Questions People Ask About Burials

Why are graves dug so deep? (It's distressing to see the coffin go down so deep)

Graves have to be dug to a sufficient depth to allow for future burials to take place. A grave needs to be deep enough to allow for the depth of the coffins/caskets that will be buried there. There are also legal requirements regarding the depth of undisturbed earth between each coffin and the amount of earth that must cover the last coffin.

Why are there so many different types of grave available at some cemeteries?

Some authorities have introduced a wide range of graves to give people as many options as possible when they have to arrange a burial. For historical and practical reasons, Pembrokeshire County Council offers only lawn graves, which are considered by a majority of people to be the best option due to the fact that they are easy to maintain in a tidy condition. However, in some parts of the U.K. graves that permit a more traditional, elaborate and larger type of memorial are available. Vaults and mausolea, or even burial above ground in a Catacomb are available at some cemeteries. For those who request it, Pembrokeshire County Council can arrange for a lawn grave to be vaulted below ground, though only an ordinary lawn grave memorial is permitted.

I have a lawn grave. Why can't I put a full memorial over the surface of the grave?

The lawn grave was designed on the war grave principle (to have only a memorial of limited size at the head of the grave with the rest of the grave laid to lawn). In this manner the limited area available for burial is best utilised. In addition maintenance is easier to accomplish with large mowing machinery being used to keep the area in a neat condition. These graves are sold on the understanding that only lawn style memorials are erected. Full memorials are only permitted on traditional graves in the older parts of the cemeteries in Pembrokeshire.

Are graves filled in straight after a funeral or are they left to the next day?

Graves are prepared for burial at least one full day before the funeral and are covered overnight. The ICCM Guiding Principles for Burial Services states that immediately after the mourners have departed the graveside, the grave shall be entirely back-filled and made tidy. This work is completed on the day of the burial and coffins should not be left uncovered overnight.

I understand that some people wait while the grave is filled in. Why is this?

Some cultures require that the grave is filled in while the family watch or they may wish to undertake the back-filling of the grave themselves. When families want this it is essential that the cemetery is made aware of their requirements when the burial is first arranged. This will ensure that the family's wishes are met and that their safety is protected during the back-filling process.

Can anyone witness the grave being filled?

Yes, but the cemetery will need to be advised of this before the funeral takes place so that they are prepared.

I've got a lawn grave. When will I be able to put a memorial onto it?

In cemeteries where continuous concrete foundations have been laid memorials can be erected on lawn graves, 'almost' immediately.

Where individual foundations are provided for lawn memorials ideally these will be situated on ground at the head end of the grave that has not been disturbed. In these circumstances and with the use of ground anchors and fixings that comply with the National Association of Memorial Masons (NAMM) Recommended Code of Practice, it is still possible to erect a memorial almost immediately. This is the situation in the majority of circumstances in Pembrokeshire.

In cemeteries where the headstone is erected directly on the excavated area of the grave there may be a period stipulated in the cemetery regulations which gives the ground time to settle and consolidate. During this period the cemetery staff should monitor any sinking that becomes apparent and top up periodically with topsoil until settlement ceases. This period may differ around the country due to differing soil types and conditions. Even after settlement has ceased it is advisable to ensure that your memorial mason adopts the NAMM Code of Practice as mentioned above.

Why have I only been sold the grave for a set period of time? - I want the grave forever!

Local authorities are not authorised to sell the land in which the burial is to take place. Cemeteries law stipulates that only the exclusive right of burial in a grave can be sold. This right may be granted for a period of no more than 100 years. Some authorities restrict this right to as little as 25 years (100 years in Pembrokeshire). The law does permit the period of right of burial to be added to and to be handed down the generations, so the grave can stay in the family for as long as they wish. However, ownership will never be issued for more than 100 years at any one time. Some authorities write to owners at appropriate intervals offering the opportunity to extend their right of burial. Even where this option to extend is not offered, the owner of the right of burial can renew the right at the end of the term.

I own the grave - can anyone else be buried in it if I don't want them to?

No. Graves cannot be opened without the permission in writing of the registered owner of the right of burial. The only exception to this is where the burial is to be that of the registered owner. The law protects your rights as registered owner.

I am told the grave is for two people - there is only one person in the grave and I now want two more burials to take place in the grave.

When a grave is purchased to take two full body burials, the depth to which the grave is excavated for the first burial must take into account the need for the second burial. There are legal requirements as to how much earth must be left on top of the last coffin, and it is therefore not physically possible to put an extra coffin into the grave without breaking the law. However, after the grave is full for burial of coffins, cremated remains caskets or urns may still be buried within the grave.

What happens when the lease expires?

Exclusive right of burial in a grave is purchased for a set period of time. At the end of the period the purchaser is normally given the option of renewing the right for a further period. If you are the owner of a right of burial, it is most important that you keep the local authority fully informed of any change of address. Otherwise you may not receive a notice of renewal at the appropriate time.

Right of burial often includes the right to have a memorial on the grave (sometimes the right to have a memorial is granted separately). At the end of the period of the right to have a memorial, the authority will attempt to make contact to offer the option to renew the right for a further period. If the owner cannot be contacted or simply chooses not to renew, the cemetery staff can lawfully remove any memorial following a set period of notice. Renewal of the right may be withheld pending a full inspection of the memorial and a stability test. Any defects found would have to be repaired.

Who is responsible for the memorial?

The owner of the right to have a memorial on a grave is responsible for maintaining it in a safe condition. However the burial authority is responsible for maintaining the cemetery as a whole as a safe place for the public to visit. If an owner fails to do this, the authority may take action to make a memorial safe without prior notification to the owner.

Cemetery staff carry out routine inspections of memorials in the cemetery. When a memorial is identified as being unstable and there is a risk that it may fall and injure someone, it may be cordoned off, laid flat or have a temporary support installed depending on the circumstances.

The authority will send a letter to the owner in these circumstances and it is then the owner’s responsibility to arrange suitable repair. If a memorial is still under guarantee, the memorial mason will be responsible for the repair at no extra cost to the owner. If the owner does not respond to the letter or if the letter is returned undelivered, the memorial may well be laid flat and when the right to have a memorial expires, renewal may not be granted until repairs are made. If the situation persists, the authority may choose to remove and destroy the memorial.

In 2000 Pembrokeshire County Council introduced a scheme for the registration of memorial masons. Memorial masons working in the Council's cemeteries agree to guarantee the quality of workmanship for any memorial installed by them in the past ten years. A Certificate of Compliance with the Code of Fixing Practice of the National Association of Memorial Masons is issued with every installation.

All memorial masons must comply with the Rules and Standards laid down by the Council as part of the conditions of the registration scheme. A copy of the "Rules and Standards" is available to the public on request.

What happens if/when all the owners have died?

Ownership of the exclusive right of burial in a grave can be transferred via the owner's estate. The means of transfer can be very complex and while there is a set procedure to follow, each case must be looked at individually. If you need to transfer ownership contact the burial authority’s office where staff will arrange for a transfer to take place with due compliance with law.

Why can't I have what I want on the grave?

Ownership of right of burial on a grave is granted subject to the regulations that a local authority is legally entitled to impose as the provider of the burial ground. Regulations differ from authority to authority, between cemeteries within a single authority and between sections in a single cemetery. If you wish to purchase right of burial and there is a choice of location available, it is important that you select the situation that most suits your needs. Contact the burial authority and make enquiries about the choices and options available.

Why is a permit for a memorial needed?

Prior to a memorial being erected on a grave space, the written authority of the owner of the grave must be given on a permit / application form, authorising the proposed erection of the memorial. Memorials must conform to cemetery regulations with regard to their size and the method of installation. The memorial also needs to be checked for stability under health and safety regulations in the future. Registration of the memorial ensures that the authority is aware of its presence. It also ensures that no one other than the owner of the right to have a memorial placed there can go ahead against their wishes.

I want to bury cremated remains into the grave. Why do I have to decide whether there will be any more burials before this can be done?

It is against the law to disturb human remains without licence (including cremated remains in a casket or urn), and therefore no further burials will be possible in the grave until a licence has been obtained. Cremated remains can be buried in the grave at full depth, in which case they will not be disturbed by further full body burials, but by having to excavate a grave to this depth there will be additional charges for opening the grave.


ID: 145, revised 22/09/2017