How to Choose a Cemetery
Last updated in November 2017
Our survey of funeral costs did not include cemetery plots or the opening and closing of gravesites, items that typically add thousands of dollars to funeral expenses.
Do some comparison shopping. You will find significant variation in the prices of lots, merchandise, and services.
Buying a cemetery plot doesn’t mean you own the land, only the right to be buried there. The cemetery can dictate how your family can use the space. If you want to bury a second casket or urn of ashes, it will probably charge for a second interment. The cemetery is also likely to limit the number of burials per plot. And most cemeteries have rules on what monuments can be placed, what flowers (if any) can be planted, and how long the cemetery waits before clearing away items left at gravesites.
Other considerations if you are thinking about purchasing cemetery property and services before death:
- Note the appearance of the cemetery. Are buildings, landscaping, and walls well-maintained?
- Request a written price list. Unlike funeral homes, cemeteries are not required to prepare price lists, but they should be willing to provide costs.
- Because prices often vary according to location within the cemetery, determine whether quoted prices are for an exact location or a general area within the cemetery.
- Be aware that a cemetery’s fees for perpetual care do not always include maintenance of monuments and markers. Make sure you understand exactly what’s included.
- Don’t let cemeteries’ suggestions that the cost of burial and burial merchandise could become prohibitive in a few years frighten you into buying something now.
- Ask if the cemetery belongs to an exchange program so that your lot(s), merchandise, and/or services can be transferred if you move. And check if there are any restrictions on your right to resell the property.
- Make sure you know how the cemetery will safeguard your prepayments. Will they be deposited in an interest-bearing account or trust fund?
- Determine whether sites you are considering for two bodies are side by side or a double depth.
- Ask whether you can bury cremated remains in the plot.
- Explore potential savings of buying a family plot or lawn crypts.
- Read the cemetery rules and regulations to learn about any restrictions or additional costs.
- For the grave marker or monument, consider various options: Size, style, inscription, material, and installation charge determine the total price. You cannot be forced to buy a marker or monument from the cemetery where you buy your lot. Before you use an outside supplier, however, check the cemetery’s rules and regulations regarding installation, care, and maintenance of the memorial. Ask if the cemetery or supplier buys the merchandise in advance, sets it aside, and provides you with a record of ownership. This policy may protect you if the seller later has financial problems.
Before signing any contract for property, merchandise, or services, carefully review its terms and provisions. Be certain that it conforms exactly to what you believe you are buying, including:
- A full description of the lot and its location.
- A description of the type, size, and design of burial merchandise, and of services to be performed. Does the price include installation of merchandise?
- Guarantees for transfer of lots to another cemetery (or other arrangements) should you or your family members move, if that is part of the agreement.
- The cost of each item and the total cost.
- That all cemetery expenses are guaranteed, regardless of the actual cost at time of death. Because some cemeteries will not guarantee the price of opening and closing the grave, the monument, or engraving, survivors end up paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars more to cover items they thought they already paid for.