Funerals In Germany [Regulations, Costs & Traditions]

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Researched & written

by Yvonne Koppen


When it comes to funerals, every culture has its own way of saying goodbye to a loved one. In Germany, funerals are steeped in tradition and need to follow strict regulations. Whether you are attending a funeral or planning one, it is important to understand the customs, regulations, and etiquette surrounding funerals in Germany.

What happens if someone dies in Germany?

When someone dies in Germany, there are several steps that need to be taken:

  • First, a physician or hospital must confirm the death and fill out a form (Totenschein).
  • Then, you or a funeral home need to report the death to the civil registry (Standesamt) in the district in which the death occurred. This needs to be done within three working days after the death is declared.
  • The Standesamt will subsequently issue the death certificate (Sterbeurkunde), which the funeral home needs to arrange a funeral.

In order for the Standesamt to issue a death certificate, you or the funeral home need to present the following original documents and their official German translations (if in another language):

  • Was the deceased single?
    • Totenschein
    • Birth certificate
    • ID or Passport
  • Was the deceased married?
    • Totenschein
    • Passport of the deceased
    • Passport of the spouse
    • Marriage certificate
      • If the date and place of birth of the deceased are not stated in the marriage certificate, you also need to provide a birth certificate
  • Was the deceased widowed?
    • Totenschein
    • Passport of the deceased
    • Death certificate of the spouse
    • Marriage certificate
      • If the date and place of birth of the deceased are not stated in the marriage certificate, you also need to provide a birth certificate
  • Was the deceased divorced abroad?
    • Totenschein
    • Passport of the deceased
    • Marriage certificate
      • If the date and place of birth of the deceased are not stated in the marriage certificate, you also need to provide a birth certificate
    • Legally binding divorce certificate
      • The legal force of the foreign divorce decree must be checked again in Germany. Experience has shown that this takes some time.
  • Was the deceased naturalized in Germany (received German citizenship)?
    • In addition to the documents already mentioned, you need to provide:
      • the original naturalization certificate
      • the original name declaration (if the name of the deceased was changed after naturalization)

Important Note

The Totenschein issued by a doctor and the Sterbeurkunde issued by the registrar are not the same, even though in English, both translate to ‘death certificate’. The Totenschein states the cause of death, while the Sterbeurkunde doesn’t.

What are the funeral laws in Germany?

Funerals in Germany are highly regulated and can only be administered by funeral homes. The specific burial laws vary slightly between German states; however, all follow the obligation for burial in a cemetery (Friedhofspflicht).

How Long Between Death And Funeral In Germany?

The time period between death and burial is known as the burial period (Bestattungsfrist). The law regulates the minimum and maximum number of days for the burial to be carried out. After a doctor has filled out the Totenschein, the deceased person must be transferred to a cold storage cell or a morgue within 24-36 hours, depending on the federal state.

In almost all German states, burial in a coffin or cremation can take place after 48 hours at the earliest. The maximum period for burial varies between states, ranging from 4 days after death to 10 days after the determination of death. In the case of cremation, the burial must take place between 1 month and 6 months after the cremation, depending on the state.

The German Association of Undertakers links to the different burial laws per German state.

Cremation vs. Burial Options in Germany

There are two legal possibilities for a funeral in Germany: burial (Erdbestattung) and cremation (Feuerbestattung, often called Einäscherung or Verbrennung).

While burial in a coffin needs to take place at a cemetery, cremation offers more options for a resting place. Those are:

  • urn burial at a cemetery
  • forest or tree burial
  • sea/ocean burial

Cremation is increasing in popularity every year. 77% of all funerals in Germany took place with cremation in 2021. More flexibility and fewer costs are two main reasons.

Unlike in neighboring countries, like Switzerland and the Netherlands, it is not allowed in Germany to take the urn of your loved one home with you.

What Are The Graveyard Laws In Germany?

Cemeteries tend to be church or state-operated, but there are some exceptions, such as a few Muslim cemeteries that have opened up across the country. The duration of the grave lease is called Ruhezeit (rest period) and depends on the type of burial and the soil conditions. The usual rest periods in which the grave remains untouched are:

  • Urn grave: 10-20 year
  • Coffin grave: 20-30 years
  • Coffin grave in soil with high clay levels: up to 40 years

If a grave was chosen for the burial (Wahlgrab), relatives could request an extension for the rest period if the grave usage fees are paid again.

Otherwise, the grave must be cleared by relatives or the cemetery gardeners by removing all decorations and the grave slab. After clearing, the grave gets leveled and will then be reused.

Is The Repatriation Of Corpse Allowed In Germany?

Yes, the transportation of a corpse from Germany abroad is possible (Auslandsüberführung). For you, as an international living in Germany, this is, of course, an important question.

The specific regulations depend highly on the destination. Repatriation of a corpse is usually more complicated and costly than transporting an urn. Just like a burial in Germany, repatriation must be arranged by a funeral home.

Generally speaking, you need two documents to organize the repatriation of a corpse from Germany:

  • an international death certificate
  • an international laissez-passer for the corpse (Leichenpass)

For the latter, you require even more documents:

  • the Totenschein stating the cause of death
  • the Sterbeurkunde (official death certificate)
  • a medical certificate on the safety of international transfers
  • a confirmation of a proper coffin and transport by the undertaker

The funeral home will support you in gathering and completing the necessary paperwork.

How much does a funeral in Germany cost?

Funeral costs in Germany highly depend on the type of burial and the individual wishes of the deceased and their loved ones. According to Statista, the average burial costs in Germany are around 13.000 euros.

However, price differences can be steep. The cheapest anonymous cremation, for example, only costs around 2.000 euros, while a full-blown funeral at a cemetery with a big congregation of mourners can cost more than 30.000 euros.

There are three main cost factors for a funeral in Germany:

  • the fees of the undertaker
  • the graveyard fees
  • the costs for the funeral service

Who Pays For Funeral Costs In Germany?

While the direct relatives are obligated to organize the funeral, the heirs of the deceased need to cover the funeral costs by law.

In order to avoid burdening the heirs, which are often the direct relatives, with the funeral costs, you can make provisions. The two most common ways are pre-arranged funeral arrangements with a funeral home or funeral insurance (Sterbegeldversicherung).

Is Funeral Insurance in Germany Worth It?

Funeral insurance, also referred to as death benefit insurance, is designed to pay out a lump sum to the relatives of the deceased to cover the burial costs. The average sum insured with such insurance is around 10.000 euros.

While it may seem like a good idea to have funeral insurance in case of unexpected expenses, it may not always be worth the high cost. When comparing the terms and conditions of death benefit insurance with other investment possibilities, there are cheaper and more flexible options.

You could deposit a designated amount to a savings account or consider other insurance products that cover a wider spectrum and also pay out a lump sum in case of your death. Such insurance could be term life insurance or accident insurance.

Another option is to pre-pay your funeral costs into an escrow account (Treuhandkonto) with your selected funeral home. This way, the money is protected from third parties to be misused for other purposes.

How to find a funeral home in Germany?

The funeral industry in Germany is massive, also thanks to the strict regulations. 5.490 funeral homes exist in Germany. They took care of 1.023.723 deaths in 2021.

To find a professional funeral home near you, you can use the directory of the German Undertaker Association. Be sure to ask for at least two different offers to compare services and costs.

What to expect at a German funeral?

Attending a funeral (Beerdigung) can be a difficult experience, but knowing what to expect can help you prepare and feel more comfortable during the service. Let’s take a look at some German funeral traditions.

What To Wear To A German Funeral Service?

It is important to dress appropriately and conservatively when attending a German funeral service. Wearing black or dark clothing as a sign of respect for the deceased is still the main tradition in Germany.

How To Express Your Condolences At A German Funeral?

When expressing your condolences to the deceased’s loved ones, you should be authentic and brief. You typically give your condolences (Beileid aussprechen) in Germany after the burial or during the funeral meal afterward.

Depending on your relationship with the relatives, you can give a firm handshake or a hug and say ‘Mein herzliches Beileid‘ (my deepest sympathy).

What Kind Of Food Is Served At A German Funeral Reception?

After the funeral service, it is common to have a reception where coffee and food are served. This is known as the Leichenschmaus (corpse feast), Beerdingungskaffee (funeral coffee) or Trauerkaffee (mourning coffee). Traditional German dishes are crumble cake, platters of cold cuts and cheese, rolls and coffee or tea, and sometimes soup, depending on the time of day or season. The reception is a time for mourners to gather and share memories of the deceased.

What Are Traditional German Funeral Flowers?

Flowers play an important role in German funerals. Common funeral flowers include lilies, roses, and carnations. In case you want to send flowers, avoid sending red roses, as they are associated with romantic love. Instead, opt for white or yellow flowers as a sign of respect and sympathy.


Dealing with the loss of a loved one or friend is never an easy task, even less so abroad, when you are unfamiliar with the customs and regulations. We hope our guide helped you gather valuable information on this sad but important topic.

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About the Author

Yvonne Koppen is a researcher and writer at Simple Germany, focusing on demystifying German bureaucracy for international skilled workers.

She has lived and worked abroad, which helps her understand how difficult a move to a new country can be. Beyond her professional pursuits, Yvonne loves to plan and go on road trips, puzzle, and do a triathlon here and there.

She is committed to creating accessible, empowering content through her writing and YouTube videos. Yvonne's passion for continuous learning and her ability to simplify complex topics make her an invaluable resource for expats seeking to navigate their new life in Germany.