Death: What happens to your body?

How to make sure what happens to your body after you die

The choice is usually between burial or cremation, although some people donate their body to medical research or for the organs to be used in transplants.

Burial

A standard burial can take place in a local authority cemetery, churchyard or private cemetery. Burials can also take place on private land.

Cremation

Local authorities own most crematoria. Ashes can be scattered almost anywhere, including at the crematorium, but to scatter them over private land, you should ask the owner’s consent.

Leaving your Body for Science

If you want to leave your body for medical research, you should make the arrangements while you are still alive. Contact the anatomy department of the university or medical school of your choice. They will give you a bequest form to fill in. Inform your family and your GP of your wish. After you die, your relatives will contact the medical school, who will advise on the next step. If your body is accepted by a medical school (not all bodies are suitable), the school can, if requested, arrange for eventual cremation.

A Costly Business

One way to spare your relatives undue burial expenses is to take out a pre-paid funeral plan. For more information contact the Funeral Planning authority.

Also, ‘do-it-yourself’ funerals (the funeral is arranged and the body transported by relatives and not by a professional funeral firm) are becoming increasingly popular using low-cost, biodegradable coffins. Contact the Natural Death Centre.

The local authority or health authority arrange funerals for people whose bodies are not claimed by family or friends.

Example

A Funeral with a Difference

Your mother has just died. She did not belong to any church, and you do not feel that a traditional religious funeral is appropriate. You are thinking, do you have the right to give her a more alternative burial.

Yes, you can do that. First, you must apply to your local county court for a registrar’s certificate or coroner’s order, without which it would be a criminal offence to bury your mother’s body.

You are then free (within reason) to bury the body as you wish. For example, you can have your mother buried: 

  • in private land, provided it does not constitute a nuisance

  • in a private cemetery

  • at sea

  • abroad – if she was French, say, and wanted to be buried in France

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