Exhumation Guide

Although rare, there may be some instances in which we must exhume the remains of our friends and loved ones who passed on. There are several reasons for this, but there is usually a process and means about doing it.

While it’s always best to look up the laws and regulations in your area for the specifics about exhuming, the following article will discuss a basic overview. This will involve solid reasons for the disinterment along with filling out a lengthy application and receiving approval.

But, there are other details involved as well. This will very much depend on where you are in the world and what the reasons are for disinterment. The only time you won’t have to go through this process is if the deceased is moving to a new location within the same burial grounds.

The Definition of “Exhume”

To exhume, or disinter, a body refers to removing the remains of a decedent from its current burial site and moving it elsewhere. The final destination could be anywhere from a medical examiner’s office to a new burial site.

How to Apply for Exhumation

The very first thing you should do is look up your local laws, regulations and rules for exhumation. In almost all cases, you are going to have to fill out a very long and time-consuming application. You must have good reason for wanting to disinter a body from its resting spot in order for the government to agree to it.

Reasons for Disinterment

There are many reasons why people request a disinterment. The following are the most common: 

  • The body must undergo a medical examination either for a criminal investigation or to determine the decedent’s identity via DNA testing.
  • Sometimes the current burial location is no longer suitable because of changes in terrain.
  • When families purchase a mausoleum, they seek to put all relatives in the same burial site.
  • Relocating war vets from a temporary resting spot to a permanent one.
  • To scatter previously interred cremated remains to another location.
  • There are times where burial grounds are decommissioned due to building developments and the remains must go to a new resting place.

Other Parts of the Application

The procedure of what happens from here on out will depend on where you are in the world. Some places, such as in the UK, have different rules. For instance, in Scotland the process is quite different than it is in Wales. The United States is even more complex.

In the UK

In Scotland, an applicant must have all paperwork and negotiations carried out by a trained solicitor. They confirm the burial site and obtain a “Feasibility Certificate.” The local sheriff then grants or denies the license.

But, in Wales, an applicant must have all signatures of relatives close to the decedent to show they agree with the decision and the owner of the burial grounds must also agree.

In the US

In the US, the next of kin to the deceased is the one who must fill out the application. The applicant must also have written confirmation from other family members stating they agree with the exhumation. Written permission from the burial grounds owner will often have to accompany the application. 

There also must be proof of other plans and scheduling before the process can begin. Things like transportation, the new burial site and etc.

The General Process

There will often be a variety of people involved at different stages of the disinterment. This will impinge on what you plan to do with the remains. However, this usually includes the cemetery authorities, health officers, funeral directors and even religious/spiritual leadership.

Other Plans ; Possible Fees

Plus, the person making the arrangements should expect to pay fees for the process along with transportation and/or repatriation. When shipping, it’s likely that additional permissions from the airlines, shipping company or other courier will be necessary. Plus, the applicant will have to furnish these documents along with the approved application to the new burial site.

After Sending ; Acceptance of the Application

Once you send in your application, you should receive an answer in about three months. If they approve your request, these must go to the burial grounds authority where the decedent currently rests. All parties involved arrange a date and time for the exhumation along with other logistics and details.

The following is a list of basic procedures:

  • Site evaluation by legal authorities; this could be a medical examiner, coroner, health department officer or cemetery authorities.
  • Applicant must ensure submission of all legal notices.
  • There must be arrangements for environmental protection agents as well as health officers to be present during the disinterment.
  • Exhumations usually occur early in the morning behind a screen. This is for security and privacy.
  • There is often some sort of archaeological observation by a state representative or other qualified local official. This helps to ensure technical and respectful exhumation of the deceased.
  • A new coffin or casket may be necessary to abide by all laws and statutes. On the day of exhumation, all human remains and original coffin pieces will go into the new receptacle.
  • Once the remains are in the new coffin or casket, officials then identify and seal it.
  • When the deceased is in transport to its new location, the previous burial site undergoes cleaning and disinfection. Some areas or burial grounds will require that you show proof of hiring a professional service before disinterment can begin.
  • After the process is over, the applicant should receive a certificate of clearance from the cemetery or burial grounds owners. This will come stamped and signed by all other officials involved in the process.


Deciding to exhume the remains of loved one isn’t a decision to make lightly. There’s a lot of paperwork, red tape and bureaucratic loopholes. However, sometimes it’s necessary and worth the extra effort. Understanding the process and what’s involved will not only help you make the right decision but it will also make things go more smoothly.

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