Graves filled at least 100 years ago can be re-used under government plans to ease pressure on cemeteries.
Old cemeteries could be re-used
Ministers say all designated burial space in England and Wales will be full in 30 years, unless changes are made.
In a technique called "lift and deepen" old graves will be deepened with room for up to six new coffins to be placed on top of the older remains.
Families could refuse permission for their ancestors' graves to be re-used for "at least another generation".
But once the deeper graves have been used once there will be no time constraints on when subsequent bodies are buried in them.
Justice minister Harriet Harman said measures would be brought in under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, to allow re-use of graves, which is generally only permitted in family plots.
It will be left to the local authorities who look after graveyards to contact relatives of those who are buried - a job which may be thwarted by illegible weathered gravestones from more than 100 years ago.
It would also be up to them as to what they did with the old gravestones, a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said.
The ministry said there will be "increasing pressure" on burial space in England and Wales over the next 10 to 20 years, but urban spaces are particularly squeezed - London's burial space is predicted to be full in 12 years.
A minimum of 100 years should have passed before the grave was considered for re-use, but 75 years could be acceptable if there was a particular shortage of space.
The changes follow a consultation in 2004 which the government says found that most respondents felt re-using graves would not undermine respect for the dead, provided it was done in an appropriate way.
The government said it was in discussion with the Church of England about re-opening closed graveyards "where desired".
The Church of England said its lawyers were examining the possibility of re-opening entire graveyards, but it could be problematic as they are closed by order of the Privy Council - an "irreversible" step, a spokesman said.
However, the Church already re-uses graves in areas of particular shortage, such as London, with 50 years considered the minimum timeframe providing there were no living relatives, he added.
Re-use had received wide public support and offered "sustainable land use", Ms Harman said.
In a written statement she said 150,000 people were buried in cemeteries and churchyards every year and there were millions of graves in England and Wales.
"It is right to expect sustainable, high standard, burial facilities for our communities, yet in some areas there are difficulties in finding sufficient local space for new graves," she said.
"One solution which the government has been urged to consider is the re-use of burial grounds after a suitable lapse of time.
"It is a solution which can offer sustainable land use for the future, and the prospects of keeping burial facilities in good order and near to the communities they serve," she said.
"The government is now satisfied that it would be right to enable graves to be re-used in this way, subject to appropriate safeguards.
"For example no grave should normally be re-used unless the last burial took place at least 100 years before. And families should have the opportunity to defer re-use of their relatives' graves for at least another generation."