Choosing a Cemetery

You will need to choose a location for burial or cremated remains if the deceased has not previously paid for a cemetery plot. You may wish to have a trusted friend or family member assist you in gathering and reviewing the information.

General Questions

  1. What types of cemeteries are there?
    • Traditional cemeteries have upright monuments and may have private mausoleums and/or a chapel. They may be either nonprofit or for-profit ventures.
    • Memorial parks or memorial gardens have memorials placed level with the ground. Both have beautiful landscaping and attractive features. Like traditional cemeteries, they are either nonprofit or for-profit ventures.
  2. Who owns/manages a cemetery?
    • Cities, religious groups or private organizations.
    • Each owner will have different policies for managing the cemetery.
  3. What are the options when choosing a grave?
    • A single grave or
    • Lots that accommodate two or more graves, depending on what is available.

      Many cemeteries allow for the burial of two caskets in a grave or have sections where this is available. Double depth means that one casket is placed in the grave at an approximate depth of seven feet. When a second interment is required, the second casket is placed on top of the first casket at standard depth.
  4. Does the cemetery require a burial vault and/or grave liner?
    • Both a vault and a liner are outside containers into which the casket is placed.
    • Burial vault: This is designed to protect the casket and may be made of a variety of materials including concrete, stainless steel, galvanized steel, copper, bronze, plastic or fiberglass.
    • Grave liner: This is a lightweight version of a vault, which keeps the grave surface from sinking in.
    • Most, but not all, cemeteries require you to purchase a grave liner, which can be several hundred dollars. In most areas of the country, state or local law does not require that you buy a vault/container to surround the casket in the grave. However, many cemeteries require that you have one or the other so that the ground will not sink. Either a grave liner or a burial vault will satisfy these requirements.
    • Ask if you can you use a vault purchased elsewhere.
  5. You can choose a monument or plaque:
    • a flat plaque/marker or
    • an upright monument.
  6. How do you choose a monument or plaque?
    • Find out what the cemetery's policies are on types and placement.
    • Choose within your price range.
    • Monuments come in three grades of stone rated according to their density (light, medium, and dark with dark being the most-dense).
    • Plaques/markers are generally made of bronze. Information for choosing the monument or plaque that will meet your expectations can be found online at Federal Trade Commission.
  7. Ask about the policies on flowers or wreaths at the graveside.

  8. Ask about the year-round grounds maintenance routines.
    • Perpetual care on a cemetery plot is sometimes included in the purchase price; clarify this before you buy a site or service. If it's not included, look for a separate endowment care fee for maintenance and grounds keeping.

Cemetery Costs

  1. What’s the price difference between a burial and entombment?
    • Earth burial, the most common means of disposition in the United States, includes a casket, cemetery plot, opening and closing of the grave, a grave liner or vault and a memorial or marker.
    • Entombment, or placing the casket above ground in a mausoleum, may be more expensive than a burial, depending on the cost of mausoleum space.
  2. What is the final cost for burial and what is included in that cost?
    • Most cemeteries will have a breakdown of costs either at their administrative offices or online.
    • Fees can include monuments, interment, recording fees, land size by child or adult, grave liner, opening and closing the grave, etc.
    • The cost of a grave site can range between $600 up to $5,000 in some cemeteries.

WHN TIP:

The costs and fees associated with cemeteries can add up fast, track them carefully.

Military Honors

  1. If the deceased is being buried in a private cemetery, is it possible to have a veteran marker or headstone?
    • On December 27, 2001, President Bush signed Public Law 107-103, the Veterans Education and Benefits Expansion Act of 2001.
    • This law includes a provision that allows the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to furnish an appropriate headstone or marker for the graves of eligible veterans buried in private cemeteries, whose deaths occur on or after September 11, 2001, regardless of whether the grave is already marked with a nongovernment marker.
    • For more information, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs' Web site.
  2. What are the eligibility criteria for burial in a national cemetery?
    • If the deceased is a veteran, he or she is entitled to a free burial in a national cemetery and a grave marker. This eligibility also extends to some civilians who have provided military-related service and some Public Health Service personnel.
    • Spouses and dependent children also are entitled to a lot and marker when buried in a national cemetery. For more information and to determine eligibility, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs' Web site.
    • In addition, many states have established state veterans cemeteries. Eligibility requirements and other details vary. Contact your state for more information.
  3. Burying Cremated Remains

Sources: ICFA, Department of Veterans Affairs.

The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional advice. These tips are from experts and people who have shared their real life advice; always check with appropriate professionals you trust in making your purchasing or life-related decisions.

Updated: 5/2009