Exhumation – Removing and relocating Graves
Every year, as people move across the country, hundreds apply to exhume loved family members to take them with them to a new resting place.
This process of exhumation, the relocating of graves, sits uncomfortably with many, but as each generation becomes increasingly mobile it might be time for the removals industry to consider not only how to move household objects, but also human remains.
Internal migration in the UK is one of the highest of all European contrives, with roughly 3.5% of the population moving home each year. As families become spread across the country, leaving the resting places of deceased loved ones behind, it’s no surprise that the Ministry of Justice, the body responsible for exhumation in the UK, receives roughly 25 exhumation requests every week. Often burial staff are more than willing to help and accommodate any exhumation, but the legal and Church processes aren’t quite so simple.
The first step in the exhumation process within the UK is to apply for an exhumation license, although in Scotland this can only be done by a solicitor. The 12-page MoJ application form requires signatures not only from close relatives, but also the owner of the grave plot and the relevant burial authorities. While the license itself has no attached fee, the burial authority, and whoever performs the exhumation can put forward their own charges for the process. The most important thing to note here, however, is that without this license, exhuming a body is illegal, so make sure all the necessary paperwork is in order.
For many removal companies, there are two key situations for exhumation which are very relevant. The first is a garden burial where any burial must be recorded on deeds and declared on point of sale. The second is when remains are transported abroad. The carrier (the airline or shipping company), must confirm that they are prepared to transport the remains and, as well as the MoJ license, there must also be a letter from an overseas cemetery that confirms the reinternment of the body, or ashes, in that location. Ashes can often be transported as hand luggage, but it is advisable to seek advice from any airline and to carry all documentation.
The issue is made further complicated by whether the original or new burial ground is consecrated. This consecration depends on where in the UK the burial is and whether it is within or without of Church locations. Within consecrated ground you also need a Faculty from the local diocese, much harder to obtain than an MoJ licence. This is because the Church considers the original internment as a final resting place that should not be disturbed except in exceptional circumstances. Simply moving home is often not considered important enough.
With this in mind, it might be that the country’s attitude to burial as a whole might change. Burial might be seen as a far more temporary measure, with people preferring woodland or sea burials or scattering ashes. Any removal company would be wise to pay attention to these attitudes as it may well be that transporting human remains becomes as common and technical a job as transporting artwork and grand pianos.