Burials, Cremation and Disinterments

The Ministry of Health has powers and responsibilities under the burial and cremation legislation.  It authorises Community and Public Health staff to carry out legislative and contractual functions in their geographical area, including reporting on a range of burial, cremation and disinterment situations.

Community and Public Health has a number of responsibilities under burial and cremation legislation, including:

  • Disinterments;
  • New Crematoria;
  • Private Cremations;
  • Closure of cemeteries and burial grounds;
  • Repatriation of deceased foreign nationals who have died in New Zealand;
  • Investigation of illegal burials;
  • Burials in special places; and
  • Burials at sea.

Cross-shaped grave headstone in a cemetery.Contact a Health Protection Officer at your local Community and Public Health office for information on private cremations and associated costs.

Community and Public Health works with territorial local authorities (City and District Councils), burial ground owners and funeral directors to carry out its functions under the burial and cremation legislation.

Territorial local authorities provide and maintain cemeteries for the burial of the dead but churches also provide and maintain denominational burial grounds, for the burial of deceased persons of particular religion(s). There are also urupa (maori burial grounds) in Canterbury.

Funeral directors arrange for the burial or cremation of the dead, including embalming if required, and assist at the funeral rites. They often are the applicants for disinterment licences.

Organising disinterment or exhumation

Applications for disinterment must be in writing and are usually made by:

  • a person(s) related to the deceased;
  • the executor of the Will of the deceased;
  • a funeral director acting on behalf of either of a relative or executor;
  • an iwi/Māori authority acting on behalf of the close relatives; or
  • another person acting for the family.

Applications should be submitted to Community and Public Health to assess. The application will be forwarded to the Ministry of Health, together with a report and recommendations.

A payment of $90 is required once your application has been processed before a disinterment license can be issued. You will be sent a letter from the Health Protection Officer processing your application containing online payment instructions.

New Crematoria or Closure of Cemeteries and Burial Grounds

If a new crematorium is to be built, or an existing premise reconstructed or adapted to be used as a crematorium, the following have to be submitted for approval to the Ministry of Health before work is commenced:

  • Plans and specifications for the premises (including a site plan); and
  • Details and specifications of the equipment.

Applicants should consult with a Health Protection Officer as early as practicable, to enable a report to be submitted at the same time as the other information for the Ministry of Health.

Upon application for closure of a cemetery or burial ground, the Minister of Health may direct that a cemetery or burial ground be closed.

Repatriation of foreign nationals who died in New Zealand

Normal procedure is for the funeral director, in the country where death has occurred, to consign the body to a funeral director designated by the relatives of the deceased.  The NZ funeral director should obtain the details of requirements imposed by the country of destination.  Sometimes the Medical Officer of Health is requested to provide additional certification relating to the deceased.

Investigation of illegal burials

Community and Public Health will undertake a full investigation in the facts surrounding an alleged or suspected unlawful burial, when advised. The findings of this investigation (including recommendations) will be reported to the Ministry of Health.

Burials in special places

On occasions, individuals may wish to be buried on private land or other than in a cemetery or burial ground.  For a burial in a special place, the applicant must show exceptional circumstances, which make the burial of that body in that place particularly appropriate.  Each application is determined on its merits.

Burials at sea

Burial at sea is an authorised method of disposing of a body, and controls apply.  The person in charge of the burial must ensure that all requirements have been met before proceeding with the burial. Approval for burial at sea will depend on the intended burial site.  Seven sites have been selected to ensure that disturbance of remains is minimised, including one in Pegasus Bay (approximately 60 km northeast of Godley Head).

Contact your local CPH office for further information:

Ph: +64 3 364 1777
Fax: +64 3 379 6125

Ph: +64 3 687 2600
Fax: +64 3 688 6091

Ph: +64 3 768 1160
Fax: +64 3 768 1169

Review of Burial and Cremation related Legislation

This consultation sets out a range of options for modernising the legislation relating to death, burial, cremation and funerals in New Zealand – including the Burial and Cremation Act 1964, Cremation Regulations 1973 and the Health (Burial) Regulations 1946.

Urupā (Māori burial grounds), registration of mortuaries, burial at sea and international transportation of bodies are out of scope of this review.

The Ministry of Health is seeking feedback on the options from industry and other interested stakeholders, including the general public. This consultation will help inform the development of a modern, fit-for-purpose legislation for death, burial, cremation and funerals.

The consultation closing date is now Friday 31st October 2020.

Page last updated: 15/07/2020

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