How to inter ashes

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Four minute read

After a cremation, if you choose to bury the ashes of the person who has died in the ground or to place them in a set location, this is known as interment.

Here, we explore what it involves, where you can do it and a few things you might like to bear in mind when making your choices.

After someone is cremated, the cremated remains, commonly known as ‘ashes’ will be returned to you in an urn, or other container. It’s up to you what you do with them after that.

You can choose whether to keep the ashes at home, to scatter them in a significant place or to inter them. Find out more about scattering or keeping ashes here.

What's the difference between scattering and interring ashes?

Scattering ashes takes place outdoors, often over water, at sea, on the grounds of the crematorium, in a garden or a woodland area. Here, the ashes are dispersed by the wind.

Interring ashes is the act of burying the ashes — often in an existing family grave or a new cemetery plot (known as an ‘ashes grave’) — or leasing a place to put the urn of ashes for several years, such as a niche at a crematorium. Depending on where you choose to inter the ashes, you will be able to revisit the place in the future.

Why do people choose to inter ashes?

There are many different reasons why people chose to inter ashes.

1. Family tradition. If other family members are already interred in a particular location, it may feel appropriate or comforting to inter the ashes in the same place or nearby.

2. A place to visit. Family and friends can visit the place where the ashes are interred, whether that is a cemetery, a columbarium, or simply a peaceful area of woodland.

3. A memorial. In many places, a plaque, headstone or other memorial can be erected as a permanent memorial.

4. Religious reasons. In some religions traditions, such as Catholicism, burial is the preferred choice. However, this is not always possible or the right option in every case. Interring someone’s ashes after a cremation, enables you to honour this tradition in your own way.

5. An opportunity to bring people together. Whether or not you have already had a funeral ceremony, you can choose to have an internment ceremony to share memories of the person who has died and to say goodbye. The ceremony can happen at any time you choose once the ashes have been collected — straightaway or on a special date or anniversary.

How do you inter ashes?

The ashes will need to be interred inside an urn. Urns can be made of various materials, from recycled paper to elegant wood to natural willow, and come in a range of different styles.

Some cemeteries will specify that urns must be biodegradable or have other requirements, so it’s always worth checking in advance.

Where can you inter ashes?

Here are some of the most popular options for interment of ashes.

1. A churchyard.

Choosing a churchyard or church cemetery to inter the ashes means that they will be buried in a public, religious place.

Each church will have its own guidelines and costs, and the priest or minister will be able to let you know if interning ashes is possible at their church.

2. A columbarium.

This is an above-ground, physical structure (such as a wall, room or building) where cremation urns are placed in individual compartments or niches. In the UK, a columbarium can often be found in crematoria, and are open to visitors.

Placing ashes in a columbarium is more environmentally friendly than burying them in the ground as it takes up less land space.

You will be able to visit the columbarium in advance if you wish to see where the ashes will be interred. Different cemeteries have different costs and offer different time periods for which you are able to lease a niche in a columbarium, so make sure to check the details carefully.

3. A cemetery.

Similar to a churchyard, you will need to purchase a burial plot, or have an existing family plot, if you wish to inter ashes in a cemetery. Usually, you’ll be able to erect a headstone or memorial where the ashes are buried.

The cost of a burial plot varies, but most cemeteries have reduced rates for local residents.

4. Your garden or other private land.

If you own the land, or have permission from the landowner, you can inter ashes on private land. And, yes, it’s perfectly legal.

This means that you can choose a place that has special significance to you, perhaps your own garden, a favourite picnic spot or a place where you went on family walks.

If this is public land, like a forest or national park, you will need permission from whichever public authority manages the land.

If you are burying ashes in a private garden, make sure you check that you, or the person giving you permission, own the freehold first. If you move house, you will need to tell the new owner about the ashes. Alternatively, if you want to move the ashes, you may need to get an exhumation order.

5. A woodland or natural burial site.

You can arrange to bury ashes at a designated natural burial site. These are beautiful, natural areas of woodland, meadow or grassland, which help to preserve wildlife and biodiversity.

You will need to use a biodegradable urn at a natural burial site. To preserve the environment, many woodland burial sites only have natural memorials, like trees or wildflowers, rather than headstones.

6. A memorial garden

Some cemeteries, crematoria or churches have memorial gardens. These natural and peaceful areas are designed for the scattering or interring of ashes.

A memorial garden is a public space which you can visit and, in some cases, you’ll be able to choose a permanent memorial or plaque to remember the person who has died.

Deciding where to inter ashes

You may find it easy to choose a location, especially if the person who died told you what they wanted or if you have a family tradition to follow.

However, if you are unsure, feel free to take your time, to visit the places that you are considering and to discuss your choices with family and friends.

There is no rush to make a decision. It usually takes a few months to organise the interment, which means you have time to consider exactly what you want.

Think about what matters most to you — is it having a nearby place that is easy to visit, or being able to choose a certain type of memorial, or a religious or personal connection to a particular place?

Whichever option you choose, we can advise you on costs and practicalities while you are planning the funeral. You can make arrangements for the interment of ashes directly with the cemetery or crematorium — you do not need the help of a funeral director.

Read more ideas and guidance on Talking Death — from how to choose a crematorium to seven ways to personalise a funeral.

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