Graves & memorials 

What restrictions are there on where a person can be buried?

A body can be buried:
  • in a public burial ground e.g. a cemetery; 
  • in a Maori burial ground;
  • in a religious/denominational burial ground;
  • in a private burial place that was used for burial before 1 April 1965 so long as written permission is obtained in advance from a District Court judge and - if it’s in an urban area - from the Mayor or two local councillors. Permission can be withheld only if the burial would harm “public health or decency”;
  • on private land if there is no cemetery or burial ground within 32 km of the place where the person died or where the body is to be buried (with the permission from the Ministry of Health and the local Council); 
  • in any other place (whether or not it was used for burials before 1 April 1965) if the Ministry of Health agrees in advance that the place is appropriate and safe for burial. For burials in urban areas, the mayor or two local councillors must agree to the burial;
  • at sea

It may be very complicated to arrange for a body to be buried in some of the alternative places, and you should be aware that gaining consent for a private burial can take some time. For instance if you would like to be buried at the family farm, you should obtain consent from the Ministry of Health.

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What are the alternatives to a standard burial?

Cremation - This is disposal of the body by burning it. Your ashes can be kept, buried or ‘scattered’ at a place of special meaning to you or your family - you may need to obtain permission if you want the ashes to be scattered over private land (unless it’s your own), or council or crown land.

Natural  or "eco"burial - With a natural burial, the body is placed, un-embalmed, in a biodegradable casket or shroud. The body is buried in a relatively shallow grave, for optimum decomposition. Instead of a headstone, the grave is marked by a newly-planted tree.

This option is only available in sites which have been specifically set aside for natural burials. For more information on natural burials, including a directory of natural burial sites, see the natural burials website.

Donating your body to medical science - If you’re interested in donating your body to medical science, read our Body and organ donation page.

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What’s involved in arranging for a burial at sea?

You can ask to be ‘buried’ at sea, but you’ll need permission from the appropriate agency:

If you have chosen to use a funeral director, they can apply for permission on your behalf.

For a sea burial, a special weighted casket is used, and it is taken out to sea by boat or helicopter. A funeral director can help you organise this.

As well as the permission of the authority relevant to where the sea burial is to take place, you will need:

  • to get permission to dispose of the body from your doctor or coroner
  • a special casket made to specific regulations. Consult a funeral director for more information;
  • a means to transport the remains eg boat or helicopter.

Alternatively you can  arrange for your ashes to be scattered at sea.

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How do I obtain a cemetery plot for when I die?

You can choose to buy a burial plot in advance (although not all cemeteries pre-sell burial plots), or it can be arranged by your family when you die.

Cemeteries are usually administered by local councils, so if you want to buy a plot in advance you can start by contacting your local council (or visiting their website) to find out what your options are.

Each cemetery will have its own guidelines for plots - for example whether it allows for the purchase of a plot in advance, whether plots are available for burial (as opposed to interment of ashes), whether there are areas set aside for people of a specific faith and what types of memorial can be erected on the plot .

If you buy a plot you become the deed holder of the plot. This means you have exclusive right of interment in perpetuity (for ever) – however you don’t own the land. The cost of a plot will depend on its location within the cemetery and on the location of the cemetery (it’s generally more expensive in an urban cemetery than a rural one, for example).

You can choose to buy two or more plots in advance, so that other family members can rest alongside their loved ones. If you are interested in doing this, be aware that the council is entitled to close a burial plot if it is still unused after 60 years. As the deed holder of the plot only you can decide who can be interred there, so it’s a good idea to make arrangements for who will inherit the burial rights after you die (eg in your will).

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What are my options if I don’t have enough money to buy a burial plot?

If you don’t have enough money to buy a burial plot you may have to consider other options, such as cremation. A Work and Income funeral grant is available to eligible people, but although this can help with funeral costs it won’t be enough to cover the whole cost.

To find out more about lower cost funeral options, see our Funerals and registration of death page.

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Who can I talk to about getting a headstone or memorial erected at the grave site?

Cemeteries are managed by local councils, and each will have their own rules and regulations on monuments and headstones. Some cemeteries limit the size and shape of monuments, so if you are planning something special, you may need to consult your local council to get permission.

If you’re thinking about a headstone, monument or memorial, you can search for a craftsperson on the New Zealand Master Monumental Masons’ Association directory. You’ll also find information on the different types of memorials on their website. 

If you have engaged the services of a funeral director to organise the funeral, you’ll find they can also help you make plans for a headstone or memorial.

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I want to have a tree planted over my grave. Would that be allowed?

Local councils generally won't allow this on public burial grounds because trees can grow to interfere with and damage other graves and paths in the cemetery. Some cemeteries do allow certain shrubs to be planted on graves, but you will have to consult your local council on the rules for this.

Your best option may be a natural burial.

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How do I find out where my great-aunt was buried?

You can search the burial and cremation records of the cemeteries in the area where you think your great-aunt died. You usually can do this online, on the local authority’s website.

If you think your great-aunt changed her name before she died, you can contact Births, Deaths and Marriages to obtain the marriage, name change and death records that apply to her.

More information about tracking down family members is on our Family history page.

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My family can’t agree on where my uncle’s ashes are to rest. What can we do to settle it?

What happens to the deceased’s remains is usually determined by the executor of the deceased’s will (or by the next of kin if the person didn’t leave a will). If your uncle’s will states what he wished to happen to his remains after death, you could try to encourage the family to respect those wishes (though it is important to note that they aren’t legally binding i.e. they don’t have to be followed).

However it is not uncommon for family members to be in dispute over these matters, particularly if the deceased is part of a bicultural family and both sides have different traditions. For example the deceased’s iwi may insist that the body be buried in the family urupa (burial site), while the deceased may have wished to be buried somewhere else.

If your family can’t agree on the matter then your main options are mediation or going to the High Court. Mediation is generally less expensive than legal action, but relies on the other family members being willing to take part. Getting a case heard in the High Court can be expensive and time consuming - if you are considering going to court it’s best to get legal advice first.

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Is it possible to have the deceased’s remains re-buried somewhere else?

In general, yes it is.

You would first need to have the agreement of the deceased’s family members. You can then apply for a disinterment licence from the Ministry of Health – this license allows you to arrange for the remains to be removed from where they are currently buried (a licence is usually not required for the disinterment of ashes, but you should check with the cemetery about its rules regarding the removal of ashes). There must also be a casket or other suitable container that the remains to be transferred to, after they are removed from the burial place. 

You can apply for a disinterment licence in writing, to the Public Health Unit of your local District Health Board (or ask a funeral director to apply for you). It costs around $90 to apply. For more information about applying for a disinterment licence, contact a health protection officer at your local District Health Board public health unit.

Disinterment may not be possible if the process might cause damage to other graves or memorials, or if there are restrictions on disinterment in the local bylaws.

If the disinterment proceeds you would need to pay a disinterment fee (which will vary depending on the cemetery) to cover the cost of labour and equipment involved.
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Are there any laws about where ashes may be scattered?

There are no laws for the disposal of ashes but it is important to get permission from your local authority before disposing of ashes on public property, or from the landowner if they are to be scattered on private property.

Scattering of ashes into the sea or other waterway is culturally inappropriate for Māori, so in this situation you should also speak to the local iwi or hapu.

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How do I arrange for a white cross to be placed on the roadside, where my friend died?

Sometimes when someone has died as the result of a road accident, the grieving family wishes to erect a white cross on the roadside as a memorial and a reminder to motorists to take extra care on that part of the road.

If you want to do this, you must get the permission of the road owner - NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) if it's on a state highway, the individual owner if it’s a private road, or the regional or local council for other types of roads.

The NZTA does not encourage the installation of white crosses on state highways but if you wish to proceed they have some general guidelines which apply to state highways: 

  • There should be only one cross at the site. 
  • A cross is generally allowed on a rural state highway, but not on a motorway or motorway off- or on-ramp, nor if it could become a driving hazard. 
  • If the road has been substantially improved since the accident, then a cross should not be erected on the site. 
  • If the cross is to be erected on the road reserve (the area from the property boundary on one side of the road to the property boundary on the other side of the road) then it should be placed as close as practical to the fence line (without being on the fence line). 
  • If the cross will be on private property or on the fence line you have to consult with the owner of the property first. 
  • The cross must meet specific requirements regarding size and construction. 
  • You have to notify the local NZTA of its exact location so that the cross is not disturbed during normal road maintenance. 
  • You would be responsible for any repairs to the cross and keeping it tidy, and for removing the cross when required (e.g. it’s position could make it a road safety hazard, or it impedes road works).

More detailed information is in Appendix 3D of the State Highway Control Manual. You can ask for approval from NZTA by contacting your local NZTA office.

Note that different rules apply to other types of roads – check with the owner of the road before you go ahead.

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Are there cemeteries for pets?

The rules on burying pets are not as strict as those for burying people. It is common for people to bury their deceased pet in their back yard – and this is fine as long as the body is buried deeply enough and does not interfere with gas lines or water pipes.

There are pet cemeteries and there are also cremation services for pets. Some are run by local councils and others are privately run. If you need help to find one near you, you can ask at your local veterinary clinic or contact your local CAB.