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If you want to move a loved one from their final resting place, you’ll need to apply for an exhumation licence. This applies even if the person was cremated rather than buried.

Fortunately, the process is quite straightforward, and as long as you have permission from other relatives and the relevant authorities, you shouldn’t face any problems in getting an exhumation licence.

What is an exhumation licence?

An exhumation licence gives you permission to move the body or cremated remains of someone who has died, after they’ve been buried.

The licence is issued by the government. For example, in England and Wales, applications are reviewed and approved by the Ministry of Justice.

Why you might need an exhumation licence

There are several reasons why you might need to move the body of someone after they’ve been buried. These include:

  • To move the body to a new burial site
  • To enlarge the grave to make room for more burials
  • To remove the body so that it can be cremated

How to get an exhumation licence

The process for getting an exhumation licence is slightly different, depending on where you live.

What to do if you live in England or Wales

If you live in England or Wales, you need to visit the government website and fill out the online application form with details about the exhumation. You’ll also need to get signatures from:

  • All close relatives to show they agree with the decision
  • The owner of the land where the grave is located
  • The burial authority

You can send the completed form by email or by post, though keep in mind that your application may take longer by post.

What to do if you live in Scotland

If you live in Scotland, the law says that all the exhumation paperwork and negotiations must be carried out by a trained solicitor. So you’ll need to find a solicitor who can help you with making the application. He or she will then confirm the location of the burial and get a ‘Feasibility Certificate’ from the administrator of the cemetery. After that, they’ll contact the local sheriff to grant the licence.

Once the licence has been approved, you can make arrangements with the cemetery administrator for the exhumation to take place.

What to do if you live in Northern Ireland

If you live in Northern Ireland, you need to apply to the Department for Communities for an exhumation licence. You can download the application form online but will need to print it out and send it by post.

For your application to be approved, you’ll need consent from the nearest living relative of the person who is buried. For example, if you’re the child of the person who’s buried, but their wife or husband is still alive, you’ll need their permission for the exhumation.

In Northern Ireland, exhumation licences are for full burials but not cremated remains.

How much does an exhumation cost?

It’s free to apply for an exhumation licence in the UK. But once your application is approved, you’ll need to pay for the cost of the exhumation. It’s worth keeping in mind that this can cost almost as much as a funeral.

Exhumation costs can include:

  • Exhumation fees for the local burial authority and for re-opening the grave
  • Fees for removing and replacing headstones or other memorials
  • Fees for re-burial or cremation
  • Fees for a committal or memorial service if you choose to have one (e.g. celebrant’s fees, flowers, order of service, venue hire)
  • Funeral director’s costs (e.g. storing remains before re-burial, transporting the body, cost of a new coffin or urn)
  • Solicitor’s fees (Scotland only)

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash.