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Exhumation of Ashes

Exhumation of ashes is the technical name for removing the ashes from the ground. You should understand that this is a difficult process and can be extremely difficult if the plot has been consecrated. Consecrated ground is land specifically blessed by the Christian Church.

What do you need to do if you want to exhume cremation ashes?

It depends on where they were buried:

  • Informally buried on private land including your garden.
  • A registered burial on private land.
  • In a local authority cemetery (in the non consecrated* area) or privately owned burial site such as a natural burial ground.
  • In consecrated ground for example a church yard.

Buried informally

This when you have buried the ashes in the back garden or somewhere similar – and not told anyone. Legally you should not have done this.  However, the good news there is no one to ask permission to remove the ashes, this is because you have not had it registered the burial.

Registered Burial

If the burial is:

  • on private land and the burial has been registered with the local authority,
  • a Local Authority cemetery, or
  •  a natural burial ground

AND in unconsecrated ground in England and cemeteries in Wales.  You will need to apply for a and licence, you can get this from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) licence.

These applications are currently free although fairly detailed. You can only apply if you are the next of kin and these will be granted as a matter of course as long as all the paperwork is correct.

Buried on consecrated land  (eg a churchyard) (England only)

If you want to exhume cremated remains from consecrated ground, you will need to get a Faculty (permission) from the Chancellor of the Diocese (the legal part of the church in that area). This is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain as the church consider burial to be final. The only way you get this granted is if there are exceptional circumstances. 

For more detail of what the Church of deems exceptional circumstance and what factors are taken into consideration go to Church of England rules. 

It is no longer necessary to obtain an Exhumation Licence from the Ministry of Justice. This applies even if it is intended that the remains should be re-interred in unconsecrated ground (see section 2 of the Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 2014, amending section 25 of the Burial Act 1857).

The law in Scotland is currently different. Therefore you will need to go to a Sheriff’s court to have an exhumation granted, this can be expensive.

We have collected a number of articles on case law in recent years. This should give you a better idea of what the court is looking for in relation to exceptional circumstances – Exhumation case law

Exhumation of Ashes


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