Can a Casket Be Reopened Once It Is Closed? Detailed Answer

Have you ever asked yourself, “Once a casket is closed, can it be reopened?” If so, you’ve come to the right place for an answer. After a person is dead and buried, we say they should rest in peace; however, there are instances when people want to reexamine or move a buried body.

A casket can be reopened once it is closed. It is easy to physically reopen a casket if you have the right tools available. It is also legal to reopen or exhume a buried coffin if you follow proper channels and receive permission from all required authorities. 

In this article, I will talk about how to physically open the different types of caskets and if it is possible to reopen them from the inside. I will also discuss the legal process behind exhumation, why someone would want to exhume a body, and the procedure for body exhumation.

Can You Physically Reopen a Closed Casket?

It is possible to physically reopen a casket once it is closed. You can reopen a sealed casket using a casket key, and you can open an unsealed coffin by undoing the locks and latches.

While caskets have many customization options, there are two main types to be aware of: sealed and unsealed. Each of these has a different way of opening once it has been closed.

Reopening a Sealed Casket

A sealed casket has a rubber gasket or some other sealer to help close the casket tightly. This sealer is present to help protect the coffin and the environment.

The sealant on a coffin helps ensure that groundwater and other elements do not seep into the casket. While the rubber seal on the casket will eventually break down, the sealant will help keep the integrity of the casket longer than an unsealed casket.

A sealed coffin will also help keep the toxins from the body inside the casket, benefiting the environment because the toxins will stay out of the dirt and groundwater.

Contrary to popular belief, the seal on the casket does not help protect the corpse from decomposition. A body in a sealed casket will actually decompose at an accelerated rate because the gasses from the body cannot escape the container.

Opening a sealed casket is pretty simple. Sealed coffins lock with a casket key. This key resembles a hand crank that you insert into a keyhole underneath the casket lid and turn to close the casket. To reopen a sealed casket, you must use the casket key, and the top will pop open.

To see an example of a casket key and how to use it, check out this YouTube video from Pruitt & Pruitt Mortuary:

Reopening an Unsealed Casket

An unsealed casket is not lined with a rubber gasket. Therefore, these caskets are much easier to open than their sealed counterparts.  

Unsealed caskets close with typical locks and latches that you must undo before the lid pops open. You do not usually need a unique key to open these caskets.

Unsealed caskets are cheaper than sealed caskets but do not offer the same protection to the coffin and environment. Unsealed caskets, however, will help slow the decomposition of the deceased because the gasses from the body can escape the enclosure.

Reopening a Casket From the Inside

Though it is a common trope in zombie and vampire movies, reopening a casket from the inside is very tricky. The locks that close the casket are outside the coffin, so it is impossible to unlock the coffin from inside it.

Additionally, the weight of the casket lid is very heavy, so opening the coffin lid from the inside would be complicated even if someone unlocked the casket. 

Luckily, it is extremely rare for a person to be accidentally locked inside a casket or buried alive by mistake, so needing to open a casket from the inside is not a concern.

Reasons To Reopen a Closed Casket

Opening a closed casket that has been buried, also known as body exhumation, is difficult but sometimes necessary in the United States. While the state and the families typically prefer to let a dead body rest peacefully, some instances require an exhumation.

Body Exhumation for Criminal Cases

One of the most common reasons for body exhumation in the United States is a criminal investigation or another legal matter. In these instances, you may dig up and reopen a casket if:

  • There is an investigation into the cause of death after the burial of the body.
  • There is new evidence in a criminal case surrounding the individual’s death.
  • There is an inquiry into another death that is potentially related to the individual’s death.

If a body must be exhumed due to one of the reasons stated above, the court must be the one to request the process.

Medical Reasons for Body Exhumation

You may also exhume a body for medical reasons, such as DNA testing. For example, if authorities suspect that the individual was misidentified, they may exhume the body for identity confirmation.

Some people will also exhume a body to prove lineage. You may have heard of the 2017 case where the body of Salvador Dalí was exhumed to extract DNA to confirm paternity for a woman claiming to be his daughter.

Though in Dalí’s case, there was no DNA match, if there were, the woman would have been entitled to part of his estate.

This case is just one example of why establishing parental or genealogical relationships is important enough to require exhumation.

Body Exhumation Due to Construction

It is also common for states to move bodies to accommodate construction.

In the U.S., it seems like there is always construction of new supercenters and apartment buildings popping up every day. But even though these projects continue to happen, we aren’t growing new land to put these buildings on. Instead, they need to use land that currently has no structures, such as forests, empty lots, and sometimes, cemeteries.

In some instances, the state can move an entire cemetery to construct new buildings or roads. The Tennessee Valley Authority even has a database to help people find the new locations of over 20,000 graves that were relocated due to the agency’s construction project.

Exhumation by Family Request

Families may also request to move the grave of a loved one.

If the family is relocating across the country, they may want to take their deceased loved one with them. They could also request to move the remains to a family plot in another cemetery.

It is also common to move war veterans to dedicated cemeteries that honor a specific conflict. If an individual died early in a conflict, before a memorial was created, the family might choose to exhume the body to move it to the dedicated resting place.

Incorrect Burial Placement

Though you’d like to think it doesn’t happen often, you can also exhume bodies because of incorrect burial placement. Sometimes a body will be buried in the incorrect place, such as the wrong family plot in a cemetery, and they will need to dig up the body to move it to the correct grave.

Exhumation of Grave Goods

Another reason for exhumation is to retrieve goods buried with the body. It is common for families to bury loved ones with prized possessions, photographs, or other items that meant something to them and their families.

However, you may need to retrieve those goods later on for various reasons. A family member may want an item back, or the grave goods may have been something with a high monetary value or an object that could be important to a criminal investigation.

Is Grave Exhumation Legal?

Grave exhumation is legal to exhume a grave if you go through the proper channels and if the court officially approves the exhumation. The next of kin, cemetery, and grave plot owner will also have to give consent for the exhumation.

You cannot go into any graveyard you please and dig up any grave you please. That is illegal. However, if you have a good reason for a grave exhumation and go through the proper channels, the court may legally approve the exhumation.

Getting a License for Exhumation

If you or your family feel the need to exhume a loved one, you may apply for an exhumation license.

You can obtain this license application through your local authority, which requires you to do the following:

  • Fill out a form.
  • Submit a fee.
  • Supply a copy of the death certificate along with any other needed documentation.

The next of kin, the cemetery that currently houses the body, the plot owner in which the body resides, and the court must grant permission for the exhumation. Objections to the exhumation by any of these parties will halt the process, and the case will go to court for further deliberations.

However, it is essential to note that the court can overrule the next of kin’s wishes if the reason for exhumation is a legal matter. If the court decides it is for the greater good that the exhumation takes place, the family’s objections are denied.

Reasons To Deny an Exhumation License

Submitting an exhumation license application does not guarantee license approval. There are several reasons why your license may be denied, including:

  • The next of kin does not give consent for the exhumation.
  • Remains approved for exhumation are underneath a body not approved for exhumation.
  • Conditions of the ground make the exhumation unsafe.
  • Remains are in an unidentified plot.
  • The plot cannot be identified.

The Grave Exhumation Process

Once the court grants the exhumation license, it may take up to a year for the exhumation to take place. There are a lot of factors, moving parts, and people who must be present for an exhumation to occur.

People Who Must Be Present During an Exhumation

During the exhumation, there are a few different people who must be present:

  • Health and Safety Representative and Environmental Officers: These officers ensure that the exhumation is respectful to the deceased and protects public health. These representatives will also be present during the reburial of the body.
  • Archeologist: An archeologist is also present to ensure that the exhumation is done correctly and respectfully.
  • Cemetery personnel: The cemetery personnel are the ones who will perform the physical act of the exhumation.
  • Security: If the exhumation is high profile, security personnel may also be present.
  • Family of the deceased: While the family of the deceased is strongly discouraged from attending because the process of exhumation can be challenging to watch, they are legally allowed to attend.

The Exhumation Procedure

An exhumation typically follows a standard procedure to ensure the public’s safety and respect for the deceased.

Exhumations typically occur in the early morning when there are fewer onlookers. It is also common to perform exhumations during the summer months because the ground can become harder to dig into during the colder seasons.

Before beginning the exhumation, they will perform a site evaluation to identify the correct plot and ensure that the ground conditions are safe for the workers. Officials will also put up a screen to block the view of others and provide additional privacy and respect for the deceased.

Once the body is successfully exhumed, they will place all human remains and some pieces of the original coffin into the new coffin or casket. The cemetery personnel will then disinfect the exhumation site, and the body will be ready for transport.

It is up to the person who applied for the exhumation to provide transportation services for the deceased. It would be best to make these arrangements before the exhumation so that transportation can occur as soon as possible.

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Final Thoughts

A casket can be reopened once it has been closed if the proper tools are available and you follow the proper channels. You can only obtain a license for exhumation if all parties agree with the exhumation and if there is a good reason for disturbing the deceased.

During the exhumation of a dead body, those involved must follow specific processes and procedures to ensure the public’s safety and respect the deceased and their family.


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Alex Noel

Hi there! I'm Alex Noel and live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I started this website to share my experience. My goal is to provide Americans a more fulfilling goodbye.

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