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Grave ownership

Most grave owners will buy a grave following a bereavement. During this period of grief you will be asked to make decisions about what type of burial and grave you would like for the deceased. It is important to understand what grave ownership actually means and how it affects the use of graves.

When a grave has been bought, a Deed of Grant is issued and the name of the Registered Grave Owner is recorded in the Statutory Register as the person owning burial rights.

The grave deed grants the owner the exclusive rights to a grave for a period of 50 years. No ownership of land is granted for the grave and the land remains the property of the council. The Deed grants the owner the right to:

  • Be buried in a designated grave if space is available (includes cremated remains);
  • Authorise further burials in the grave where space is available (includes cremated remains);
  • Apply for a permit to place an inscribed memorial on the grave or give permission for an additional inscription to be added.

The Grave Deed is an important document and must be produced in the event of any future burial in the grave. It is essential, therefore, to keep the Deed in a safe place to avoid any future problems.

Permission must be given by the owner for any burials in, or memorials placed on, the grave. If there is no living owner, the council will need to establish who is legally entitled to the grave, and the “transfer of ownership” must be completed before a burial can go ahead

Frequently asked questions

Why have I only been sold the grave for a set period of time?

Unfortunately, the law stipulates that graves cannot be sold for more than 100 years. However, the law does permit grant of ownership to be extended and so accordingly we write to owners offering the opportunity to renew the right at the end of the current lease.

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 grave. The only exception to this is where the burial is to be that of the registered owner in which case no written authority is required. The law protects your rights as the registered owner of the grave.

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 coffined burial cremated remains caskets or urns may still be buried within the grave.

What happens when the lease expires?

At the end of the lease period we will write to the registered owner with the option to renew the Rights for a further period. It is vitally important that you keep the us fully informed should you change address otherwise you may not receive a notice of renewal at the appropriate time.

How do I transfer grave ownership or what happens when the grave owner has died?

A living grave owner may transfer the ownership of the grave rights by contacting our Bereavement Services office who will arrange the necessary legal transfer of the deed. Please note a fee is payable.

When the grave owner is deceased the grave ownership can be transferred via that owner's estate. The means of transfer can be very complex and while there is a legal procedure to follow, each case must be looked at individually. If you need to transfer ownership when the owner is deceased you will need to contact the Bereavement Services office where staff will arrange for a transfer to take place with due compliance with the law. Please see our guide on Grave Ownership and Deed Transferral for further details or contact the Bereavement Services team.

I have misplaced my grave deed. What should I do?

If you lose or misplace your grave deeds you should inform the Bereavement Services Office who will advise on the issue.

Useful links

The Probate Service

To get a copy of a will, Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration visit GOV.UK. There is a small fee and any cheques should be payable to HMCS. A copy is usually provided within 21 days. The full name of the deceased, date of birth and last known address must be provided.

The National Archives

If you need to find out if a will was made before 1858, or need to obtain a Death Certificate from 1837 onwards, you can contact The National Archives at Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU. Tel: 020 8876 3444 or visit

The Register Office

If the death was within the last 18 months, you can ask for a copy Death Certificate from the Register Office for the area in which the death occurred. Please see our 'Register a death' section.