Many people think that once someone has been buried, they essentially own the land that they are buried in forever.
But the fact is, very few local authorities sell graves ‘in perpetuity’.
When a grave is purchased, this does not mean you are purchasing the grave freehold or land itself.
Rather, under what is known as the ‘exclusive right of burial’, you are purchasing the exclusive right to say who will be buried in that grave for a set period. This is more like purchasing a lease.
Burial rights also include the right to erect a memorial. This can remain on the grave for the period of the lease.
Generally speaking, local authorities will only sell the exclusive right to a grave space for a certain number of years; this typically lasts for between 25 and 100 years.
When the lease is due to expire, the grave owner will be sent a letter, inviting them to renew for further periods.
The owner can then opt to renew the exclusive rights of burial for a further term.
If the lease is not renewed, the headstone can be removed and collected by the owner – or destroyed by the local authority.
Existing burials in the plot are not removed or disturbed, but remaining space in the plot may be resold.
Joint burial plots
If you are the registered owner of a burial plot and would like someone else to be buried there. You can assign the rights and make them joint owners. You can also state in your Will that another person has the ‘right’ to be buried in the same plot.
This might be the case if, for example, you want your husband or wife to be buried beside you.
Once you assign the rights, the grave is then co-owned by all the people who intend to be buried there.
In other words, all owners have a legal right to be buried in that grave.
Transferring the exclusive right of burial
Once you have a ‘Grant of Exclusive Right of Burial’, you can, if you wish, transfer those rights to another person.
If you wish to do this during your lifetime, you need to complete the correct paperwork and submit this to the right council department.
Equally, if the registered owner of a grave has died, it may be the case that other family members want to arrange for a further burial to take place – or for an inscription to be added to the memorial.
In this situation, a living owner must give their permission for a burial to take place – or for the memorial to be altered.
To enable the burial request to happen, the ‘exclusive right of burial’ needs to be transferred to the person entitled to the rights.
Shortage of land
One of the big issues with burying people in the UK is the shortage of land available. Many local councils warn that they could run out of burial spaces within the next 20 years.
This lack of space has led to a dramatic increase in burial costs in recent years, with the average plot now costing almost £2,000, for residents of the particular area of burial. Ash burial plots generally cost around £450.
The bad news is, as time goes on, the cost is likely to rise, as the cost of land itself increases.