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Tomb with a view – where can I be buried?

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 13 October 2015
  2. Wills and Probate
  3. 0 comments

Many of us put a lot of stock in how our bodies are treated once we have died and our souls have slipped the surly bonds of our corporeal forms. As a result, you may want to be buried somewhere meaningful once you pass away.

While it is customary to be buried in a graveyard, there are a number of other places where your body can sleep the eternal sleep.

Burial on private land

You might think that a body can legally only be buried in a cemetery, but this isn’t true – restrictions on where a body can be interred are less restricting than you might think (assuming, of course, that you haven’t just killed them). For example, it is possible to have a loved one buried in your back garden.

There are restrictions and checks on this that you will need to satisfy if you want to bury someone in a garden (or anywhere). For example, burial must be at least 50 metres away from any well or spring that supplies water (meaning it is used for drinking water or cleaning).

Obviously, you must own the land or have the consent of the owner to bury someone there. You will also need to make sure there are no restrictive covenants preventing the burial – you will need to check the title deeds and registration of the property for this.

You do not need to get planning permission from the council to bury anyone, although if you are erecting a gravestone, you may require permission for this (depending on the size of the gravestone and how close it is to a highway).

However, it may be worth talking to the local council anyway, particularly if you want to ensure that the site of the burial and the soil complies with the environmental restrictions.

You should also bear in mind the effect that the burial will have on the property itself, particularly if you move – what effect will it have on the property value? If you sell your house, will the new owners continue to let friends and family come to pay their respects?

Having a family member buried close can be a comforting alternative to having them kept in a large graveyard, but make sure you think through the future consequences first.

Burial at sea

Burial at sea is rare in the UK – however, it can be meaningful final resting place for a sailor or anyone else who had an affinity for The Big Blue.

There are a number of restrictions on burying someone at sea, in order to prevent the deceased coffin from interfering with other marine creatures and activities.

Where can you be buried at sea?

There are three designated locations in England at which you can be buried at sea:

  • a site off The Needles in the Isle of Wight
  • a site of Tynemouth in North Tyneside
  • a stretch of water between Hastings and Newhaven in Sussex

If you want to perform a burial in another part of the ocean around the UK, it is possible to propose a new site – however, you will need to provide coordinates for the site, as well as evidence that it is suitable for this purpose.

Getting a licence and supplying documents

You will need to apply to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) for a licence – you can do this by registering with them on their website.

The licence will cost £175. It can take some time, but it is possible to begin the application before the individual passes away.

You will need to supply the following documents:

  • the death certificate
  • a Certification of Freedom from Fever and Infection – you can get this from the deceased’s GP, or from a doctor that treated them in hospital
  • a notice of intention to remove a body out of England – you can obtain this from the Coroner. You will need to provide the coroner with a Certificate of Disposal, which can be obtained from the Registrar.

Preparing the coffin

The coffin must be built to ensure that it will sink to the seabed and stay there without breaking or polluting the sea in any way.

The requirements are quite specific – for example, the coffin must be weighted with around 200kg of iron, steel or concrete, and it must have 40-50 holes drilled throughout it.

You can read the full specifications here.

Spreading ashes

A common alternative to burying someone somewhere meaningful is to have them cremated and spread their ashes somewhere meaningful.

This can be an easier alternative, as there are no legal restrictions on where you can put ashes – for example, instead of needing a licence and permission to bury someone at a specific area of the sea, you can spread their ashes anywhere in the sea, or in a river.

However, the Environment Agency does have some recommendations to ensure that ashes spread on water are not going to have a negative effect on anyone else nearby – for example, making sure the water is deep enough to disperse the ashes, and not spreading them too close to anyone else. You can read the full recommendations here.

The guidance also mentions that you should not leave mementos, such as plastic flowers, at the site of the spreading.

If you are planning to release the ashes on private land, you should seek permission from the landowner first, particularly if you are planning to spread them on soil. Ash does not make for good fertiliser, and spreading too much on farmlands could damage the soil and affect grass and plant growth.

It is for this reason that many top football clubs do not allow ashes to be spread on their pitch, despite this being a fairly common request. This article has a good summation of different clubs’ policies on ash spreading.

Also, if you are planning to go further afield to spread your loved one’s ashes, bear in mind that some other countries do have restrictions on ash spreading. For example, there are some restrictions on spreading ashes in the sea in certain parts of the EU.

Our Wills and Probate section has plenty of helpful advice on writing your Will or what to do when someone dies.

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