PURCHASING A GRAVE IN A LOCAL CEMETERY
Purchasing a grave can easily be done through your local cemetery office where staff will guide you through the procedure. Most people only think of purchasing a plot when a loved one has died and there is no family grave available. However local authorities have increasing numbers of enquires from families who wish to buy graves long before they will be used. This is because in recent years, it has become far more acceptable to talk about death and funerals, and as most funeral directors now provide a pre-paid funeral plan, it seems sensible to purchase the grave at the same time.
Most cemetery office staff will arrange to meet you at the cemetery in order to show you around the various areas and where empty plots are available. I would suggest you take your time choosing the right spot and visit the cemetery again, by yourself, or with other family members, when you are not feeling under pressure. Once you have come to a decision you can revisit the cemetery office and put forward your choice. Usually the office will have maps of each cemetery which you and the member of staff can look at to determine if the plot you have chosen is vacant. When a suitable plot is chosen payment for the grave is usually made at this time and the grave deeds will then be issued as proof of ownership. The grave deed is issued to the registered grave owner and must be retained until it is required to prepare the grave for interment. The deed must be produced at the cemetery office as proof of identity and ownership. The exclusive rights of burial may be transferred to someone else providing the grave owner completes the appropriate paperwork, which may be obtained from the cemetery office.
The grave deed is a very important paper and should be carefully looked after. If you lose the grave deed and cannot produce it at the relevant time, it becomes a far more complicated procedure to get the person buried. Some cemetery offices take a more lenient approach to lost deeds and as long as they are satisfied that you are the rightful owner, (through a rigorous identification process) than they will arrange to have new deeds produced for a price – usually around £40. However some authorities see this as a way of making more money and refuse to have new deeds produced which means you to complete a form of indemnity, which gives authority to the Council to open the grave for burial, which is a far more costly affair. Plus to add insult to injury it means you have to do this every time you want to open the same grave.
When you buy a grave, you are buying an exclusive right of burial grant, not the land itself. The deed shows for how many years you can decide who can be buried in that grave. You will need to show the grant if you want another burial in the grave at some point. All grave rights are sold for a fixed period of time. An average lease is usually a 75-100 year period, and during that time, the grassed areas will be maintained by the city council's grounds maintenance team. After the initial lease period has expired, the grave owner may be offered a further lease period for an appropriate fee.
Most councils operate their cemeteries on a lawn-type grave system where the height, style and design of each memorial is restricted and kerb-stones, edging and other forms of ornamentation are not allowed on any grave (except for the head part directly in front of the stone) and can be removed without notice. However you may find that in many instances the cemetery workers will ignore this rule for a certain length of time, especially on new graves, as mourners adjust to their lost. I have especially found this to be the case when young people and children are involved. All graves are usually turfed within six months of a burial. The head of the grave (in front of the gravestone) must not usually exceed 90cm wide x 60cm (approx. 3ft wide x 2ft) and all unfixed memorials and tributes must be placed inside this allotted area. Also any trees or shrubs planted without permission may be pruned or removed at the discretion of the Council. Many councils also state that only fresh flowers be left on a grave as artificial flowers, plastic wrappers and containers invariably litter the cemetery after windy weather and they may also not be environmentally friendly. (Of the cemeteries I visit I have rarely found the latter ‘rule’ to be enforced.)
Sometimes, because of the varying ground conditions within cemeteries, some areas will only facilitate two burials in a grave, whilst where the ground is more suitable, three burials are obtainable. The best people to advise you on this matter are the cemetery office staff.
Most graves can accommodate up to three coffins plus caskets of cremated remains, depending upon the area and denomination of land that is required for the grave. The cemeteries usually provide graves in Roman Catholic plots, Church of England ground, Non Conformist, (i.e Baptist, Methodist), Muslim graves and cremated remains graves. Cremated remains are not required to be buried as deep as coffins.
If you wish you can buy a normal burial plot that you can put both coffins and cremations into. However in order to facilitate both, if a cremation is to be buried first than it has to be laid to rest as deep down as the first coffin would be required to go. If this does not happen and the casket of ashes is buried only at the required depth of a cremation, then no coffins will be allowed in the grave - only other cremations. The reason for this is because you are not allowed to disturb any prior burial remains in order to lay to rest another person’s remains, and you would have to do this in order to place a coffin to its required depth.
If you already have a family grave that contains coffins and no ashes have been ‘poured’ (ashes put into grave via long tube with no casket), than you could in theory use the grave to bury boxed cremations. However, if ashes have been poured in the past, than in most cases no further burials of any description will be allowed.
The average cost of a grave plot in 2011, for a resident of the area, that would hold two coffins plus cremations was £750 and £950 for a non-resident. (Of course this will vary from district to district) The average cost of a cremation plot was £450.
Please note the figures above are for the cost of the grave and do not include the cost of interment (placement of remains/body in the grave) which, for those over the age of 18, is usually within the region of £650 (resident) and £1000 (non-resident), with cremation interment costing approximately £350. However, if you have to bury the cremation at the depth of a coffin then the cost will be the same as if it were a coffin, this is because the vast majority of the cost of interment is for the digging.
Suggested Further Reading:
DCA - Guide for Burial Ground Managers
ICCM - Institute of Cemetery & Crematorium Management