Burials, Cremation and Disinterments

The Ministry of Health has powers and responsibilities under the burial and cremation legislation. It authorises Te Mana Ora | Community and Public Health staff to carry out a number of activities locally, 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.

Te Mana Ora | 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 relevant legislation.

Territorial local authorities provide and maintain cemeteries for the burial of the dead. However churches also provide and maintain denominational burial grounds, for the burial of deceased persons of particular religion(s). There are also urupa (Māori 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 or Māori authority acting on behalf of the close relatives; or
  • another person acting for the family.

Applications need to be submitted to Te Mana Ora | Community and Public Health to assess. Your 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, then approval to the Ministry of Health is needed before work is commenced.

The following documentation is required for the approval process:

  • 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. This enables a report to be submitted at the same time as other information for the Ministry of Health.

An application for closure of a cemetery or burial ground can also be submitted to the Minister of Health.

Repatriation of foreign nationals who died in New Zealand

The usual procedure in these situations is for the funeral director in the country where death has occurred, to entrust the body to a funeral director designated by the relatives of the deceased.

The NZ funeral director needs to get the requirement details from the destination country. Sometimes the Medical Officer of Health is requested to provide additional certification relating to the deceased.

Investigation of illegal burials

Community and Public Health undertakes full investigations into the facts surrounding an alleged or suspected unlawful burial when advised. The findings of this investigation are reported to the Ministry of Health including any recommendations.

Burials in special places

Some people may wish to be buried on private land or another place that is not a cemetery or burial ground. This known as a burial in a special place.

For this to happen, the applicant must show exceptional circumstances, that make the burial of that person in that location particularly appropriate. Each application is determined on its merits.

Burials at sea

Burial at sea is an allowed method of disposing of a body, but 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 depends on the intended burial site. Seven sites are available where the disturbance of remains is minimised, including one in Pegasus Bay (approximately 60km northeast of Godley Head).

Contact your local office for further information:

Ph: +64 3 364 1777

Ph: +64 3 687 2600

Ph: +64 3 768 1160

Resources on dealing with a bereavement

You can order copies of these resources from the Community Health Information Centre.

When someone dies suddenly: A guide to coronial services in Aotearoa New Zealand (MNH0086).

Page last updated: 19/04/2024

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