What should I do if I want to exhume cremation ashes?
Exhumation of ashes is the formal term for ‘digging up’ or removal of ashes from where they are buried.
You need legal authority before an exhumation can take place. This applies equally to the body or the ashes of a deceased person.
Different rules apply depending on where they are buried. What you need to do will depend on whether the ashes were buried on consecrated ground (where Church rules apply) or un-consecrated ground. Consecrated ground is land that has been specifically blessed by the Church.
A simple rule is that if they are buried in a churchyard then that land will be consecrated, if they are buried in Wales or Scotland then they are not covered by the Church of England rules.
If your loved one is buried in a local authority (council) run cemetery then the cemetery manager will know, by referring to their plans, whether your loved one in buried on consecrated ground or not.
On un-concreted ground in England and cemeteries in Wales, you will need to apply for a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) licence. These applications are currently free although fairly detailed. You can only apply if you are the next of kin and these will be granted as a matter of course as long as all the paperwork is correct. The same rules apply to private run cemeteries (natural burial ground) although due to their nature issues of portability tend not to be an issue.
On consecrated ground, you will need a Faculty from the local Diocese. Faculty is a similar to a license in this respect. Application for a Faculty is made directly to the Diocese covering the area where the remains are buried. A Diocese is name for an area of land under the jurisdiction of the local bishop – the rector or cemetery manager should be point you in the right direction or you can have a look at this map of the different diocese in England. Obtaining a faculty is much trickier than a MoJ licence. The Church considers that when the ashes are buried that is final resting place unless there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ why they should be moved– a few case studies and examples of what constitutes ‘exceptional circumstances’ can be found here – exhumation. However, issues such as moving home and wanting to takes ashes with you will not be considered important enough.
The law is Scotland is currently different and you would need to go to a Sheriff’s court to have an exhumation granted, this can be expensive but it is likely that this will change in 2016.
Even ashes buried in your own garden ‘technically’ need an MoJ licence before they can be removed. Although we suspect people tend to ignore this.