly and is part of the Swedish welfare state.

Dying is sometimes also called passing away, and the person who died can be called the deceased. It all means the same thing. Most people who die in Sweden do so in a hospital or a care home. If a person dies at home, a doctor must be called to declare the person dead. If the person was recently in care, you can contact the care staff who were in charge – they can see to it that a doctor is sent. You can also call the 112 emergency number and explain what has happened.

Sometimes a doctor has to examine the dead body to establish why the person died. In that case, the body will be taken to a hospital. Different cultures and religions treat bodies in different ways. If you have any special wishes for how the body should be treated, tell the people who come to retrieve the deceased.

You are always given time to say goodbye to the person who has died. In hospitals and care homes, there are special rooms in which family and relatives can see the body and say goodbye to the person who has died. The room often has dimmed lighting and a burning candle, and perhaps flowers in a vase. You may have other wishes. The care services always try to ensure that you and your family are able to say goodbye in the way you wish to.

When a person dies, it is sometimes possible to remove organs from the dead body and give them to a person with a disease who needs to replace an organ. This is known as organ donation. If you would like to donate your organs after death, you should tell your family. You can also register with the Donation Register, which you can do on the website of the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen). Donating your organs may mean giving another person the chance to live a better and longer life than they otherwise would have.

  • Questions to think about

    What traditions are there surrounding death in the country or countries where you lived previously?

    What are your thoughts about organ donation?

Funerals

Funerals can often be adapted to different customs and traditions. This may be important to the person who has died and to their family.

It is common for people to hire a funeral director for a funeral. A funeral director is a company specialised in helping families plan and arrange funerals. You can hire a funeral director regardless of what religious beliefs you have. You can also contact a priest, a rabbi, an imam or any other religious leader for help in planning the funeral. Another option is to contact the municipality's funeral agent (begravningsombud), which is an official whose task is to ensure that people who are not members of the Church of Sweden can be buried in a way that is appropriate for them.

Ceremonies

Funeral ceremonies can be held in various places, such as a church, a chapel, or some other religious building. In that case, a religious leader will officiate, or direct the ceremony. You can also choose to have a funeral without religious rites. This is known as a non-religious, humanist, or civil celebration funeral, and can be held in a sepulchre chapel in a cemetery, in a garden or in a nature setting, for example.

Burial and cremation

The Swedish tradition is to place the body in a coffin. In a burial, the entire coffin is lowered into a grave dug in the ground of a cemetery or burial ground. In cremation, the coffin and body are burned to ashes. The ashes are then put in an urn, and the urn lowered into a grave dug in the ground of a cemetery or burial ground. You can choose whether you want your own grave with a gravestone or if the ashes should be placed in a memorial grove. You can also spread the ashes in some other place, for example, a place that held a special value for the deceased. To do so, you need to apply for permission from the County Administrative Board.

Under the Funerals Act (Begravningslagen), burial of a coffin or cremation must take place within a month of the death. In some religions, the deceased has to be buried within a few days. This is usually possible to arrange.

If you want to bury the deceased abroad, a funeral director can help you with transport arrangements.

Inform family, relatives and friends

It is important that you inform the family, relatives and friends of the deceased as soon as possible. Government agencies and insurance companies are automatically informed of the death, but not all companies the deceased may have done business with. There may be newspaper subscriptions, phone contracts and other contracts that you have to cancel. Otherwise they will keep sending bills. You may also want to close the person's social media accounts.

The death of a family member is often a traumatic experience. It is difficult to keep track of everything you need to do when you are sad and grieving.

Efterlevandeguiden is a website with a checklist for survivors of a deceased person. Use it to help you keep track of what you need to do during the period immediately following the death.

Inheritance law

When a person dies, someone else takes over their money and belongings. This is known as inheritance. There are inheritance laws that determine who is entitled to inherit. Inheritance law is different for married and unmarried couples.

If the deceased was married

If the deceased was married, their partner inherits everything they owned. Any children the deceased had with the partner receive their inheritance when the partner dies. But if the deceased had children with another person, those children will receive their share of the inheritance straight away.

If the deceased was not married

If the deceased was not married, the children inherit everything. If the deceased had no children, the parents receive the inheritance. If the parents are dead, the siblings of the deceased or the siblings' children receive the inheritance.

If there is no one to receive the inheritance

If there is no one who is entitled to receive the inheritance, the deceased person's money and belongings are given to the Swedish Inheritance Fund (Allmänna arvsfonden). This is a fund that finances projects that contribute to improving conditions for children, young people and people with functional impairments.

Inheritances to children under the age of 18

If a child under the age of 18 receives an inheritance, the child will be helped by a legal representative (trustee) to manage the inheritance. A trustee is a person who helps people who are unable or not allowed to manage their financial affairs. Trustees are appointed by the municipality.

Will

If you draw up a will, you can decide who is going to receive your inheritance when you die. There are rules you have to follow, however. If you have children, for example, they are always entitled to receive their share of the inheritance. Always consult a lawyer before drawing up a will.

People who live together without being married (cohabitants) do not automatically receive each other's inheritance. If a cohabiting couple wants to be each other's inheritors, they have to draw up a will to that effect.

Get help from a lawyer

Dividing an inheritance and managing everything else after a person has died can be difficult, particularly if you are not a Swedish citizen. There is a lot to keep track of, but the funeral director can help you. They usually have their own lawyers or can help you contact a lawyer.

Estate inventory

An estate inventory is a document listing all the assets and liabilities that a deceased person had. Those receiving an inheritance have to make an estate inventory.

Estate

The estate is everything, both money and belongings, that the deceased person leaves behind. Those entitled to the inheritance own the estate together.

Division of the joint property of a couple and distribution of the estate

When someone who was married or a cohabitant dies, all or some of the couple's property has to be divided equally between them. This is known as the division of joint property, and has to be carried out when one partner dies, as there may be other people who are entitled to the property of the deceased. They are called inheritors.

Half of the things in the division of joint property go to the surviving partner. The other half is distributed among the inheritors. This is known as the distribution of the estate. If the deceased person was neither married nor a cohabitant, the distribution of the estate is done straight away, without a preceding division of joint property.

Distribution of the estate

A distribution of the estate is the process by which the inheritors divide the deceased person's belongings and money between them. Examples include money being transferred from the deceased person's account to the inheritor's account, and when an inheritor is allowed to take over the deceased person's flat.