Registering a Death (Act of Death)
Maltese law requires that the death of a person be registered at the Malta Public Registry, which issues a certificate known as the “Act of Death”.
This certificate constitutes the ultimate proof that a person is deceased. Most authorities will require an Act of Death certificate that is issued by the Public Registrar in order to establish that a person is deceased and will not rely on any other declaration.
When a person dies at home, a medical doctor has to issue a certificate that includes the name, address, cause and time of the death of the person. This medical certificate is then delivered to the Public Registry, for the issuance of the Act of Death certificate. In most cases, the Public Registry bases itself only on the certificate received from the medical practitioner.
If a person died but was not attended by a physician, the family members or any person who is aware of the death is obliged by law to give notice of such death.
Once the Public Registry receives a certificate of death (from the physician or surgeon) the Act of Death is drawn up within 2 days.
Unlike the certificate signed by the physician, the Act of Death issued by the Public Registrar is the formal certificate stating that a person is deceased and which is recognised by Maltese institutions. If, for example, a person dies while criminal court proceedings are pending against him, these proceedings will not be extinguished unless an Act of Death is presented to the court.
All Acts of Death are accessible to the public via the Public Registry. Original copies can also be ordered online from the Malta Public Registry’s website.
The law distinguishes between a person who is presumed dead and a person who becomes absent and is presumed to be dead.
Persons Presumed Dead
A magisterial inquiry will take place when a person disappears. A person is usually assumed to have disappeared when he or she goes absent after a tragedy or an accident. Where the magistrate is of the opinion that, after taking all the circumstances of the disappearance into consideration, the person is probably dead, then the magistrate will order the Public Registry to draw up a provisional Act of Death certificate. This provisional act of death becomes final at the expiration of one year from registration.
Absent Persons Presumed Dead
When a person goes absent and disappears after a major accident, the act of death is drawn up after an order is made by the Court of Voluntary Jurisdiction following the demand of any interested person. This has to happen either after six years of the disappearance or after the absence of a person is so declared in a judgment by a court.
Obtaining an Act of Death Certificate
All Acts of Death can be obtained from the Public Registry. One may either visit the offices of the Public Registry or order them from their website.
There are two public registries - one for those residing in Malta, situated in Valletta, while the other for Gozo and Comino, that is situated in Victoria (Gozo).
Funeral Services and Expenses
Following the death of a person several arrangements have to be made so that a person’s death is registered, the funeral rite is organised and the body is buried or cremated. In most cases, these are done by a Funeral Director. VAT expenses relating to funeral services are exempt, however, one only receives a reimbursement after presenting the receipts to the Commissioner for Revenue.
All funeral expenses are covered by the inheritance and funeral expenses are privileged debts. This is so as to ascertain that the person who pays for funeral expenses will be reimbursed.
Burial and Cremation in Malta
Following death, an individual may either:
- Be buried in a private grave. Many individuals and families in Malta own a grave. Private graves have become a limited commodity since the permits for new graves are not being issued. When the government authorised the construction of 3000 new graves in 2018, these were sold before construction started.
- Be buried in a public grave: If an individual does not have access to a private grave that individual may be buried in a public grave. Around two years after being buried in a public grave, the body is removed and the bones are disposed of in the ossuary.
- Be buried at sea: It is possible for an individual to be buried at sea. In such eventuality, arrangements must be done with a funeral services director that organizes such burial.
- Cremation: By virtue of Act 17 of 2019, cremation became an option in Malta. Until the law comes in force one may be cremated abroad.