How to Choose a Cemetery or Memorial Garden

Cemetery selection

Cemetery selection is primarily determined by the type of disposition that you choose: However, there are additional considerations.

Burial

Burial can occur:

  • In the ground (grave) or in a structure (tomb, vault or mausoleum)
  • In a commercial, non-profit cemetery or personal cemetery (as permitted by law)
  • In a traditional cemetery or a green cemetery (as permitted by law)

Cremation

Cremated remains may be placed:

  • In the ground,scattered
  • In a commercial, non-profit or family cemetery
  • In a columbarium, cinuary (community urn) or scattering bed
  • On open ground (where not prohibited state and municipal law)
  • In any container, typically an urn
  • Into an object such as jewelry

Cost

Burial tends to be more costly than cremation because: 1) more products are involved (casket, grave liner, marker), 2) more land is used and 3) more labor is expended.

Costs vary by disposition and by location. For example:

  • Most cemeteries will require a grave liner.
  • Green cemeteries do not allow caskets.
  • Cremation does not require a casket.
  • Columbarium gardens may require a specific urn.

Expect to pay at least $2,000 for a single grave plot and $1,500 for columbarium niche that allows two urns. Spaces in desirable locations are more expensive and in many cities cemetery space is at a premium.

Locating a burial space

You have many options for a burial space:

  • Funeral homes are always affiliated with a cemetery.
  • Cemeteries with an office can be approached directly.
  • Personal property may contain a family cemetery depending on state statute.
  • Military personnel have the right for burial in a military cemetery.
  • Members of churches and other non profit organizations may have access to a columbarium.
  • Cremated remains can be buried or scattered anywhere allowed by state and municipal law.

Note that the purchase of a space gives the buyer a “right to use” as opposed to an ownership.

When deciding on whether to purchase a grave plot or a columbarium niche, consideration should be given to finance, convenient access and personal meaning. If time allows, it is also prudent to vet the quality of the cemetery for reputation, maintenance, record-keeping, etc.

Vetting a cemetery

Some of the characteristics of a well-run cemetery are obvious from visual inspection, while others require more thorough research.

  • Post and maintain regular hours
  • Have a courteous and helpful staff that is available during specified hours to answer questions and to provide directions to specific grave sites when needed.
  • Be secured by a locked gate and lighting after hours.
  • Have additional security for structures like a mausoleum or columbarium.
  • Demonstrate on-going maintenance: Markers that are damaged by the elements should be repaired or removed in a timely manner. Decaying flowers should be removed. Any non-authorized mementos should be removed.
  • Be well landscaped: A well-run cemetery will have attractive landscaping throughout, including trees, bushes, border flowers and possibly a rose garden. If the cemetery has a lawn, it will be well-manicured and weed free. Well-run cemeteries will usually remove flowers and other tributes from graves on a weekly basis to keep the grounds looking neat.
  • Have reliable record keeping in accordance with state statures. Record keeping includes information such as occupant, date of interment, GPS coordinates, contact information for the estate’s executor, etc.
  • Have a provision for long-term maintenance. Once all spaces are sold, a cemetery’s cash flow becomes limited. Cemeteries with good financial management will set aside money for maintenance. A trust is most typical. Most states require commercial cemeteries to indicate whether perpetual care is included. Cemeteries associated with specific communities, such as church memorial gardens, have easier access to on-going cash flow and labor for maintenance.
  • Provide legal documentation of your rights upon purchase.
  • Allow resale of space (unless the cemetery has membership restrictions).

Resources

Cemeteries are governed by state and municipal laws. For more information about cemeteries, you can start by looking for a funeral service commission in your state. For example, in Texas, the Texas Funeral Service Commission is the agency that oversees cemeteries.

Learn the Language

  • Crematorium

    An organization which performs cremation of human remains.