There are many things to keep in mind when purchasing a cemetery plot, especially if you are doing so for the first time for yourself and/or for your family.
Even without the pressure of the recent death of a family member, it may feel a bit unsettling to just walk into a cemetery office and ask for a plot. Though that’s certainly one way, there are a few things to ask on how to buy a cemetery plot. Here are some questions to have at the ready.
First, Know What You Want
Often without realizing it, we have an idea of what we want to happen after we die. Even if we haven’t taken the time to really think it over, we may have already made some preliminary decisions.
Each time we attend a funeral or visit a loved one’s grave in a cemetery, we are faced with our own mortality. So it’s natural when we visit a cemetery to take note of what we would prefer for ourselves.
You may even talk about it at the time...making comments like the following:
- “I wouldn’t mind being buried here. That’s a nice shady spot.”
- “I definitely don’t want to be cremated. I can’t stand the thought of it.”
- “I think cremation is the right way to go. I would like to be buried, though. I wonder, do they do that?”
The good news is that these thoughts are the start of the pre-planning process. It will make it a lot easier when you decide you’re ready to write out your own plan and eventually set up an appointment with a cemetery to discuss your pre-plan for burial or interment.
With these things in mind, let’s go over the seven questions you should always ask before you buy a cemetery plot.
1. “How much do cemetery plots cost?”
How much a burial plot costs might be the first thing that comes to mind when considering the purchase of a cemetery plot.
Cost is an important factor when it comes to any major purchase. And purchasing your burial plot is a pretty important decision. This is especially true if there are other people involved in the decision, such as loved ones you would like to be buried next to you. If this is the case, you’ll want to talk with them. Make sure everyone is on the same page.
Once you find out what your family wants, you can move forward and contact the agreed-upon cemetery. This could be a cemetery where family members have been buried for years or one based on location, such as a shared hometown.
If you are going to purchase a family plot, you may be able to pay less per grave since many will be purchased at one time.
2. “What options are available in the cemetery for plots?”
The types of cemetery burial plots available depend on the cemetery with traditional-style, full-size graves, including:
- A single grave for the burial of one person only. Single grave sites are the most popular purchased in cemeteries.
- A double grave is for two burials that rest side-by-side.This is often called a companion grave. The types of grave markers needed for these are shared, which are also called double or companion monuments.
- A double-depth grave is also a grave for two burials. In this case, the burials are placed on top of each other instead of side-by-side. This can be a lower-cost option because only one larger outer burial container can be used instead of one burial container for each casket.
Regarding cremated remains, they can be buried just like a traditional casket burial. Sometimes cemeteries allow the burial of more than one urn of cremains to be buried in only one full-size plot. Make sure you ask the cemetery about this option if you are interested.
Other burial options can include having an urn of cremated remains in a niche or columbarium, a garden for scattering cremains, or a green burial at a natural burial grounds or at a hybrid cemetery.
3. “Are there additional fees?”
When you buy a burial plot, you’re really just doing that – buying the plot. At the time of the burial, there will be other fees that haven’t been included, which can include the following.
Vaults and liners
While burial vaults or grave liners are not necessarily required by state or local laws, they are required by most cemeteries. Vaults and liners help to prevent ground collapse at a gravesite.
The difference between a burial vault and a grave liner is that a vault is an outer container with four sides, a top, and a bottom. A liner only has four sides and a top.
Grave marker installation
Installing a grave marker is no small effort, especially if the marker is large or has a unique design. It can take special equipment and will likely require more than one person to install.
Opening and closing of the grave
Grave openings and closings are also a separate cost. A grave opening is the actual digging of the hole for the burial. Closing, of course, is the filling of said burial hole.
It may be possible to have the costs of these options rolled into your pre-plan payment, so make sure to ask. Sometimes costs like grave openings and closings can change over the years, so even if you pay ahead, you may have to pay the difference at the time of burial.
4. “What does perpetual care mean, and do you have to have it?”
This fee is a requirement at a lot of cemeteries. It can be a one-time or an annual fee. But perpetual care isn’t what many people think it is. This fee is for cemetery maintenance on the whole. “The perpetual care fee you pay helps offset the costs of upkeep like mowing, litter removal, and road maintenance,” according to Legacy.com.
It is typically expected for family members that visit the gravesite of their loved one to keep it clean, which can include the gravestone. The cemetery takes care of mowing and trimming, but anything more detailed is the responsibility of the deceased’s loved ones.
While perpetual care may sound like eternal care for a grave, that’s often not the case. Ask the cemetery about their perpetual care and what the fee covers so you’re not surprised down the road.
If you are interested in having personalized maintenance care for a grave, you might consider hiring someone to provide the care for you. Grave caregivers offer whatever level of care you would like. These are often people who offer their services but aren’t officially connected with the cemetery.
Grave care services can include:
- Grave marker cleaning
- Grass trimming
- Weed removal
- Placing fresh or artificial flowers (in general or on specific days like holidays and anniversaries)
5. “What are the general rules, requirements, or restrictions of the cemetery?”
Each cemetery will have its own rules and regulations and are often posted on signs near the cemetery’s entrance.
You can typically see things listed like hours of opening, guidelines, and restrictions for grave decorations, how often decorations are cleared away, what kinds of flowers are allowed, and if families are allowed to plant flowers or other plants by the grave.
Other regulations may be available with the cemetery office, and can include specifics like the following:
- Restrictions regarding gravestone or marker sizes, shapes, or content
- Restrictions on casket types or sizes
- Who is responsible if a gravestone is damaged
6. “In the future, if I decide that I want to sell the gravesite, can I?”
Sometimes a person needs or wants to sell a cemetery burial plot they’ve purchased ahead of time. Is this something you can do? Yes, or possibly no. Check with the state government’s cemetery regulations and licensing to make sure.
If it is legal where you live, you can do the selling yourself or you can use a cemetery broker. There’s a lot involved in the transferring of ownership just like there is with any property. In certain states, cemetery brokers must have a license.
Even if you don’t live in one of those states, working with a licensed cemetery broker can be very helpful. They will know exactly which papers and deeds have to be verified legally as well as have the knowledge on the other ins and outs of what is necessary.
7. “When I buy a plot, do I own the land?”
When you buy a cemetery plot, you own the plot. You do not own the land itself. “The cemetery retains ownership of the land, you are purchasing the right to use the land for a burial,” according to Burial Planning.
When It’s Time to Plan
When you’re looking into how to plan a funeral, that’s the perfect time to ask cemeteries about their burial options. Funerals and burials not only go hand-in-hand, it’s also much easier to budget financially for them when you include everything in your pre-planning.
If you're looking for more burial planning advice, read our guides on burial and cremation options and how to buy a headstone.
- “How Cemeteries Work: Questions About Cemetery Grounds.” Legacy, 19 October 2018, www.legacy.com/advice/how-cemeteries-work-questions-about-cemetery-grounds/
- “Perpetual Care Isn’t What You Think It Is.” Gravewords, 31 January 2012, gravewords.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/perpetual-care-isnt-what-you-think-it-is/
- “How Long Do You Own a Cemetery Plot.” Burial Planning, www.burialplanning.com/resources/how-long-do-you-own-a-cemetery-plot