When funeral planning takes place after a sudden loss, it’s not uncommon for decisions to be made hastily or in the best interest of getting the burial arrangements made and completed with as little fuss as possible. This is especially true if no advance funeral plans were made; you often have several people with opinions and overwhelming feelings, and not everything that is agreed upon is the ideal outcome.
Although it is rare that these decisions stray so far, there are instances in which the deceased is buried in a cemetery plot that you don’t wish to keep. There are many reasons for this. In some cases, a beloved relative might be buried out of state, and you wish to move them closer to your own burial plot. Perhaps the deceased is buried next to a relative he or she doesn’t belong next to, or the cemetery is too crowded to admit the rest of the family (at a future date). Whatever the reason, you may be considering exhuming the deceased and re-burying his or her body in another location.
The steps needed to transfer a body include:
• Apply for an exhumation license. Every state is a little bit different in how they handle this process, and your best bet is to contact the cemetery directly. Depending on your situation, you may need to get an exhumation license and/or a disinterment order from the probate court. Unless you are authorized to act in the interests of the deceased (either as executor of the will or next of kin), you may not be able to move the body at all.
• Get approval from religious officials. This can either be a formal or an informal process, and you may need a license or written agreement in order to proceed. The act of burying someone on consecrated ground is taken very seriously, and unless your reasons are sound and approved by the affiliated church, you could have problems getting your rights granted.
• Follow local environmental and health regulations. No matter how long the deceased has been buried, human remains pose a potential public health hazard. You will need to have the exhumation done by proper authorities and under the direction of an environmental health officer who can oversee the safety of the proceedings.
• Make body transfer plans. Depending on your situation, you will either have to purchase a new casket for transport and burial, or opt for cremation. The latter is recommended due to the natural decay of the body, and it is much easier to make plans for the cremated remains than it is for a body. You will also need to coordinate with the new funeral home and cemetery of your choice. The body will be transported into their care for future burial arrangements, and you will need to make payments and funeral plans up front.
• You may or may not be allowed to watch the exhumation, but it isn’t recommended that you attend. Exhumations are often held very early in the morning to avoid disruptions, and the process is both lengthy and (in some cases) gruesome. Natural decay and rust will render the coffin and remains unidentifiable, and it can be an unpleasant sight for those not accustomed to it.
While transferring a body is rare and expensive, it can be done. You can expect to encounter several obstacles (at the city and state level as well as with funeral home and cemetery officials), but by remaining calm and knowing where you can turn for help, you should be able to eventually lay your relative to rest at the appropriate location.