How to move a grave site from one place to another

Updated July 06, 2018

Grave relocation is a sensitive issue. If at all possible, the burial place should be preserved. However, there are extenuating circumstances when a grave must be moved. If a grave site is threatened by natural forces such as flooding or building and construction projects, the remains may be moved to preserve and protect them. Care must be taken to treat the remains with utmost respect. There are state-specific laws that regulate the exhumation and relocation of a grave site.

Research the applicable laws. Laws vary from state to state. For example, in Illinois, you must apply for a permit from the Historic Preservation Agency under the Illinois Human Skeletal Remains Protection Act before you relocate a grave.

Verify that you have the authority to have the grave exhumed and relocated. You must show good cause why you want to move a grave site. Under South Carolina law, for example, a property owner may relocate a grave if the local governing body considers it "necessary and expedient."

Locate family members or descendants of the deceased. Under state laws, you must give 30 days' notice prior to moving a grave. In South Carolina, if family members or descendants cannot be located, a notice of intent must be published in the local newspaper in the county where the grave is located or posted in three prominent places within the county, including the courthouse door.

Find a suitable location for the new grave site before exhuming the remains. Under South Carolina law, for example, the new location must be agreed upon both by the relatives of the deceased and the local governing body. A three-panel board will make the final decision if the parties can't come to an agreement.

Obtain the proper permits. Under Illinois law, the permit must specify the reasons why the exhumation and relocation is being conducted. The state of Virginia requires a court order before a grave site is relocated.

Hire a contractor to do the work. It is best to hire a professional cultural resource management firm; professional archaeologists must meet professional standards and will treat human remains with respect. However, some states, such as South Carolina, require only that a state-licensed funeral director be present.

Pay all associated expenses. Under Virginia law, for example, the permit requester must pay all costs of exhumation and grave relocation.

File the proper paperwork for your state once the work is completed. For instance, under Illinois law, you must submit a final report to the Historic Preservation Agency.


Moving a grave can cause controversy. Archaeologists must obtain a permit before conducting any archaeological removal of human remains. A trained forensic anthropologist will leave no bones behind.


Contractors have no specialised training. Often, they will scoop up everything in a backhoe and dump it in a box and claim they've got everything. As a result, human remains may be damaged, destroyed or overlooked.

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About the Author

R. Lynne has been writing professionally since 1980. Her work has appeared in "Springfield Business Journal," "The Illinois Times," "The State Journal-Register" and "The Hillsboro Journal." She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in anthropology from Illinois State University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in legal studies from Sangamon State University. She writes about business, real estate and health and wellness topics.