Where can you be buried or scattered after your death?

Our final journey is one we all make alone, but it’s up to every individual to make sure those left behind are fully aware of the last wishes of the deceased. That includes how to deal with the body, whether that means cremation or burial.

For years, bodies have been interred in designated graveyards, or cremated at the local municipal crematorium. The details are usually handled by the funeral home. Funerals are very expensive, with recent estimates putting the average price at around £4,000. This amount does vary, though, depending on whether you want to be buried or cremated, the extravagance of the ‘send-off’ (including the cost of the casket), and where you live (and die). In London, for example, the price of a funeral can be double that of the national average, or alternatively you can arrange a ‘Direct Cremation’ (a very simple ceremony) for around £1,600.

What is a Direct Cremation?

It’s a ‘no-fuss’ cremation where the body is collected from the mortuary and cremated. There’s no limousines, hearses or ceremony, and your family will need to request the ashes afterwards so they can be disposed of according to the deceased’s wishes. It’s a no-frills option for those who prefer not to attach any religious ceremony to the process, for those who have very simple last wishes, or have a lack of funds for a full cremation or burial.

Why is it so expensive to die in the UK these days?

If you decide to go for a full-blown funeral and burial or cremation, then the cost can start to mount. The most expensive part of any funeral are the funeral director’s fees, which make up nearly 70% of the price of a cremation, and around 53% of the price of a burial. They do, however, take care of everything from the paperwork (such as a death certificate) and disbursement costs, through to arranging the ceremony (with the contribution of the family who will know the last wishes of the deceased).

Can you bury a body anywhere?

Surprisingly, the laws as to where you have to bury a body are quite relaxed. If you don’t want to be buried in a churchyard then you can be buried on private or un-consecrated ground or even in your own garden, as long as the correct permission has been sought and the death was regarded as ‘normal’ (for example, natural causes or old age). The coffin must be a minimum of three feet below the ground, and it is wise to contact the local environmental health department first to advise them of the burial and to check there are no potential issues (such as the site being close to a water source, pipes or cables, for example).

You would also need to create a burial register to ensure the burial complies with Statute law, and you need to ensure that you have a certificate for burial issued by a coroner or the local Registrar. It’s a good idea to mark the burial on your property deeds, too, so that future owners don’t get a nasty surprise when they start digging to put in a new patio!

You’re only allowed to bury one person in your garden (if that’s what you choose to do).

Scattering ashes

The regulations on scattering ashes are somewhat vague in the UK, and again are fairly relaxed. There’s nothing to stop you scattering your loved one’s ashes over land or water, but you do need the landowner’s permission first. If you want to scatter the ashes along a river then you don’t need permission, but you should consult the Environment Agency’s guidance first. If the river is on private land, then again, you’ll also need to get permission from the landowner so that you’re not trespassing (or even ‘littering’) on their property.

Making sure your remains are dealt with properly

The easiest way to make sure your remains are dealt with in the way you want them to be is to include very specific instructions in your will. While most people think of a will as a document that tells the executor how to divide up the deceased person’s estate, there is also the provision for your last wishes to be documented too. It can also help your family to plan ahead and keep the costs to a minimum at what is a very stressful time by putting aside financial support to cover the costs of your funeral and burial or cremation.

If you have a specific spot you’d like your ashes to be scattered then having that put down in your will means that your family can seek permission from the landowner before time, and to plan ceremonies or pay for a burial plot before the time comes.

If you need to revise your will to include your last wishes, then it’s wise to speak to an expert in wills and probate to help you get everything in order.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.