Developed in 1998 by the Government and Legal Affairs Task Force of the International Cemetery and Funeral Association
General policy of law does not favor disinterment, absent compelling reasons. However, a cemetery authority may occasionally receive a request for interred human remains to be disinterred and reinterred within the cemetery or removed from the cemetery. Before the cemetery authority proceeds to honor a disinterment request, it should be assured that all required parties have provided authorization or that disinterment has been ordered by the court.
Disinterment procedures should protect the wishes and intent of the decedent and the respective interests of interment right owners, the next of kin of the decedent, cemetery authorities, and the general public. A cemetery authority should establish procedures to protect the health and safety of those involved in the disinterment process.
- Human remains interred in a cemetery may be disinterred, reinterred, or removed from the cemetery with the permission of the cemetery authority and written consent from the interment right owner or successor-in-interest and the person(s) who are lawfully authorized to control the final disposition of the human remains, hereinafter referred to as the “authorizing agent.”
- The statutory order of priority to control final disposition should apply to disinterment. The individual(s) with the highest order or priority would serve as the authorizing agent(s) for the disinterment. If there is more than one individual in the same degree of kindred, then all adult parties having the same degree of kindred should consent to the disinterment.
- The order of priority for an authorizing agent could be as follows:
- The person who was designated by the decedent prior to death as the authorizing agent to control final disposition;
- The surviving spouse;
- The decedent’s surviving children 18 years of age or older;
- The decedent’s surviving parents;
- The decedent’s surviving siblings 18 years of age or older.
- Prior to performing a disinterment, a cemetery authority should have received authorization for final disposition of the disinterred human remains.
- The person(s) requesting and authorizing a disinterment should assume financial responsibility for any fees charged by the cemetery authority for performing a disinterment and for any resulting repair or replacement of merchandise that is damaged during the process.
- The cemetery authority should be held harmless against subsequent claims for decomposition of interred human remains or deterioration of the casket, outer burial container, or other merchandise. A lawful disinterment should not be considered desecration of the interment or of the human remains.
- The cemetery authority should be held harmless when acting in good faith in connection with the authorized disinterment when relying upon the disclosures and instructions provided by the interment right owner and the authorizing agent.
- Where a dispute exists among any of the interested parties, a cemetery authority should not be held liable for refusing to disinter the human remains until it receives a court order or other formal notification signed by each of the disputing parties that the dispute has been resolved or settled.
- If consent to disinter cannot be obtained, the human remains may be disinterred by order of the court having jurisdiction where the cemetery is located.
- Consent for disinterment should not be required under the following circumstances:
- Disinterment and reinterment by the cemetery authority within the cemetery to correct an error;
- Relocation of human remains from a temporary storage area to a place of permanent interment within the cemetery;
- Repositioning of an outer burial container that encroaches an adjoining grave space.
- Consent for each disinterment and reinterment should be obtained when raising and lowering human remains to accommodate multiple interments within a single interment space.
- A cemetery authority, or person designated by the cemetery authority, should be responsible for performing any disinterment or reinterment in the cemetery it owns due to the cemetery authority’s care and maintenance obligation.
- Permanent records should be kept by the cemetery authority concerning any disinterment, reinterment, or removal from the cemetery.
- If a cemetery authority needs to take action to correct any errors that might be made in making an interment, disinterment, or reinterment in an incorrect location, the cemetery authority should have the right to transfer the human remains to the correct location or to a similar location of comparable value, as might be selected by the cemetery authority. The cemetery authority should have no liability as a result of any error of this type, other than the obligation to correct it.
- The cemetery authority should be allowed to adopt reasonable rules and regulations for procedures relating to disinterment and reinterment providing that such rules and regulations conform with relevant statutes.