The Interment of Ashes: A Guide

There is something very final about a burial, so depending on the wishes of the deceased, many people prefer to receive their loved one’s ashes. This then brings the question of where to keep them. The deceased may have stated their wishes, perhaps to be scattered in a meaningful area. Some mourners want to hold onto the ashes for comfort and keep them in their home, while others organise ‘the interment of ashes’ to create a permanent place outside the home, where all those who knew the deceased can pay their respects. 

Usually this means placing the ashes in a columbarium or burial plot. This is particularly comforting for:

  • Those who have a family burial location
  • Those who like the tradition of the interment of the ashes
  • Those who want a place to visit and remember their loved one

This guide will take you through what happens at the interment of ashes, some of the choices you have and some things you might not have known.

What Happens at the Interment of Ashes?

After the cremation, the ashes will be collected, stored and given to the family. A separate interment of ashes service can then take place with family and friends gathering at the burial plot. The service can be religious or humanist and can include readings, poems and prayers.

The ashes are usually lowered into the ground inside an urn or poured into the plot through a funnel. 

You can choose to mark the plot with a headstone so that mourners have a place to visit. Your chosen design can personalise the space by incorporating a photograph, a reflective verse or any text or motif that best represents their life.

cremation headstone

If the interment of ashes is at a natural burial site, the urn needs to be biodegradable.

Interment of Ashes Procedure

The procedure for the interment of the ashes starts with finding a permanent location. 

Possible locations include:

Private land procedure

The process for private land requires you to have permission from the land owner. If you are holding the interment of ashes in a natural burial ground, you will not be allowed a headstone, but trees can be planted on the area instead. You will also need to use a  biodegradable urn.

After you have chosen where to place the ashes you need to make sure that everything is budgeted for and that you have all the required paperwork. You need to be ready to provide a cremation certificate, the Deed of Exclusive Right of Burial (lease of the plot) or a notification of interment of ashes form.

Procedure for a cemetery or memorial garden

Firstly, you need to call the local authority in charge of the plot. If you don’t already have a plot, you can purchase the rights to one. You will receive a discount on the cost of the plot if you or your loved one is local to the area. Rather than buying the plot you are often leasing the plot for a fixed amount of time, rather than owning.

If you have space within a family plot you can choose to bury the ashes there. If lots of people hold the Deed of Exclusive Right of Burial you may need permission from the other owners first, especially if there is limited space.

The process for a churchyard

Churches will have their own procedures and rules about what type of headstones and urns can be used. 

Interment of Ashes Ceremony 

The interment of ashes ceremony takes place after the cremation ceremony. The interment of ashes usually lasts around an hour. During a typical ceremony:

  • The mourners arrive and gather at the chosen site.
  • A celebrant will introduce the ceremony (the celebrant can be someone close to the deceased or a religious or humanist leader).
  • A loved one will provide a eulogy about the life of the departed (several people can speak).
  • The ashes are placed into an urn or funnel and put into the ground as the celebrant says a few words.
  • The celebrant will then say some final words and the mourners will leave.  

Burying Ashes in a Churchyard

Whereas a local authority burial plot will leave you to organise your own interment of ashes ceremony, a church will have a minister who will hold a religious ceremony. 

As churchyards are consecrated ground, disturbing other ashes can be an issue that can arise. Churches will also have rules and guidelines about what type of urn you can use.

Burying Ashes in your Garden

You might not think there is much to consider if burying the ashes in your own garden, but by law, cremation ashes are treated the same as a human body. 

Many people are not aware of any restrictions. These only apply if you are burying the ashes in an urn or box, not for scattering the ashes. There are a number of things that you may need to consider:

  • Before the burial you will need a Certificate of Authority for Burial from the registrar of births and deaths and you will have to complete the slip on the bottom and return it to them within 4 days.
  • If you wish to retrieve the ashes in the future you will need an exhumation order. If you think you may be moving the ashes in future as you move home, make sure that the urn you choose is strong, durable and won’t decay.
  • If you don’t own the freehold of your property, you will need the freeholder’s permission. 
  • There are no restrictions on the depth to which the ashes have to be buried in your garden, but normally ashes are buried 90cm (3ft) deep or more.

Average Cost of Burying Cremated Ashes

To find out the exact cost of the plot for burying cremated ashes, contact your chosen location.

The average cost is around £600, but prices can be as much as £2,000 or as little as £100 depending on the location.

As well as the burial fee, you might also pay for:

  • A cremation without a funeral
  • A cremation with a funeral
  • Yearly grave maintenance costs
  • The cost of a quality memorial plaque or headstone
  • The cost of an urn

The costs vary greatly depending on which area of the country the burial is taking place in and whether you or the deceased live locally.

Poems for Scattering Ashes

Reading a poem can be comforting for all those attending when scattering ashes or at an interment of ashes service. A quick search on the internet will bring up a large choice. Some well-loved favourites include:

  • When I am Dead, My Dearest by Christina Rossetti
  • Come With Me by Rhonda Braswell
  • Gone From My Sight by Henry Van Dyke
  • Gone, But Not Forgotten by Anon
  • Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye