A guide to the interment of ashes

If you’re deciding what to do with a loved one’s ashes, you might come across the process of ‘interment’. This guide explains what it is, what your options are if you choose it, and how to arrange an interment.

Interment is the process of putting cremation ashes in a permanent resting place that you can visit. Interring ashes can meaning burying them or putting them in a Columbarium — a building, room, or freestanding wall designed to hold urns.

What’s the difference between burial and interment?

The difference comes down to whether your loved one’s body has been cremated or not. Burial is the process of burying a person’s non-cremated body, whereas interment involves putting a person’s cremated ashes in a permanent resting place.

There are a lots of places you can inter ashes

And most will have their own rules, like the type of ceremony you can have there, or the types of urns, headstones or other memorials (like benches or trees) you can use. So make sure you’re aware of any rules before you settle on a location. 

Here are the places you can inter ashes:

Cemeteries or memorial gardens (often attached to crematoria or cemeteries) 

If you do not have a family plot in one of these places, you’ll need to buy an Exclusive Right of Burial from the cemetery or local council (your funeral director can also sort this for you). It’s like a lease, meaning nobody else can be buried in that spot for a specific number of years. 

You’ll usually pay less if you or your loved one are local, and you can renew the lease when it runs out. You might also want to ask about buying or reserving multiple plots next to each other. 

If you do have a family plot at the site, you might be able to bury the ashes there. You’ll need the Deed of Exclusive Right of Burial, or some other evidence that you’re allowed to bury your loved one’s ashes there. 

If lots of people in your family also hold the deed, and there is not a lot of space in the plot, you might need permission from the other owners. 

You’ll go through a similar process for interring ashes in  churchyards 

But there are a few differences worth knowing about:

  • The church’s minister might want to perform a particular type of ceremony when the ashes are buried. Whereas in a cemetery, memorial garden, or other burial site, you can organise and run your own ceremony. 

  • If you ever wanted to retrieve the ashes, you might face problems. Churchyards are consecrated ground, which means ministers are reluctant to disturb ashes — either your loved one’s or somebody else’s in a plot nearby.

Lots of woodland burial sites or natural burial sites offer plots for the interment of ashes

Again, you’ll need to check if you have a family plot there, or buy an Exclusive Right of Burial. 

If you’re using an urn, most woodland burial sites will ask for it to be biodegradable — meaning it’ll break down and become part of the soil. You will not usually be allowed to put up a headstone, but you can often plant a tree or put a wooden cross on the grave instead.

Interring ashes is allowed on private land

That’s as long as you get the landowner’s permission, and give them:

  • A Certificate of Authority for Burial — this is normally issued by the registrar of births and deaths when the death is registered. 

  • A Burial Register that they should pass onto future owners of the land. It gives details of your loved one and their burial, including where the grave is.

If you own the land — for example, you’re interring the ashes in your garden — you’ll need the documents above, and should remember that: 

  • If you do not own the freehold of your home, you’ll need the freeholder’s permission. 

  • If you sell your home one day, the new owners might not let you visit the spot where you buried the ashes. 

  • If you ever want to retrieve the ashes, you’ll need an exhumation order. And you’ll need to have chosen a sturdy urn that has not decayed. 

If you don’t want to bury your loved one’s ashes, consider a Columbarium 

It’s a building, room or freestanding wall, with small individual spaces called niches where you can put an urn. 

Some niches are big enough to hold multiple urns, and there’s usually space in or near the niche to put flowers and tributes, too. There will also be a plaque to say whose ashes are in the niche.

Niches in Columbaria are leased, usually for a period of 10 to 25 years, so you’ll need to buy a lease that gives you exclusive rights to inter to keep your loved one’s ashes there. 

You need certain paperwork to inter ashes

A funeral director can help you organise the paperwork, or you can sort it out yourself, but you’ll need:

  • The Deed of Exclusive Right of Burial - that’s the paperwork that says you have a right to inter the ashes in the spot that you want (unless you’re using private land that’s not yours).

  • A Certificate of Authority for Burial — if you’re interring ashes on private land, including your own. 

  • A cremation certificate — this says who was cremated and when. Even if you are interring or burying the ashes on private land you’ll need to show the landowner this for their records. You collect it at the same time as the ashes.

  • A notification of interment of ashes form — you usually get this from the local council who looks after the place you’ll be burying the ashes. You can usually download the form from their website, where they’ll also give specific guidelines on what you need it for and who you have to give it to.  

You can choose to have a service when you inter the ashes

Lots of people have an interment service, even if they’ve already had a funeral service. If you’re interring the ashes in a churchyard, the minister may want to lead the service, and it might have to be religious. At other burial sites, you can pick any celebrant you like (perhaps a religious or humanist leader, or someone close to the person who’s died), and you can decide on what you’d like to include in the service. 

Most services take around an hour. If you arrange your own service, you can decide how you’d like the order of service to be. But if you’re working with a funeral director, they can help you put together a plan for the service. Here’s what typically happens: 

  1. The ashes will be delivered to the interment site ahead of time, along with any documentation you need. Or, if the ashes were given to a particular person after the cremation, they can bring them to the site. 

  2. People arrive and gather at the site.

  3. The celebrant welcomes everyone and introduces the service.

  4. People who were close to your loved one may choose to speak, giving eulogies about the person’s life, or sharing poems, prayers, songs, or readings. 

  5. If the ashes are in an urn, they’ll be lowered into the ground, or placed into their niche in the Columbarium. If the ashes are going to be poured directly into the ground, this is usually done through a funnel. The celebrant may say a few words while this happens. 

  6. The celebrant will say some closing words, and people will leave.

The cost of interring ashes can range from hundreds to thousands of pounds

The reason the cost varies so much is largely down to the price of burial plots. Plots in a secular, UK burial ground usually cost from £450 to £600, for a lease of 75 to 100 years. And secular Columbaria niches range from £400 to £700 for a lease of 10 to 25 years. But some secular plots can cost as little as £100, while religious plots and niches can cost several thousand pounds. Prices will also vary depending on whether you or your loved one are local to the burial site. 

If you are interring someone's ashes the cost will usually include the Exclusive Right of Burial deed, and a fee for the actual interment, when you have to dig and prepare the plot and cover it up afterwards. 

However if you’ve bought the plot in advance of someone dying, you may have only bought the Exclusive Right of Burial deed, and need to pay more when the time for the actual interment or burial comes.On top of that cost, you might also want to budget for:  

  • A cremation (either with or without a funeral service)

  • The cost of an urn, and something to mark the grave, like a headstone or plaque

  • Buying or reserving multiple plots next to each other

  • Hiring a celebrant to lead an interment service

  • Annual costs to maintain the grave

There are other options if you do not want to inter the ashes

You might not like the thought of burying your loved one’s ashes, or putting them in a Columbarium. If that’s the case, there are plenty of other options. Here are some of the most popular:

Keeping the ashes in your home 

Lots of people choose to keep their loved one’s ashes in an urn within their home, so that they’re always close by. 

Sharing the ashes

Cremation produces more ashes than you might expect, meaning there should be enough to share between family members or friends who might like to keep some.

Using ashes to make glass keepsakes

A small amount of your loved one’s ashes can be mixed into molten glass, which is then formed into anything from stained glass to pendants to glass orbs. 

Turning ashes into diamonds

These are created using a process that mimics how the earth creates natural diamonds. They can then be made into jewellery, if you’d like. 

Scattering ashes

This is popular with people who don’t want to keep their loved one’s ashes in a set place. They often choose to scatter the ashes in a place, or more than one place, that was important to their loved one.

You need permission to scatter ashes

If you have permission from the person who owns the land, you can usually scatter ashes anywhere in the UK. There are some specific environmental guidelines for certain places though, like mountainsides and the sea. We’ve written a guide about where you can scatter ashes in the UK, which gives you a full rundown.

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