Funeral Legalities

A Guide to Funeral Legalities and RightsWhen it comes to planning a funeral, the list of rules and regulations can feel overwhelming. You’re likely still going through the grief process, trying to ensure you tick every box and give your loved one the send-off they deserve. At Wallace Stuart Limited, we were born from a dedication to helping you navigate this process with compassion and support. This is why we’ve created this guide, to walk you through all of your legal rights and responsibilities when planning a funeral. The aim is to help you at all stages while reducing stress and worry on your side.

What Do You Need to Know?

You Do Not Need to Hire a Funeral Director

There are no laws here in the UK that make working with a funeral director mandatory. If budgets or specific requirements prevent you from finding the right one, you are more than capable of organising a funeral by yourself. However, funeral directors are there to help make the entire process easier for you. They arrange transport, advise on costs, organise flowers etc.

You Have the Right to Take Possession of a Deceased Body Straight Away

While there is no ‘ownership’ of a body, the person who has duty over the deceased can take possession of the body straight after death. This means you can begin to plan funeral or cremation services as soon as you feel ready. The exception to this is if the person passed during a hospital stay or while the coroner had jurisdiction.

You Do Not Need to Have a Funeral

In the UK, there are no legal requirements for you to have a funeral – this includes weekends and bank holidays. The only variation to this is that you must ‘dispose of the body of the person who has died by burial, cremation or any other means. You may decide to have a loved one cremated or organise a direct cremation with a separate service.

You Should Register a Death Within 5 Days

You must register the death of a loved one within 5 days. However, this process can be delayed for an additional 9 days if a medical certificate has been issued. If the death is being dealt with by a coroner, you will be unable to register the death until their investigations have been completed. Once you have registered the death, you will be given a ‘certificate for a burial’ or an application for cremation which enables the funeral to take place. Covid restrictions have changed the process of registering the death so please contact us and we will talk you through it.

You Can Be Prosecuted for Not Burying or Disposing of a Body

In the UK, it is an offence to prevent the lawful and decent burial of a dead body. This is a very rare occurrence but can result in life imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.

You Can Bury a Loved One on Your Own Owned Land

As long as you have paid off your land and property in full, and have no outstanding mortgage, it is legally acceptable for you to bury a deceased on your own land. To meet Environmental Agency regulations, the burial site must be far enough away from a ditch or water source and you must leave at least 30” of soil between the surface of the ground and the upper side of the coffin. You do not need planning permission but must have possession of the certificate of authority. In this instance, you may also be allowed to set a headstone in the garden too. The documentation you have must be kept safe, to ensure that the grave is not accidentally disturbed.

You Can Embalm a Loved One

There are legal obligations in the UK to have a loved one embalmed. However, this is a choice you can make if you would like to be able to view the person for a longer period without decomposition. It is also done if the person needs to be repatriated or if they have specified a wish to be embalmed in their funeral plan. This process takes approximately 2 hours and will preserve their physical appearance for a varied length of time, depending on the condition of the body and the time of death.

Funeral Wishes Are Not Legally Binding

While providing funeral wishes allows loved ones to lay the person to rest in their own specified way, these wishes are not legally binding. The Executor tasked with possession of the body has the final say over the funeral arrangements. In normal situations, this person will be a family member or someone close to the deceased. The best way to make it known what music you’d like or burial service you would like is to get a funeral plan. With this, you’ll be able to pre-arrange the funeral in the exact way you wish.

Exhumation of a Body or Ashes Can Only Be Done Under Certain Circumstances

According to the Burial Act 1857, once a person is laid to rest it is unlawful to disturb or remove the body without lawful authority. However, in certain circumstances, you can apply for a license to have ashes or a body exhumed.

These include:

  • To move a body from the original gravesite to a new one.
  • To deepen the existing grave.
  • To send the body for cremation.

In order to do this, you will need written permission from the closest relatives, the owner of the grave plot and the burial authority.

Here at Wallace Stuart Limited, we’re here to help you create a funeral service that is full of compassion, support and personalised touches. By keeping you informed about your legal rights, we strive to give you the capability to make the right choices for your family. If you have any questions or would like to speak to one of our funeral directors, please do get in contact here today.