Who’s Allowed to Put a Headstone on a Grave in a Cemetery?

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When it comes time to pick out grave markers or headstones, there are many factors to take into consideration. You have to decide what materials the headstone will be made out of. You have to choose design elements that you like. You need to decide what words you will have engraved on it. You have to research the costs. And finally, you need to have it installed. 

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It’s a lot to figure out, especially if it’s an undertaking that you haven’t gone through before. And before you even get started out, you need to make sure you’re asking the most important question: am I allowed to put a headstone up?

Here we answer that question and talk more about the process.  

Who Can Put the Headstone on the Grave?

There are two main types of cemeteries. The first, called public cemeteries, are generally open to the public within reason. Funeral plots are sold to members of the public who wish to be buried there or who want to inter their loved ones there. Even though the cemetery can be accessed by most members of the public, it is still privately owned and maintained.  

A private cemetery is typically used by members of a family, or by a small subset of the community. Family cemeteries are where the members of a family will be buried, whether they’re related by blood or marriage. Family cemeteries are often very old and hold the remains of several generations within its boundaries. Other private ceremonies might be affiliated with a church, and may only be for members of its congregation. 

In public and private cemeteries alike, you usually need something called a grant deed before you can put up a headstone. A grant deed is a legal document that shows the sale or transfer of property from one person to another. It can be used in general real estate dealings, but it can also show ownership of a grave plot.

The person whose name is on the grant deed is the one who has the power to have a headstone installed. This is sometimes the designated next-of-kin. But it may also be the name of the person who has been named executor of the deceased’s will. 

If the person being buried already purchased their own burial plot, there should be written instructions for the executor. This ensures the grant deed is given to the proper person.

If you know what cemetery the deceased wanted to be buried in, you may be able to contact them directly to see who is on the grant deed. If the deceased did not purchase a funeral plot, that task might fall to their next of kin or to the executor of the estate. In this case, they will probably put their own name on the grant deed as part of the purchasing process. 

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Who Can’t Put the Headstone on the Grave?

If your name isn’t on the grant deed, you will not be able to put a headstone on a grave. Even if you are the next of kin or a close family member, you won’t be able to put up a headstone without that legal document.

Unfortunately, this can cause problems. Sometimes family members will disagree with the information that should go on a headstone.

For example, transgender people often change their names to better align with their gender identity. But intolerant family members might continue deadnaming them (another term for using their birth name). If a transgender person dies, those family members might even put their deadname on their headstone. 

Another potential headstone conflict can be rooted in nicknames. Sometimes people don’t like their given name and have a strong preference for a nickname. Using their real name on their headstone might not feel right. Using the deceased’s nickname instead of or in addition to their given name might feel like a better way to honor them. 

Situations like these are why it’s so important to start end-of-life planning before you think you need to. Death can come up on us unexpectedly. You don’t want your grave marker design in the hands of someone who doesn’t follow proper headstone etiquette. By planning ahead, you can ensure that the person in charge of your headstone will honor your true identity. 

Make sure to appoint an executor who you know will honor your wishes for burial, including what is written on your headstone. Headstones are generally paid for by the estate of the deceased, or by their surviving family members. If you want to ensure that people don’t try to put up an unauthorized headstone, be sure to take steps to protect your legacy. 

How to Let the Cemetery Know the Headstone is Ready for Installation

Once you have had a headstone made, it’s time to make sure it gets put up in the right place. You’ll usually need to work with the cemetery to coordinate the installation of a grave marker. Here are the steps you should follow:

1. Make sure enough time has passed

Many people assume that headstones get put up immediately. This isn’t actually the case, though. Most cemeteries won’t install a headstone until four to six months after the deceased has been buried. In some places with wet or wintry climates, you might have to wait for a full twelve months. Dirt and soil need time to settle after they’ve been disturbed.

The headstone shouldn’t be placed until the soil has had adequate time to settle from the burial process. Doing it early could result in damage and instability to the headstone. This delay can actually be very helpful, though. Deciding what to put on a headstone is a big decision. The wait gives you time to order the perfect headstone. 

2. Get your paperwork in order

Before you even place an order for a headstone, be sure you have the paperwork you need.

This includes a grant deed showing that you have the legal authority to make any changes to a website. If the cemetery has additional paperwork to fill out, you can keep that on hand for the future. 

3. Speak to the cemetery prior to the headstone delivery

When you order a headstone, you may assume that you can just have it delivered to your home.

But headstones can be incredibly heavy and challenging to move. You likely won’t be able to transport it to the cemetery on your own. See if your cemetery will accept deliveries of headstones in advance of installation.

4. Ask if your cemetery offers installation

Many cemeteries will install headstones or grave markers for a fee. They may have groundskeepers or other workers on staff who can provide that service,

Simply call the cemetery and ask if that’s a service they offer. If they don’t, they can likely refer you to a local independent installer.  

5. Make sure to budget for installation costs

Whether the cemetery does its own installation or refers you to a private installer, there will be a price tag attached. The fees can vary depending on where you live.

You can expect to pay anywhere from about $150 to $450 to install a single headstone. A companion headstone or other larger monument could be as much as $300 to $600 to install.   

Erecting a Headstone in a Cemetery

Buying a headstone or grave marker is a massive undertaking. Whether you’re buying a headstone for a loved one or pre-selecting your own headstone there are a lot of factors to take into consideration. You want to make sure that the headstone includes the right information to commemorate your loved one. You also want to work with the cemetery to make sure that the headstone gets installed in the correct place. 

For years to come, family and friends will be finding their loved one’s grave and taking comfort in it. Make sure to appoint someone you trust to make sure your headstone is built according to your wishes. And if you’re putting up a headstone for someone else, do your best to honor them.

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