Deaths and funerals
Your questions answered
If you don't find a response to your question below, please take a look at some of our other advice pages within this section.
- Why are graves dug so deeply?
Graves have to be a sufficient depth to allow for multiple burials if required. They need to be deep enough to allow for the coffin/casket, a layer of earth which legally needs to remain undisturbed and an additional coffin (if relevant) and the final layer of earth that must cover the last interment.
- Why are there so many different types of grave available at some cemeteries?
Some authorities offer a wide choice of graves. Some people may consider the lawn grave the best option, while others prefer a more traditional, elaborate and larger type of memorial.
- I have a lawn grave, why can't I put a full memorial over the surface of the grave?
The lawn grave was designed on the war grave principle - a limited sized memorial at the head of the grave with the rest laid to lawn. This makes best use of the area available. In addition, maintenance is easier, as large mowers can be used to keep the area neat. These graves are sold on the understanding that only lawn style memorials are erected. Full memorials are only permitted on traditional graves.
Care must be taken when selecting this type of grave. If you would prefer a larger, more traditional type memorial you should not opt for a lawn grave.
- I have a lawn grave. When will I be able to erect a memorial?
There may be a period stipulated in the cemetery regulations to allow time for the ground to settle and consolidate. During this period, cemetery staff monitor any sinkage and top-up with topsoil until settlement stops. This period differs around the country due to differing soil types and conditions. You should ensure that your memorial mason adopts the National Association of Memorial Masons (NAMM) Code of Practice.
- Are graves filled in immediately after a funeral or are they left until the next day?
Graves are prepared for burial at least one full day before the funeral and are covered overnight. The ICCM Guiding Principles for Burial Services state that immediately after the mourners have left the graveside, the grave must be entirely backfilled and made tidy. This work is completed on the day of the burial, and coffins will not be left uncovered overnight.
- I understand that some people wait while the grave is filled in. Why is this?
Some cultures require that the grave is filled in while relatives watch. Alternatively they may wish to undertake the backfilling of the grave themselves. It is essential that the cemetery is made aware of these requirements when the burial is first arranged. This will ensure that the family's wishes are met, and their safety is protected during the backfilling process.
- Can anyone witness the grave being filled?
Yes, but the cemetery officer will need to be advised of this before the funeral.
- Why have I only been sold the grave for a set period of time? I want the grave forever.
The law specifies that graves cannot be sold for more than 100 years. However, the law allows ownership to be extended. Some authorities write to owners every five years, offering this choice. This enables the grave to stay in the family for as long as they wish. Even if this topping up option is not offered, you (or your family) can renew your lease when it expires.
- I own the grave. Can anyone else be buried in it if I don't want them to?
No. Graves cannot be opened without the written permission of the registered owner of the grave. The only exception is when the registered owner is to be buried. The law protects your rights as registered owner of the grave.
- The grave has been purchased for two people - there is only one person in the grave, and I now want two more burials in the same grave.
When a grave is purchased to take two full body burials, the depth to which the grave is excavated for the first burial must take into account the need for the second burial. There are legal requirements as to how much earth must be left on top of the last coffin. It is, therefore, not possible to put an extra coffin into the grave without breaking the law. However, after the grave is full for coffined burial, cremated remains caskets or urns may still be buried within the grave.
- What happens when the lease expires?
When you buy a grave you purchase the exclusive Rights of Burial in that grave for a set period of time. At the end of the period you should be given the option of renewing the Rights. It is important that you inform the cemetery office if you change your address, otherwise you may not receive a notice of renewal at the appropriate time.
At the end of the period of rights to erect and maintain a memorial, cemetery staff will try to contact you to give you the option to renew the lease. If you don't want to renew the lease or you cannot be contacted, cemetery staff will give you a set period of time to remove the memorial, after which time they can lawfully remove it.
If you decide to renew the lease, this may be on condition that the memorial receives a full inspection and stability test, and any defects found are repaired.
- Who is responsible for the memorial?
The burial authority is responsible for maintaining the cemetery in a safe condition. However, you are responsible for maintaining your memorial in a safe condition throughout the period of the Right to Erect and Maintain a Memorial. Cemetery staff will routinely inspect your memorial and if found to be unstable and likely to cause injury may cordon it off, lay it flat or have a temporary support installed. You will be notified and it will be your responsibility to arrange repair. If your memorial is still under guarantee the memorial mason will be responsible for repairs at no extra cost to you. If you ignore the notice, your memorial may be laid flat, and you will not be allowed to renew the lease until repairs are made. After further notification, if no repairs are made to the memorial, it may be lawfully removed from the cemetery.
Your memorial mason also has a responsibility to provide a memorial of merchantable quality and to erect it in a safe manner. You should insist that the memorial is erected in accordance with the NAMM Code of Practice, and seek a guarantee from your memorial mason.
- What happens when all the owners have died?
Ownership of the exclusive Right of Burial in a grave can be transferred from a deceased owner via that owner's estate. The means of transfer can be very complex and, while there is a procedure to follow, each case must be looked at individually. If you need to transfer ownership when all owners are deceased, you must contact the cemetery office. Staff will arrange for a transfer with due compliance with the law.
- Why can't I put what memorial I want on the grave?
When a new grave is purchased it is not the land itself that is purchased, but the rights for burials to take place in that grave. These rights also allow the erection of a memorial on the grave, in accordance with the rules and regulations of the cemetery. It is important to select a cemetery that will allow the type of memorial you want, as regulations differ from area to area. You can check by contacting the cemetery office, and making enquiries about the options available.
- Why is a permit needed?
The written authority of the owner of the grave must be given on a permit/application form, before the proposed erection of a memorial. Cemetery staff will check that memorials conform to cemetery regulations with regard to size and fixings and also check stability under health and safety regulations. This helps protect your interests, although you will remain responsible for the maintenance of the memorial in the future. You can ask your memorial mason for a workmanship guarantee or details of insurance.
Some authorities issue a separate Right to Erect and Maintain a Memorial, which can be purchased on submission of the application to erect a memorial. Other authorities may combine the Memorial Rights with the Burial Rights.
- I want to bury cremated remains in a grave. Why do I have to decide whether there will be any more burials before this can be done?
It is against the law to disturb human remains (including cremated remains in a casket or urn) without a licence. Therefore no further burials will be possible in the grave until a licence has been obtained. Cremated remains can be buried in the grave at full depth, in which case they will not be disturbed by further full body burials, but by having to excavate a grave to this depth there will be additional charges for opening the grave.
- Why is the cost of the grave on the deed different to the amount I have paid the funeral director?
The Exclusive Rights of Burial state the cost at the time of purchase. This does not, however, include the grave digging costs, which would have been included on your funeral account.