Who Can Put a Headstone on a Grave?

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Church with a graveyard

There are many things to consider when organising a funeral.

Doing so while trying to grieve can make things incredibly difficult and stressful for some, while others appreciate being kept busy and productive during this period with something that occupies their time.

Some discover that the deceased had contemplated their funeral and had already carried out some of the organisation or had left specific instructions detailing what they would like to happen before, during and/or after their funeral – such as funeral transportation arrangements, the clothes they would like to be wearing, the hymns they would like sung, stating whether they would like to be buried or cremated, selecting the specific coffin or cremation memorial they would like to be laid to rest in, and at which specific cemetery or legal location they would like that to take place.

Some people even decide to choose their own headstone before they pass.

Two old women embrace with their hand on each others shoulder while smiling

If no plans or instructions have been put in place when a friend or relative passes, organising their funeral can seem quite overwhelming with a plethora of important decisions to make. An experienced funeral director will be able to compassionately guide you through this process.

During the funeral planning, or even after the event, you may find yourself questioning if you can even arrange putting a headstone on their grave. With many local rules and restrictions in the UK surrounding who is entitled to mark a grave with a headstone or other memorial, things can be very complex and it’s something that many people query.

Who is Entitled to Put a Headstone on a Grave in the UK?

Whoever is named on the Deed of Grant for Exclusive Right to Burial is the person legally entitled to arrange having a headstone placed on a grave, so long as the cemetery permits it.

If you are not the person named on the Deed of Grant and you place a marker on the grave, the person named as the Registered Owner of the grave will be legally entitled to either remove it themselves or have someone else remove it for them.

Under certain circumstances, other people can become involved in the process of putting a headstone on a grave, such as:

  • If the owner of the Deed of Grant renounces their rights, a Transfer of Deed to another person can be processed, giving them legal entitlement to place a headstone or other memorial marker on a grave.

  • If the Registered Owner of the Deed of Grant passes away, the Deed automatically becomes a part of their estate. The Deed of Grant may be transferred to somebody who has been named in their will, but in most circumstances the Deed is officially transferred by the cemetery’s office. The person who the Deed transfers to will then be entitled to place a memorial on a burial site.

  • Should the Deed of Grant expire, it can be renewed by someone other than the former owner, providing them with the right to put a memorial on a grave.
Gravestones in a cemetery with sunset sky

What is the Deed of Grant for Exclusive Right to Burial?

The Deed of Grant for Exclusive Right to Burial is an important legal document that is received following the purchase of a burial plot. The person named on the Deed of Grant will be recorded in the statutory register and will be confirmed as the legal Registered Owner of the named grave.

The Registered Owner has the right to be buried in the grave and may also allow others to be buried in the grave. It will also typically include the right to place a headstone or other memorial.

A living owner, at any point, may also choose to assign the rights to someone else.

The Deed of Grant provides the grave owner with exclusive rights to the burial plot for a set number of years on a leasehold basis, but for a period no longer than 100 years – as indicated under ‘Charter Rights’ of the ‘Grave Choice’ section in the Charter for the Bereaved by the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM).

Screenshot of Charter Rights for Right of Burial in a grave

The actual length of lease can vary depending on the cemetery or council, but typically falls between 30 – 100 years. 

Once this time expires, the lease to the Deed of Grant must be extended for a fee before ownership of the grave site continues. Upon expiry, ownership of the burial plot will revert to the cemetery owner and cannot be used again until the Deed of Grant has been extended or repurchased. Options surrounding the Deed of Grant and extensions can vary between cemeteries. 

As the expiry date nears, the cemetery-owner will most likely attempt to contact the next of kin or descendants. 

Deed of Grant for Burial Infographic

What if the Registered Owner is Deceased?

Without a living grave owner, the grave can no longer be used for any further burials, though it will be assumed that they give permission to be interred into their own grave. Following this, a transfer of grave ownership will have to be organised. How this is done will depend on the circumstances.

Grant of Probate with Valid Will

  • If the deceased Registered Owner left a valid will that requires a Grant of Probate, the grave ownership will be transferred to the executor(s) of the will.

  • If the deceased Registered Owner left a valid will that wasn’t sufficient value for a Grant of Probate, ownership will be transferred to the executor(s) of the will after signing a Statutory Declaration.

The executor(s) will then be in control of identifying who the new rightful owner of the grave should be and can complete a Deed of Assent to finalise the transfer of ownership. 

Letters of Administration with No Valid Will

If the deceased Registered Owner left no valid will, ownership of the grave may be transferred to a personal representative named on the letters of administration. It will then be the responsibility of the representative to identify the new rightful owner and complete a Deed of Assent to finalise the transfer of ownership.

No Letters of Administration and No Valid Will

If there happens to be no letters of administration nor any valid will, the transfer of ownership will naturally fall to the next of kin.

Should the next of kin not wish to become the owner of the grave they can renounce their rights at this stage. Ownership can then be transferred to someone else.

Memorials: Cemetery Rules and Restrictions

Although being named on the Deed of Grant makes one entitled to put a headstone or other marker on a grave, it doesn’t allow them to escape the rules and restrictions that the cemetery has in place.

"Know The Rules" written on a chalkboard

Rules and Restrictions that a Cemetery Has in Place May Relate to:

  • Time of day that a memorial may be placed on a grave
  • Style of memorial that may be placed on a certain type of grave
  • Other specific instructions related to a certain type of grave
  • Memorial size
  • Memorial weight
  • Memorial material – especially true for eco-cemeteries that require biodegradable materials, or no memorial at all
  • Memorial design – especially true for churchyards of a specific religion
  • Required standards, such as those set by the British Register of Accredited Memorial Masons (BRAMM)

So, do be sure to do your due diligence and research the specific rules and restrictions of the chosen cemetery, and ensure that any memorial installation services that you instruct adhere to the relevant accreditation. 

    How Long Before You Can Put a Headstone on a Grave?

    Even if you quickly obtain the Deed of Grant to a burial site, you should still wait at least 6 months, if not longer, before putting a headstone on a grave.

    Fitting a headstone isn’t something that should be rushed following a funeral for a couple of reasons.

    Firstly, the ground around the burial site requires plenty of time to settle before a headstone can be safely installed. During the first 6 months, the grave is unlikely to be completely settled.

    In some burial grounds, this can be for as long as a year, so seek advice from your cemetery or the local memorial masons who operate within the area. If a headstone is installed into sinking ground it will most likely end up leaning forward.

    Secondly, allowing yourself the time to grieve and reflect will present you with a clearer idea of what you would like engraved or etched onto the headstone or memorial.

    The epitaph you choose to have inscribed along with any fine etched images or symbols will be there to last, so it is certainly worth taking your time while deciding to ensure you get it right the first time around.

      Headstone leaning in a cemetery

      The Law: Replacing a Headstone

      The Registered Owner of the grave is the only person legally entitled to replace a headstone or memorial. Should anyone place a memorial on a grave without the blessing of the Registered Owner, the memorial can be legally removed in compliance with laws that support the removal of unauthorised items on a burial site.

      Each cemetery will have their own set restrictions with regards to what should be classed as unauthorised grave items, regardless of whether they were placed there by the grave owner or not.

      Unauthorised Items that May Be Removed From a Grave:

      • Headstones
      • Wooden crosses or other grave markers
      • Toys
      • Memorabilia
      • Gravestone ornaments
      • Solar lighting
      • Flags
      • Photographs
      • Balloons
      • Wind Chimes
      • Windmills
      • Statues
      • Lanterns
      • Plastic flowers
      • Gnomes
      • Other miscellaneous items

      As mentioned, each cemetery will have their own policy, so if in doubt check with the local cemetery office.

      Should a headstone fail to meet the rules put in place by a cemetery then the Registered Owner may be instructed to replace it if they cannot be amended at the grave without removal.

        Common Reasons a Headstone May Be Removed From a Grave:

        • Inappropriate colour
        • Decorated against cemetery rules
        • Incorrect type of memorial for the burial site
        • Inappropriate image
        • Inappropriate material
        • Extremely poor condition or rapid deterioration
        • Memorial not installed by grave owner
        • Damage from natural disasters

        Who Can Add a Second Name To a Headstone?

        Headstone with two inscriptions

        Again, it is the Registered Owner of the grave who is entitled to add additional names to a headstone.

        Any additional names and inscriptions must comply with the cemetery restrictions. If there is no space left on the front it is possible to have an inscription added to the rear side of the gravestone as this is very rarely prohibited but do confirm this with the cemetery first.

        Alternatively, experienced memorial stonemasons will be able to remove the existing name and/or inscription if necessary and redesign everything to comfortably include both names and inscriptions.

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