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Red tape - who owns ashes

Burying cremation ashes at a family grave: frustrated by regulation and red tape

A lady from North Yorkshire has discovered the large amount of red tape and hurdles needed have her casket (cremation urn) buried at a family grave, and she has said that if it can’t be done legally then she would do it illegally.

Mrs Rea wants to have her ashes buried in the same grave as her grandparents. However the local authority has said that she needs permission from all the next-of-kin. And as these are grandparents this includes all her cousins, some of whom she no longer has any contact with.

One can easily see how this can be exacerbated by modern society – dispersed families, divorces and step families.

Mrs Rea, who planned to have her ashes put in her grandparents’ grave in Thornaby Cemetery, Thornaby, near Stockton, said: “My grandfather was a funeral director in Yarm, so I should have been aware of these issues.”

“It must be so emotional for some families who just want to have their mother’s or father’s ashes buried in a family grave, having to contact everyone in their family.

She doesn’t want to ask in case one of them says no then this would cause a big family argument.

Stockton Borough Council are sympathetic, but point out there are six other people with an equal claim to be buried there.

Mrs Rae said: “I’ve said to my family, I don’t want all this legal fuss, just bury my ashes in the grave in secret when no one is looking. It just means I can’t have my name on the gravestone, which is sad.”

Interesting, you can appreciate the poor woman’s predicament, although the local authority does have a point. There does seem like no obvious solution… scattering maybe? But people tend to feel quite strongly about burying or scattering. I wonder if the local authority would have a similar view if she scattered as no actual capacity would be used and thus could she have her name on the headstone…?

If she did chose to do it illegally and one of the family reported this to the authority – would they have a duty to exhume the ashes?!

Also thinking about how would you do it surreptitiously, I don’t envy the family member who gets that job!

29 thoughts on “Burying cremation ashes at a family grave: frustrated by regulation and red tape

  1. Reply
    Amanda Newman - 9th March 2023

    Can anyone help me, my grandmother, was cremated in 1982, my grandfather in 1972, there plot is now coming to an end, and I would rather they both be with me, at my home, as all the family has now moved away, and hardly ever visit them, I have asked for them to be removed, although there plot still runs until 2024, but the crematorium worker stated they must have been scattered and were not in urn, I don’t understand this as they have a tree and a small plot and have always been told they were in urn, how can I get to the truth, because at first the worker stated oh if it was under 10 years ago they would have been scattered then when I corrected her with the dates, she stated no back then they would have been scattered who can help me here ? Please

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 10th March 2023

      Dear Amanda

      First of all write to the to crematorium officially with your request, asking staff may not always get the correct answer. It depends on the crematoria – Head of Bereavement Services is a good place to start.
      I would suggest what you want may be tricky due to the length of time passed and the regulations that could apply. If you make it official at least you will know where you actually stand.

      I hope this helps.
      Kind regards

  2. Reply
    Susan - 15th June 2022

    Hi Martin,
    My friends mother recently died and had a humanist cremation, the family want to scatter some of her ashes at Blackpool as per mothers wishes, and the other remains buried in her husbands grave. But the church where he is buried have said the ashes cannot be interred with her husband because she had a humanist cremation and the grave is on consecrated ground.
    We would be very interested on your view on this.
    Regards Susan.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 27th June 2022

      Dear Susan

      Sorry for the slow reply. That is sad, the Church do get to choose, however one would expect them to choose compassion, as this, I always is considered to be one off the major tenet of the new testament. Presumably in life you friend’s mother lived very happily with her and her husband sharing differing belief systems then it should be so in death.

      You could ask the church to reconsider if they were to give a ‘Christian’ internment. The family may have to accept that that whilst this may not be ‘mum’s way’, compromise may need to reached if all parties are to end up happy …

      I wish you the best with this, I would love to know the outcome so we can share with others.

      Kind regards

  3. Reply
    Kelly - 17th November 2021

    I’m just after some information on my father grave. I was 9 when he died and he and my mother weren’t married so I know the deeds to his grave was owned by nan, his mother. She has since died and was buried with her parents.

    I have a feeling that when my grandfather passes (hopefully not for a long time) my aunt and uncles will want to place him with my father. The issue comes when my nan also wanted to buried with my father and they ignored her wishes. Also my father did not get on with his father at all.

    Will my aunt and uncles need mine and my brothers permission to bury my grandfather in my fathers grave as all 3 of us are now over 18 so we are my fathers next of kin.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 19th November 2021

      Dear Kelly, depending on the the title of the deed and who has ownership I would be think the answer is Yes. I would seek legal advice if possible. Kind regards Richard

      1. Reply
        Debra - 12th February 2022

        My mother died in 1980 and was cremated with a headstone. My brother died 2020 and my sister is executor and is planning to intern his ashes into my moms exiting grave. My sister is not communicating with me. My father died in 1998 and his ashes are elsewhere. He had arranged our mothers grave in consultation with all of us siblings. I contacted the rector of the church where my mothers grave is and said that I do not wish for my brother to be interned into my mothers grave or the stone to be changed or the inscription
        Initially the rector confirmed as there is not an agreement within the family she would not do it. Two weeks later the rector confirmed that she will do it and her hands are tied as solicitors are now involved
        What can I do? I don’t understand the reason and the rector says she can not tell me the reason

        1. Reply
          Richard Martin - 15th February 2022

          Dear Debra
          I am not sure either. Your sister sadly, as executor, can choose interment. It may be that as a direct descendant your brother has the right to be buried there. Therefore if he has a right and your sister has the power then in effect the rector’s hands are tied. Depending on your situation it may be worth asking the solicitor acting for your sister, what gives them to right to act in such a manner. You could also instruct a solicitor – but this can get expensive.
          Kind regards

  4. Reply
    John - 17th August 2021

    My mum and dad are buried together in the local cemetery, my sister also died 3 years ago and now her daughter(my niece) wants to bury or scatter my sisters ashes on or in my parents grave but she says i need to sign over the deeds to her in order to do this but the deeds are still in my mothers name, do i need to sign over the deeds or can i just give permission for her to do this and erect a new headstone.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 17th August 2021

      Dear John
      I can’t see why she would need you to sign over the deeds. As I understand it all parties with an interest need to grant permission. She may have misunderstood the requirements or looking for a way to protect her future interests…?

  5. Reply
    Gemma - 10th August 2021

    My Grandma has recently died and she was buried in the plot where my mother was buried quite a lot of years ago. When we buried my Grandma, we put my Grandads ashes in my Grandmas coffin.
    Is it allowed to have my Grandads name on the headstone even though he’s not officially buried there?

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 10th August 2021

      Possibly not. The headstone would need to be okayed by the cemetery and they would see that there was an extra name, who they would think had nothing to do with the plot. And therefore would not give it the thumbs up. If it was me I would discreetly sound out the cemetery to explain what had happened and whether they would permit it and register the burial. Responses tend to vary so I wish you the very best of luck.

  6. Reply
    Gladys davies - 5th March 2021

    I have just lost my husband, he wished to be cremated and his ashes to go with his mum who was buried, his father’s ashes are there too, however his mums sister and her husband are also scattered there and their daughter has erected a headstone, now she has the deeds for some reason and she said we can put ashes there but has refused to let us place a headstone, if my mother in law died first and is the only one buried whose grave is it and how can we get around this.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 5th March 2021

      Dear Gladys
      Indeed that is a difficult situation. I am not sure on this one, but this is what my thinking is. The mere fact of possessing the deeds does not give title it depends who names are on the deeds that counts. She may be able to block people, but in turn your side of family may wish to block her requests so a compromise has to be sought. First I would establish what the deeds say. I think you may need to get professional advice on this, happy to suggest someone if that helps.
      Kind regards

  7. Reply
    William - 2nd February 2021

    My brother has indicated that he would like his ashes to be buried in our Fathers grave the whole family would not give permission for this for various reasons. Can I be sure that the church warden/vicar would be legally obliged to contact me before allowing it behind my back?

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 2nd February 2021

      Dear William
      I don’t not think he would be legally obliged to contact you. However he/she would not be legally allowed to permit the burial either, it is not within his gift and he would be required to follow protocol. You would have recourse if he/she allow this to knowingly happen.
      Kind regards

  8. Reply
    Peter - 15th July 2020

    I would like to know more if I can be buried with my grandparents or great uncle and great aunt there plot is a family plot what rights do I have in the uk Grandparents is from my mother side her mum and dad and my great uncle is my mothers uncle which makes himself my great uncle as he’s my grandad full brother. All this is solely for advice as currently living in north west London

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 15th July 2020

      If it your grandparents then those descendants of you grandparents will have rights, the best advise would be from the cemetery operator who deal with issue on regular basis – I hope that is some help.
      Kind regards

  9. Reply
    Terry Beaugh - 6th April 2020

    Two Questions: I want to be cremated and want my ashes to be near my Mom’s grave. Can this be done and do I have to get permission to do this? My wife agrees with my wishes. Any info is appreciated. Thanks.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 7th April 2020

      Dear Terry

      Yes it can be done and yes you do – here is some information

      I hope this helps

      Kind regards

    2. Reply
      douglas cuthbert - 24th September 2020

      I hope so Terry, as I am thinking along the same lines as you, But just in case we might be breaking the law, Get a good relation to do it for us anyway, As many of the population do not have the money for Family crypts or mass grave spaces like the Rich, God bless and take care my friend,..

  10. Reply
    John Catlow - 14th May 2019

    What is the minimum depth of excavation for the internment of a casket containing ashes in a family grave which originally was designe to take 4 coffins but only contains 3. My sisters ashes have recently been interred and the hole made was so shallow that when the turf was relaid it did not finish level with the surrounding grassed area. Surely there should be some regulation as to the depth of placement!!

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 20th May 2019

      Dear John
      This does indeed sound woeful. So what you were saying is that the cemetery never dug it deep enough in the first place and this has resulted in that ashes casket not really even being covered! Which would also mean that the coffin below must be incredibly shallow? In the first instance I would approach the who set the standards and codes of practice and would be able advice you properly and guide you if there is recourse needed.
      Please feel free to reply to this if you need further assistance, it would be interesting to hear what was said if you wished to share it.
      Kind regards

      1. Reply
        Mark - 4th March 2020

        There should be at least 3ft between the last coffin and surface ashes in our cemetery go in to a depth of 2 ft so plenty of room but the council do not have to guarantee the 4 burials states but law says they have to have the 3ft from last burial to surface

  11. Reply
    Pauline Lewis - 17th June 2018

    I am trying to get permission to inter a friends ashes in the grave with his dad as well as his mum’s ashes. His mum’s ashes were put in a collumbrian did a set time but that time is now up. Her second husbands ashes were scattered. On learning that his dad has a grave (he is buried with his dad & 4 other family members) & learning his mums ashes are safe I thought I would request permission for both lots of ashes to be buried I grave so mum dad & son can all be reunited. My reply was I need to get a letter from his younger brother who no one can find then they may change their mind. I need to also provide details of the grave owner & be a descendant of them. As my friend is the eldest son surely he has automatic right.? The grave was first used in about 1895 so how do I know who the owner is?

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 19th June 2018

      Dear Pauline
      That is a truly complex situation, this a very kind thing you are trying to do. However, it will be challenging. The brother is the mothers closest living relative and thus it is his decision, the law doesn’t account for ones that are not ‘engaged’ in family life. Sadly, your friend doesn’t not have an automatic right and the older the grave the more people are likely to have a claim to it. Establishing a right is outside on my knowledge. For complex ecclesiastical issues we send people in the direction of Shoosmiths legal firm, although I appreciate there may be no resources to this. I know people who have gone and ignored everything and scattered ashes over a family grave, but we could not suggest this a a route for obvious reasons.
      Kind regards

      1. Reply
        Pauline Lewis - 14th June 2019

        Hi Martin I finally got to lay my friend to rest with his parents in the family grave. I was able to get his mum’s ashes too as the cousin had not collected them. The brother sadly passed away January 2019 but was buried in a paupers grave as the cousin did not claim the body to cremate him. I was happy it was sorted.

        1. Reply
          Richard Martin - 17th June 2019

          Hi Pauline thanks for letting us know, that was a good thing you did and I am glad you are happy with how it turned out. Best wishes Richard

  12. Reply
    Stephanie Fox - 19th December 2017

    I have a similar problem. It seems insurmountable.

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