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What should you do when someone dies in Sweden?

Emma Löfgren
Emma Löfgren - [email protected]
What should you do when someone dies in Sweden?
Navigating Swedish bureaucracy is difficult in the best of circumstances, but what should you do when a loved one dies? Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB Scanpix/TT

They say nothing in life can be certain apart from death and taxes, but if there's a third certainty, it must be Swedish bureaucracy. Here's how to register a death, arrange a funeral and figure out who inherits what.


If your loved one dies unexpectedly at home or elsewhere, you should call Sweden’s emergency number 112. If their death was expected, due to illness or old age, you can call the person’s medical contact if they have one. A doctor will come to the house and confirm their death.

If the person dies in hospital or a care home a doctor will confirm their death.

The doctor will send the death certificate (dödsbevis) to Swedish authorities. As soon as the Tax Agency receives the certificate, they will register the death in the Swedish population register.

Who do I need to inform?

If the person is a foreign citizen, you need to notify the authorities in their home country. If you contact their country’s embassy in Sweden, they will be able to help you figure out the process.

You need to inform people as soon as you can, including friends, family and colleagues.

The first step after that may be to contact a funeral home (begravningsbyrå) who will be able to organise the funeral and the reading of a will, but also advise on what needs to be done next.

One of the first admin tasks is to order a so-called dödsfallsintyg (which also translates as death certificate, but is different from the one the doctor writes) from the Swedish Tax Agency. This will show the date of death and remaining family members, including spouse and children. If you choose to use the services of a funeral home, they will be able to order a dödsfallsintyg for you.

Swedish authorities run a site called Efterlevandeguiden for people who have lost a loved one. It contains among other things a checklist in English for what to do when someone dies (their guide is genuinely very helpful, so we advise having a look if you're in this situation).

A funeral home can help you with as much as you need, but there’s usually a lot of decisions and tasks that you’re best placed to do, so it’s a good idea to get as much help as possible.

Many Swedes don’t like to intrude on other people’s business, so there is a risk you find that fewer people than you expect will reach out to you to offer to help or even send their condolences. In most cases, this is due to a (perhaps misplaced) respect for privacy rather than an unwillingness to help, but we’ve generally found that Swedes, when asked, are more keen to help than you think.


How do I organise the funeral?

Sweden allows a lot more time between the death and the burial than many other countries and cultures, with the laws stating that the burial must take place within one month of the death.

That said, the aim is always to respect the traditions and culture of the deceased person.

All residents in Sweden, including foreign citizens, pay a yearly funeral fee (begravningsavgift – it’s part of your tax statement, so chances are you’ve never noticed you’re paying it). This gives them the right to be buried or cremated in their Swedish home municipality for free.

Most cemeteries in Sweden are public spaces and are run by the Church of Sweden on behalf of the state, which means people from other religions may also be buried there. If you want the Church of Sweden to organise a funeral ceremony for you as well however, the deceased person will have had to be a member of the church in order to receive the ceremony for free.

If you want to spread the person's ashes in a place other than a cemetery, you need to first get permission from the country administrative board (Länsstyrelsen).


Who pays for the funeral?

Some of it, such as a burial plot and a venue in which to hold a ceremony, has already been paid for through taxes, but there may be other expenses such as a fee for the funeral home, flowers, food for the funeral goers, a bespoke coffin, any music you wish to play, and so on.

A funeral usually ends up costing around 20,000-30,000 kronor, which is primarily paid for through the estate (dödsboet). If there’s not enough money, the estate can apply to the social services for financial support in order for the deceased person to receive a dignified burial.

If you want the deceased person to be buried in another country than Sweden, the transport of the coffin or urn will be paid for by the estate, but it could be expensive, so you should also check whether they had travel or home insurance which could cover the cost of transport. 

You need to request documents from the Swedish Tax Agency to transport the body from Sweden. The form is called passersedel för lik or, if the person is cremated in Sweden before their ashes are to be moved abroad, passersedel för stoft.

You also need to get the funeral home to confirm that the coffin or urn is safe for transport and contains what it is said to contain, and you need to get permission from the authorities in the other country.


How do I deal with all the admin?

Again, a funeral home can help you out, but the first step is the death certificate from the Tax Agency. This document will help you not only in organising the funeral, but also in dealing with administrative matters such as cancelling direct debits or contracts, or redirecting post.

Note that banks are automatically informed when someone dies, and then automatically block some of the services used by the deceased until the person’s will has been executed, including joint accounts. If you and your partner have joint bank accounts, it may for this reason make sense for you to also have individual accounts so that you don’t get blocked from all your accounts if your partner dies.

Any outstanding bills that still need to be paid should be paid for by the estate (if there’s money left after paying the funeral and probate costs, which are prioritised). Any debts will also be paid by the estate, or written off. You are not responsible for paying the deceased’s debts yourself.

Before all of this, a so-called bouppteckning will have to be arranged. This is the procedure for going through all of the deceased’s assets and debts. It can be done privately, or with the help of the funeral home, and needs to be submitted to the Tax Agency within four months.

Here’s a useful guide for administering the estate. 


What about inheritance?

In general, the inheritance laws of the country where the deceased lives apply.

In Sweden, if the deceased was not married, but had children, the children inherit. 

If the children are no longer alive, their children, i.e. the grandchildren of the deceased person, are next in line, followed by the great grandchildren (and so on, if they exist).

If there are no direct descendants left, inheritance passes to parents, followed by siblings, nieces or nephews, grandparents, and aunts or uncles. 

Cousins do not automatically have inheritance rights, and note that neither do sambos (co-habiting but non-married couples) unless they are listed in the deceased’s will. 

If there’s a will, it trumps the above order with one major exception: direct heirs (bröstarvingar), i.e. children, grandchildren et cetera, always have the right to half of their inheritance, the so-called legal share (laglott).

If the person was married, a division of joint assets (bodelning) first needs to be carried out to see how many of their assets belong to the estate and how many belong to the surviving spouse – unless they did not have children, in which case all their assets are automatically inherited by their spouse.


If the deceased and their spouse had children together, the spouse inherits everything and is allowed to spend the assets as they wish as long as he or she is alive. Their joint children are only entitled to their share of the inheritance – whatever is left – once both parents are dead.

If the deceased had children with someone else before they married their current spouse, those children (known as särkullbarn) have the right to get their share of the inheritance before their parent's spouse dies. They are however free to waive this right in favour of the surviving spouse.

There's no inheritance tax in Sweden.

The above guide tries to address some of the main matters, but barely scratches the surface. Do you have any specific questions about what to do when a loved one dies in Sweden? You're always welcome to email our editorial team at [email protected]


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
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Tony 2024/03/27 08:08
I’d say that on the whole, the related bureaucratic procedures further to death in Sweden are very efficient – particularly so when compared with some other countries. I found the most stressful and frustrating moments were trying to cancel the deceased’s subscriptions for magazines, book clubs, satellite/cable TV, computer antivirus and so forth. Nearly drove me crazy.

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