Can Anyone Put a Headstone on a Grave?

There are a great deal of restrictions surrounding who is entitled to put a grave marker or other memorial on a grave site in the UK. These restrictions take into consideration who is in possession of the Deed of Grant for the grave as well as to the rules set down by the cemetery in which the plot lies.

Who has the Right to Put a Headstone on a Grave?

Only the person named on the Deed of Grant to a cemetery plot is entitled to put a headstone on a grave, provided that the cemetery allows it. If you do not own the Deed of Grant and place a grave marker on the site, the Registered Grave Owner is legally entitled to remove it or have it removed.

It is worth bearing in mind that even if you are the person named on the Deed of Grant and therefore entitled to put a headstone or other grave marker on a grave site, you are still bound by the rules and restrictions of the cemetery in which the grave lies.

If your deceased loved one has been laid to rest in an eco cemetery for example, you may be restricted to placing only biodegradable headstone markers, or none at all. Traditional churchyards have strict rules regarding the materials of gravestones and memorials, as well as their design. For instance, a Christian churchyard may not permit any iconography that relates to another religion.

headstone in cemetery

Grave Deeds and Ownership Laws UK

When a grave is purchased, a Deed of Grant is bestowed on the Registered Grave Owner. This gives them the exclusive rights to the grave for 50 years. After this period of time is up, the Deed of Grant must be extended in order to continue ownership of the grave site.

Usually only the person named on the Deed of Grant can erect memorials or headstones on a grave. Nevertheless, there are some circumstances in which other people can become involved in the process. These include:

  1. If the owner of the Deed of Grant agrees to give up their right to the grave, a Transfer of Deed can take place and both the present and future owners must register the information at the cemetery office.
  2. If the owner of the Deed of Grant passes away, the Deed is part of their estate and can be willed to one of their next of kin.
  3. If for whatever reason the Deed of Grant expires, a person other than the former owner can renew it.

How long do you have to wait before you can put a headstone on a grave?

While there is no one specific rule around how long you need to wait before you can put a headstone on a burial grave, as a guideline figure it is recommended that you wait for at least six months, if not longer. This is for a number of reasons, the first of which is that the ground needs time to settle before a gravestone can be erected. For the first six months, the grave may still be settling – and in some burial grounds, this can be a risk for closer to a year. If a headstone is placed in sinking ground, then it is likely to lean forward.

There are emotional reasons too; you will have a clearer idea of what you want inscribed on a headstone after a few months when the initial shock has passed and the grieving process is slightly further along. The epitaph you choose will be there to last, so it is worth taking the time to ensure that it is right.

Replacing a Headstone Law

Only the Registered Grave Owner is legally entitled to replace a headstone. If anyone else erects a memorial without their support, it can be removed in compliance with laws supporting the removal of any unauthorised items from the grave site. These restrictions do not just apply to the headstone itself, but also to any toys, memorabilia or gravestone ornaments that may be on the grave.

The Registered Grave Owner may also be instructed to replace a headstone if it is not in compliance with the rules set by the cemetery if the offending aspects (such as an inappropriate colour, decoration, vase or type of image) cannot be altered in situ. Here are some compliant sandblasted designs for inspiration.

Adding a Second Name to a Headstone

If you are the Registered Grave Owner, adding a second name to a headstone is possible and allowed, provided that the lettering and any additional decoration comply with cemetery restrictions. It is also possible to have an extra inscription added to the back of the gravestone if there is no space on the front – this is rarely prohibited.

add inscription to headstonebook headstone added inscription

The cost of adding a second inscription to a headstone, or adding to the inscription on an existing headstone or memorial, does not tend to be more expensive than the initial inscription despite being carried out in situ. For the best rates, seek out the company responsible for inscribing the headstone in the first place if you can.