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Relocating your loved one’s grave

Gravestone in cemetery

We often think that once a loved one has been buried that they will remain there forever. However, this isn't always the case. Graves are normally bought for 50 to 75 years at a time, but there is also a surprising number of families in the UK exhuming their relatives for other reasons.

Can you move a body to another grave?

Yes, you can move a body, or buried ashes, from one grave to another burial place. In the UK most exhumations are the responsibility of The Ministry of Justice, who receive over 25 requests every week to dig up a grave. If you wish to move a body or ashes from consecrated grounds (eg. a churchyard) you will have to ask for permission from the Chancellor of the Diocese, who may only grant a license under exceptional circumstances.

When a grave is exhumed then it is still owned by the person who bought it, or their next of kin. This means that if a body is moved out of a grave, the person who originally bought the lease could use it to bury someone else without having to pay for an additional grave.

How much does it cost to exhume a body and re-bury it?

In England you no longer have to pay to apply for an exhumation license from the government. The other costs can be substantial though, so you should carefully consider the financial implications before applying for a license.

The costs of exhuming and reburying a body include:

  • Memorial removal costs (the gravestone or plaque)
  • Funeral director's charges, including the cost of a new coffin or cremated remains casket
  • Cemetery fees and charges for exhumation and reinterment

Remember that as well as paying to exhume the grave, you must also pay for a full burial of the body or ashes. A simple funeral in the UK can cost anywhere from £1,500 to £3,000.

Why do people move a family member's grave?

Although the decision to exhume and rebury a relative can be difficult, it is important to a lot of families. Many people are motivated by a desire to be closer to the resting place of their loved one.

Internal migration in the UK is one of the highest of all the European countries, with an average of 3.5 per cent of the population moving each year. Between July 2013 and June 2014 alone, 2.9 million Britons relocated outside of their local council area.

Reburial, though, is not just about shortening long drives to visit loved ones. Some choose to relocate their relatives to a more desirable area within the same cemetery. Others are exhumed so they can be reburied with a partner who has recently passed away.

What is the process of relocating a grave?

The first thing to know is that a grave can only be exhumed with the explicit permission of the next-of-kin of anyone who is buried. You will also need the permission of the grave owner, as well as any surviving relatives of the person.

Once you have completed the application form, you should hear back within 20 days. If the license is granted, you will need to use a funeral director's services to plan a new burial, and communicate with the cemetery or crematorium about the fees they charge for an exhumation.

When you have the necessary licenses and permissions, and have reserved a new space in a graveyard, cemetery or garden of rest, then you can rebury your loved one as you would in a funeral. A funeral director can help you with all of these steps and keep you informed on the process as it is ongoing.

Laying a loved one to rest somewhere more fitting

Some families feel the need to relocate their loved ones to give them a more fitting resting place. This can often mean burying them in a significant location or next to a cherished relative.

This need was highlighted in one of the most famous exhumations and reburials in modern times. In 2012, King Richard III’s remains were discovered under a municipal car park in Leicester. The former king, whose whereabouts had remained unknown for over 500 years, had been presumed lost forever.

The last King of the Plantagenet dynasty was laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral, the city where he fought his final battle as King and lost his life. To make his interment even more significant, he was entombed with earth from his birthplace, where he grew up, and the field where he died.

If you feel strongly about where you'd like to be laid to rest then you should communicate this with your loved ones in advance. The best way to do this is to share your funeral wishes as part of a funeral plan. You can also make specific arrangements in your will.

In order to begin the process of relocating your loved one's grave, get in touch with a local funeral director who will be able to guide you through the process.

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