My mother died recently. There were all kinds of arrangements to be made, relatives to comfort and host, pastors to talk to, dinners to be put together, eulogies to write. Mom gave us a gift by having her wishes all spelled out, her funeral paid for in advance, and a cemetery plot in waiting.
If you want to do your family a HUGE favor, have it all written out – and the cemetery plot already purchased. Following are some issues you will need to consider as you make those final burial place decisions…
The first decision to be made is, of course, where? Which cemetery appeals to you, is in a good location for relatives to occasionally visit, and is of the nature that you wouldn’t mind being part of that landscape going forward.
Questions to Ask and Things to Know When in the Cemetery Plot Market
1. What is the cost of a plot and what additional fees are there?
The first part of that question is pretty straight forward. The cemetery will have a price list, probably based on location in the cemetery. The second part of the question is much more crucial and often more obscure – what ADDITIONAL costs will there be – now and in the future?
Sometimes cemeteries will give you an ‘out the door’ price. Compared to other cemeteries you’ve visited, their price may seem high until you consider that that price covers everything – grave opening, closing, maintenance, security, and any number of other items. Often cemeteries with ‘bargain’ rates, don’t include all of those extras in the price but in the end could cost considerably more. Admittedly, many of those costs will come after you’ve passed, but your heirs or estate will have to pay. Paying ahead of time is often wise simply because costs constantly rise and paying the opening and closing costs and others in today’s dollars makes much more sense… and is kinder to your family.
2. What are my plot options?
A cemetery plot is a small piece of real estate and like all real estate, price is determined by ‘location, location, location.’ Size and location are key factors. A plot in an open area, always sunny and hot will probably be less expensive than one situated under a beautiful Weeping Willow or beside a bubbling brook. It makes sense. Please be smart. YOU WON’T CARE where it is nor how beautiful it looks. Your family may, but aesthetics are really only worth so much…
You can also buy plots for urns for your ashes, if that is the way you want to go.
Another possibility is to purchase two or more plots for other family members who may want to be eternally resting nearby. Usually there is no discount for multiple plots, but it can’t hurt to ask.
3. Be sure you are actually getting what you think you are buying.
Is the actual burial plot the one you are looking at or one ‘like’ it? Often a cemetery will sell different levels of burial plots at different prices. It is in their best interest to show you the best example from each level. Is the one shown the actual purchase? Or is the one you’ve purchased in some back corner of the level you’ve chosen? You don’t want your family to be surprised when they arrive for your intement.
4. Know about any ‘extra’ fees – like opening and closing the grave.
Cemetery personnel get paid to open and close the grave. You need to know what those charges will be. It MAY be that those costs are rolled in with the plot price, but it is wise to check this out ahead of time. The cemetery, of course, gets a cut. Sometimes this makes these extra fees exorbitant. Ask.
5. Annual maintenance fees are common in some locales.
Maintaining a cemetery is costly. Who pays? Many cemeteries charge a one time fee, knowing that collecting annually forever may be an unrealistic expectation. Ask what the maintenance fee includes and what it doesn’t.
6. You may be responsible for maintain the grave site itself – leaving flowers, weeding, etc.
Some cemeteries include everything, but others expect family members to stop by periodically for basic maintenance. Again, ask. If family members live at a distance, maintaining a grave is often an impossible expectation.
7. Find out if there are restrictions or rules about the type of casket and/or vault used.
The FTC regulates the funeral industry. It requires that cemeteries allow you to use the burial casket of your choice, whether or not you purchased it from the cemetery or funeral home. As strange as it may seem, you can actually purchase a casket at Costco to be delivered to the funeral home – and save some money.
Cemeteries can, however impose limitations or requirements on what they allow to be buried. For instance, “green burial” cemeteries only allow eco-friendly caskets or maybe even burial shrouds, and some cemeteries require a vault or liner. Caskets and vaults are the bread and butter of the funeral home and cemetery industry. They will work hard at getting you to buy the best for your loved one. But the least expensive or the most elaborate all go into the ground, never to be seen again, and eventually return to dust.
8. Determine whether a grave liner, or a vault is required.
A burial vault or grave liner ensures that, after the casket is buried and begins to deteriorate, the ground does not cave in. Sometimes such things are required, sometimes not. Most cemeteries prefer them simply because it keeps the grounds looking nicer. Nevertheless, it can be an additional expense, so be sure to ask about this, shop around, and compare prices.
Local laws and ordinances may come into play. There can be some paperwork (and, of course, more fees) associated with the purchase or use of a burial plot. Ask the cemetery official or the funeral director.
10. Sometimes funeral homes and cemeteries are ‘connected.’
If the cemetery and funeral home are operated by the same company or individual, you can sometimes save money on transportation fees or packaged deals. This is usually not the case, but certainly worth checking into.
11. Tombstones and Grave Markers
There are tons of options for headstones and grave markers but most cemeteries have restrictions or rules about the type they allow. Usually these are for uniformity or aesthetic reasons. Sometimes for convenience and efficiency – as ‘in ground’ only markers would be. Lawn mowers can simply go right over the top of them without having to do any trimming or other kinds of labor intensive work. Before you buy, check out their policies.
Some cemeteries are “memorial parks” that only permit flat markers of bronze or granite; others have rules concerning the height, colors, or materials of the headstone.
12. Headstone and marker costs.
Whether you buy a marker or headstone from a dealer or from the cemetery, there is almost always an installation fee. You may be able to get the maker of the monument to install it for a lower fee, or even for free (his profit comes from the sale and the engraving. Ask about these options at the cemetery.
13. Future cemetery plans
Cemeteries are among our most stable institutions. But sometimes ownership changes or additional land is required or there is a need to use the current land more efficiently. Ask about their plans for the future. This is information you may need to know.
Steve Schafer is the founder of TheEulogyWriters and is probably the most prolific eulogy writer (and, no doubt, the best) anywhere. He lives in Michigan and has been writing eulogies for well over thirty years. The articles in this blog are designed to help people through the process of losing loved ones.