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Burial or cremation

There are several considerations when choosing between burial and cremation. Burials are usually more expensive. Religious beliefs will also affect the decision. 

On this page:

Burial

The registrar will give you a form to give to the funeral director. In Scotland you’ll need a medical certificate of the cause of death in addition to a cremation form if you’re not having a burial.

You’ll need to give this to the funeral director, vicar or land manager if you’re organising the funeral yourself. Afterwards you’ll need to return the relevant part of the form to the registrar. To find out more contact the Bereavement Advice Centre  .

If the person who died is to be buried:

  • Check their papers for a grave deed (Deed of Grant or Exclusive Right of Burial) or other document showing they're entitled to a grave in a churchyard, cemetery or elsewhere. The funeral director will need a copy.
  • If someone else owns the deeds to an existing grave and they have already died, a legal procedure may be needed to allow the person who has just died to be buried here.
  • The cost of a grave may vary depending on whether they lived in the area when they died – if they didn't, it may cost more.
  • Some churchyards are no longer open for burial because there is no more space.
  • Most cemeteries are non-denominational. This means you can hold most types of service in their grounds.
  • Alternative burial sites, often referred to as natural burial grounds, include woodland burial sites, nature reserves, meadow burial sites and woodland sections of public cemeteries.

Marking the spot

  • Whether and how you mark your relative or friend’s grave can vary. Check what is offered or allowed, especially if you want to be able to identify it in future.
  • If the grave is on private land (such as private woodland or farmland), check its long-term security. This is to make sure there are no plans to use the land for something else, which might disturb the grave.
  • You can also bury your relative or friend on their own land. There are some rules but not as many as you might think. If this is something you want to find out more, contact the Natural Death Centre  .

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She looked absolutely stunning, laid out with flowers. It looked like all the cancer had just left her body. She looked really well and that will be my lasting memory of Mandy. 
Vincent, carer/relative

Cremation

If the person who died is being cremated some paperwork is necessary before going ahead. Ask at the crematorium if you’re not sure which forms you need. The procedure is broadly similar in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The forms used most often include:

  • Application for cremation of the body of a person who has died. The funeral director will help you with this, or ask at the crematorium. The crematorium will also usually have its own form requesting instructions for the ashes. The ashes can only be given to the person who has signed this form.
  • Doctors’ forms. These include a form to be filled in by the doctor who certified the death and a second form to be filled in by another doctor not involved in looking after the person who died. The funeral director will usually arrange for these to be filled in and delivered to the crematorium. Some hospitals or doctors, however, will ask you whether the person who died is being cremated so they can complete them in good time. You have to pay for these forms. If you’re using a funeral director, the cost will be part of their disbursements (these are the payments they make to others for you).
  • Coroner/procurator fiscal's (Scotland) certificate. If there has been a post-mortem examination this replaces the ‘green form’ from the registrar.
  • Authorisation of cremation of the person who has died by medical referee. The crematorium doctor issues this form, which allows the cremation to proceed.

What next?

  • Send the required forms to the crematorium at least 24 hours before the service. The crematorium staff will then review the forms and authorise cremation.
  • Check the deadline with the crematorium if you’re organising the funeral. If you’re using a funeral director, they will do this.
  • There are restrictions on what you can put in the coffin of someone who is being cremated because some items can cause air pollution. Prohibited items include clothing made of artificial fibres, rubber-soled shoes and items such as soft toys. The funeral director or crematorium staff can advise.
  • If the person who died had a pacemaker or other type of implant this may need to be removed before cremation. The funeral director or crematorium staff can advise. Some implants require deactivation before removal so you may also need medical help.

What to do with the ashes

The person who died may have said what they wanted done with their ashes. If not, or it’s difficult to carry out their wishes, you have a few choices:

  • Scatter them in the grounds at the crematorium, also called the Garden of Remembrance. If there are no instructions for the ashes this is usually what will happen.
  • Scatter them in a meaningful place, eg a garden, the sea, or somewhere you visited together (check whether you need approval).
  • Arrange for the ashes to be buried in a churchyard or family plot in a cemetery, or kept in a mausoleum.
  • Keep them at home in a casket or urn.

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Rules and regulations

Scattering ashes in the UK

There are few legal restrictions in the UK. However, if you plan to scatter ashes on private land, get permission from the landowner first. You should also check if you want to scatter them in a public or National Trust park or garden. To find out more about the policy of various organisations, visit the Urns for Ashes website.

Scattering ashes abroad

  • Rules may be different in other countries – check you can bring ashes into the country before travelling.
  • Check out the country’s regulations about scattering ashes well before travelling.
  • If you’re planning to transport ashes by plane check the airline’s policy and make sure the container will be able to go through an X-ray machine.
  • You’ll need a special certificate from the crematorium. The container may also need a seal from the British Embassy.
  • You’ll also need to take the death certificate and certificate of cremation.
  • There are companies that specialise in the transport of ashes. Visit the Urns for Ashes website for help.

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External websites

Natural Death Centre   – private land burial

Urns for Ashes   – ideas for cremation ashes

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