Many people find it comforting to know when they will receive the ashes of a loved one. This guide explains what you need to do before you can collect them.
A few things need to happen before the cremation can go ahead. This includes filing the death certificate and completing the application for cremation. If you’re the person who completed this application, you’ll usually be able to collect the ashes within 1-3 days after the cremation.
You’ll need to register the death before a cremation can go ahead
When a person dies, their nearest surviving family member will receive a medical certificate of death from the hospital or hospice where they died. If they died at home, their GP will issue this certificate. You might hear people shortening the name of this certificate to ‘MCOD’.
The MCOD includes the person’s name and age, the date and place of death, and the cause of their death. Once you have this, you can take it to your local registry office to register the person’s death.
Usually, you’ll visit the registry office in person
This is so you can give them the original copy of the MCOD. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, it is possible in some areas to register a death over the phone.
If you register by phone, the registrar may ask you to scan or take a photograph of the medical certificate, and send it to the registry office by email. Whether you can register a death this way will depend on the rules your local council is currently following.
You can read our full guide on how to register a death, as well as information on any other documents you might need to bring to the registry office.
You can find your local registry office online
There are several ways to find your local registry office. You can:
Search ‘registry office’ and your town or city in Google
Use the GOV.UK website if you’re in England and Wales
Find their number in the phone book if you have one
Ask your funeral director for help.
The person who registers the death is called ‘the informant’
This is usually a relative or spouse or partner of the person who’s died.
The informant can also be someone unrelated to the person. They might need to register the death if they witnessed the death, or found the person’s body after they had died.
If it's not clear why the person died, or their death was related to a crime, the coroner will make an inquest. A coroner is appointed by the government to investigate why someone might have died. In this case, the coroner is responsible for registering the death.
A coroner’s inquest can sometimes hold up the cremation process. This is because they need to find out how and why the person died before the cremation goes ahead.
It’s a legal requirement to register a person’s death
If you’re responsible for registering the death, you must do it within 5 days after the person has died. The crematorium will need to see the death certificate before they schedule the cremation.
You’ll receive a death certificate and a cremation permit
If you visit the registry office in person, you‘ll usually receive the death certificate and the cremation permit there and then. You can present the cremation permit to the crematorium to say that cremation can go ahead.
If you’ve filed to register the death by phone or email, you might have to wait a couple of days for the registrar to post the certificate.
You can then proceed with cremation arrangements
Once you have the death certificate and cremation permit, you can give them to the crematorium so they can schedule the cremation. The crematorium staff will also give you an ‘application for cremation’ form to fill out, which you can view in full at GOV UK.
This form will be filled out by the closest relative to the person who’s died. It allows you to:
Give written consent for the cremation to go ahead
Say whether you’d like to collect the ashes, or have the crematorium scatter them for you
Ask the crematorium to hold onto the ashes for a certain amount of time if you’re not sure what to do with them yet
Name another person to collect the ashes if you aren’t able to.
The person who signs the form is the only one who can collect the ashes after the cremation. A different person will only be able to collect them if you have named them on the form.
The person collecting the ashes should bring identification with them on the day of collection, like a driving license or passport.
The cremation itself happens shortly after the service
In most cases, the body of the person who’s died will go into the cremation chamber very shortly after the cremation service. If it’s not straight away, it’s likely to be within the same day.
If you’re having a direct cremation (with no service or funeral), the crematorium will give you the time and date that the cremation will go ahead.
The ashes go through a couple of processes after cremation
Firstly, the ashes need to cool. Because the cremation chamber reaches very high temperatures (up to 1000 degrees celsius), the ashes take 1-2 hours to cool after they’ve come out of the chamber.
Next, the crematorium will remove any metal items from the ashes. This will be things like dental crowns, braces, and prosthetics. The crematorium attendants use a strong magnet to draw these items out of the ashes.
Finally, a machine grinds the ashes down into a finer powder. This removes any larger bone fragments and makes them easier to scatter. When this is complete, the crematorium will place the ashes into a temporary urn, ready for you to collect.
Learn about scattering ashes
Many people are unsure about what to do with ashes once they receive them. You might decide to scatter them somewhere meaningful. This how to scatter ashes guide gives you some ideas, as well as explaining the best ways to scatter them.
When you collect the ashes, the crematorium will give you a cremation certificate
This certificate shows the identity of the person, and the date of their cremation. You’ll need to keep this certificate safe. If you ever take the ashes abroad, or move overseas, you’ll need to show it at the airport.
You’ll usually pay for a cremation upfront
This means you won’t need to deal with any outstanding payments when you collect the ashes.
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