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Canadian Burial Laws: Everything You Need to Know

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    Death can feel like a heavy topic and many people don’t want to think about it. While it can be difficult to talk about, it’s important to be proactive and think about how we want our lives to be taken care of when we pass away. This includes deciding how we want to be buried. 

    Most of us know that writing a will is a great way to make sure your wishes are taken care of. But did you know there are several ways you can share your burial/funeral wishes, including in your will.  

    Keep in mind that Canadian laws and customs restrict how a person’s wishes can be implemented after death. 

    This article will discuss everything you need to know about funerals and Canadian burial laws. 

    What Costs Do I Need To Consider For Funeral Services? 

    The cost of the funeral home or cemetery fees often includes the following services:

    • Moving the body to the funeral home
    • Using funeral home facilities 
    • Embalming and cosmetic application 
    • The price of the casket 
    • Using a hearse for transportation to the cemetery or crematorium 
    • Arranging funeral services 
    • Registering the death and obtaining the Burial Permit 
    • Preparing newspaper death notices or obituaries 

    You can expect the price to go up if there are flowers, receptions, programmes, and obituaries published. Make sure to carefully review your funeral package to make sure that no services, such as identification, embalming, a floral delivery truck, or a funeral coach, are included that you feel are not necessary.

    How Do I Prepare For A Funeral Service? 

    You can prearrange a funeral service. Funeral preparation in advance has benefits for both you and your loved ones. By organizing your funeral ahead of time, you have more control over the details and spare your loved ones from having to make difficult choices when they're grieving. By allowing you to weigh your options and evaluate service costs, pre-arrangements also lessen your financial burden. 

    Some questions to consider when looking for a pre-arranged plan include: 

    • Does the funeral home have a good reputation?
    • What are the payment options?
    • How are funds deposited into the trust?
    • If you choose to pay in installments, will you be charged for late payments?
    • What documentation can you expect to receive regarding the pre-arrangement and regarding the payment of funds in trust (most provinces require notifications from funeral services)?
    • Does the contract specifically describe all goods, services and fees?
    • Is there a plan to cover the increased cost of the prearranged service due to inflation? If so, you should compare the rates offered at various funeral homes.
    • Is the pre-arranged agreement a guaranteed contract? Some provinces only permit pre-arranged agreements if there is a guaranteed contract.
    • Is there a cooling-off period for you to reconsider the pre-arranged agreement and cancel it with no penalty?
    • What happens if you move? Can you transfer your pre-arranged agreement to another funeral home if you move or for any other reason?
    • Do you want to cover your end-of-life costs with funeral insurance instead?

    Learn more about pre-planning funeral and burial wishes → 

    Do You Have To Be Buried In A Casket In Canada?

    No, you do not have to be buried in a casket in Canada. There are several alternatives. Caskets are unique containers used to store the human remains of the deceased. Numerous coffins are suitable for both burial and cremation. In-ground burial is the most traditional and common burial option offered by cemeteries but there are other options.

    A green burial is another option which is more environmentally friendly. It is also a less expensive alternative to cremation or burial in a coffin, growing in popularity in Canada in recent years. A municipality in Alberta, Lethbridge, is the first to allow green burials in public cemeteries.   

    Can I Be Buried On My Land In Canada?

    Being buried on your land is permitted throughout most of Canada. You are not required to use the services of a funeral home. However, keep in mind that Canadian burial laws differ in each province.  

    For example, under the current New Brunswick burial laws and regulations, burial on one’s property is permitted. In Ontario, a person (or cremated ashes) must be buried at an authorized cemetery. Therefore, for a burial to be legally performed on private land, the area would need to be created as a permitted cemetery.

    Making a burial decision on your property requires significant thought. Burial can impact your emotional connection to the land. Both the long-term ownership of the property and its potential value as a resale must be considered.

    How Is Burial Done In Canada?

    Funeral customs include traditional memorial services and arrangements for the body's final disposal. There is a network of social and legal criteria that must be met, and doing so typically entails using a variety of professional services. In Canada, there are different burial options. 

    These choices may be influenced by religious beliefs and customs. The nature and style of the funeral can be decided upon in advance, as can the eventual disposition of the human remains. In Canada today, prearranged funerals are more common than they were a century ago.

    Public or private cemeteries are both permitted, while private cemeteries are subject to legal restrictions. A deed is issued for the lot and a graveyard is recognized by law as real estate. The "deed" typically represents a type of renting rather than a full transfer of ownership. Modern cemeteries often attempt to create a park-like atmosphere rather than the typical rows of graves; most cemeteries have laws governing tombstones, markers, and even flowers. In Canada, ethnic, religious, and even sectarian cemeteries are widespread and sometimes have membership-based restrictions.

    A burial permit is usually required for a person to be buried or cremated. The funeral director normally deals with this process for the family. A burial permit, as well as a transport or removal permit, are needed to relocate the body if the burial is to take place outside of the province where the person passed away. The funeral directors generally also assist with this. 

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    What Is A Natural Burial? 

    A natural burial (also known as green burial) offers an environmentally friendly alternative. When you’re buried in a biodegradable casket or shroud, the body returns carbon and other minerals to the earth. Natural cemeteries are completely different from regular cemeteries. 

    Since its origins in the 1990s, the movement for natural burial has grown in popularity. Rather than a traditional manicured lawn with rows of tombstones, a natural burial looks like a meadow or woodland, which is restored and protected in its natural ecosystem. 

    Are Natural Burials Legal In Canada?

    Yes, natural burials are legal in Canada. Keep in mind, that the cemetery must allow a natural burial. 

    There are five main principles of green burial, according to the Green Burial Society of Canada:

    1. No Embalming: “Remains for green burial must be in a ‘natural’ state as decomposition is nature’s way of recycling a body, without need for intervention by us.”
    2. Direct Earth Burial: “Remains for burial must be enclosed in a fully biodegradable shroud, container or casket. (Ideally, ‘Containers’ will be made from locally sourced, sustainable fabrics and materials.)”
    3. Ecological Restoration and Conservation: “Site preservation and perpetual protection is a key component of this principle of green burial.” Visitation of individual graves is discouraged, with a focus on planting locally indigenous plants over the graves.
    4. Communal Memorialization: “Instead of individual markers, communal memorialization is placed. Ultimately it is the green burial site as a whole that becomes a living memorial to the persons interred there.”
    5. Optimized Land Use: “A well-planned green burial cemetery (or cemetery section) will optimize the land it occupies. This includes minimal installation of infrastructure, temporary roads, pragmatic grave dimensions, and perhaps re-use of graves.”

    What Do I Need To Know About Being Buried In A Casket?

    The price of a casket can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on its style. Cremation does not require a casket, however, the crematorium may insist on using a cremation container. The cost of caskets and urns can vary greatly depending on whether they are constructed at home or purchased from specialty stores. However, some funeral homes could prohibit outside caskets or impose fees.

    What Is The Process Of Embalming?

    Embalming is a procedure carried out by licensed funeral directors that slows down the decomposition of a human body after death. Biological fluids are replaced with chemicals. Families that want an open-casket funeral service frequently choose to embalm. 

    It might not always be required to embalm a body. However, if the deceased must be transported over large distances, you might want to consider that for open-casket services (or it might be legally mandated). For embalming, there can be additional fees. Find out if this needs to be done and how much it will cost by speaking with your funeral director.

    What Is The Process Of Cremation?

    Cremation reduces the body to its essential elements through a process that exposes it to open flames, intense heat, and evaporation. This occurs in a specialized furnace known as a retort or cremation chamber. 

    Cremation usually costs less than burial. Some crematoriums and funeral homes require that the body be placed in a hard, flammable container with handles before it can be cremated. You may provide your own container as long as it complies with these requirements. Most crematoriums and funeral houses offer short-term ash storage so you may determine what to do with them afterwards. Alternatively, you might decide to bury the remains in a cemetery site.

    Can I Include My Burial Wishes In My Will?

    You can include your burial wishes in your will. It’s a great place to make sure they’re known, especially if your executor/family knows where it is. But it’s also best practice to include these wishes somewhere else that is easily accessible.

    Even if they are expressed in a will, your loved one's specific requests for their funeral or memorial ceremony are not legally binding.

    Learn more about legal wills in Canada → 

    What Happens If I Don’t Include My Burial Wishes In My Will? 

    After you pass away, there are certain procedures that follow, regardless of whether you have a will or not. It can be confusing to know what your family would actually do after you pass away. 

    Your loved one’s particular wishes for their funeral or memorial service may be included in their will. When possible, arrangements should respect instructions about what they want. This can include their preference for burial or cremation and any decisions regarding what their funeral service will look like. 

    If the deceased left a will, they would have named an executor. If there’s no executor, the responsibility falls on the deceased’s spouse. If there’s no spouse or they're not willing to take the job, the provincial law will make the decisions. 

    Learn more about what happens after you pass away without a will → 

    The Bottom Line 

    Writing a will is the best way to ensure that your burial wishes are followed. You are able to make the decisions regarding how you want your life to be celebrated.

    If you’re thinking about your burial wishes it’s best to be proactive in order to avoid confusion and extra stress. Understanding your options for being buried in Canada will help you make the decision for yourself or a loved one. 

    Ready to write your will? ✍️ Get started writing your will with Willful →





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