A Guide To Choosing A Perfect Headstone

When a loved one passes away, you are often tasked with making difficult decisions while still grieving the loss. Funeral arrangements begin soon after a death. Will the deceased be cremated or buried? If you decide to have your loved one buried, you will need to choose a headstone for the burial site. Choosing a headstone is a way that can reflect who the deceased was and honor their memory. A headstone or grave marker can be designed by their partner or their close family members.

There are many things to consider when selecting a headstone that you may not be aware of. This guide is available to educate you and make the selection process easier for you and allows you the ability to spend more time with your family as you all grieve.  

This guide looks at what headstones are, their history, how to select one, and the many additional options you can make when honoring your family member with a headstone leaving you feeling confident you are making educated decisions on how to keep your loved one’s memory alive.

What Is A Headstone?

A headstone is a traditional marker made of stone, metal, or wood placed over a burial site to mark where someone you love is buried. Typically, a headstone contains standard information about the deceased such as their name, birth year and death year, and any other identifying information that might be sentimental or important.

Headstones pay tribute and honor the deceased, and helps their memory live on. They can tell stories about their life, whether it is in a small epitaph or engraving of a symbol or a quote that represents who they were in life.

What Is The History Of Headstones?

The way we care for and remember our loved ones after their death has evolved throughout time. Placing a marker to indicate where people are buried after they pass away is rooted in tradition and religion. Many believe the initial function of a gravestone is rooted in superstition. People believed that a gravestone prevented the deceased from returning from the grave.

Headstones, also known as tombstones, grave markers, or gravestones, have evolved in looks throughout history from the beginning as boulders to mark the site of the deceased by nomadic people to now beautiful ornate customer headstones. Each one is unique as the person buried beneath.

Throughout time, headstones have changed in sizes, shapes, and materials. Headstones have been affected by material shortages in wars or the availability of materials used to create headstones in some areas of the world.

As we have evolved in technology and skills available, there are now many ways to honor your loved ones. The headstones now can contain very detailed images or beautiful lettered sentences or verses. A person may choose to be cremated and ask their ashes to be spread in a location that means a lot to them. Some choose to have the cremated remains made into beautiful jewelry.

Headstones will remain a popular option no matter how we choose to remember our loved ones after they pass. Most people enjoy having a beautiful place to visit and reflect on the memories with the deceased. Choosing a headstone to visit in a beautiful location where you can sit and reflect on your memories with your loved ones.

Who Selects & Pays For A Headstone?

When preparing for a final resting place for your loved one, there are many things to think about, and it can be overwhelming. They may have left specific instructions in their will or their end-of-life plans. If the death is sudden or no preparations have been made while they were alive, the responsibility usually rests on the spouse or the children.

If for any reason the deceased does not have, or their immediate family is no longer living, the responsibility then falls to the next of kin. At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the family who makes the decision on the headstone.

When it comes to payment, if there is an estate available, the money is taken from the estate first to pay for the headstone. However, sometimes the family chooses to pay out of pocket. If there are not enough funds available in the estate, the responsibility falls to the spouse and the children.

Choosing A Cemetery: An Essential First Step

Choosing a cemetery for your loved one’s burial plot is an essential step in funeral arrangements. You’ll want to choose a quality location for the burial plot that is easy to visit and fits your headstone or memorial needs. You need to be prepared to ask many other questions for the purchasing of the plot and the installation and care of the headstone.

Plot Questions

  • What are the options for plot sizes? When trying to figure out what size plot you need, think about the size of the headstone or grave marker you might be considering.
  • Do you need to purchase two side-by-side plots for a companion headstone? You can purchase two even if the partner is still living and would like to be buried beside the deceased.
  • Are there any one-time fees or annual fees for the plot?

Paperwork Questions

  • Is there any additional paperwork that needs to be completed in preparation for the headstone or grave marker? Does the cemetery offer any checklists?

Headstone Questions

  • Does the cemetery install the headstone, or will you need to hire a contractor to do the installation?
  • Are there any limitations on the materials you can use, or do they have any restrictions on the colors of headstones?
  • Do they allow pictures on the headstones? They may have restrictions on if the etching can be in color or black in white if it is allowed.
  • Do they offer maintenance on the headstone? Do they clean or do landscaping?

Work closely with the funeral home and cemetery and be sure that you get a copy of the rules or restrictions in writing to use as a guide or a checklist for when you begin to create the headstone.

6 Steps To Begin Designing The Headstone

To begin designing the headstone, think about the design and how to best honor your loved one. Do you want a simple flat stone? Or do you want a sizeable intricate headstone with symbols and beautiful lyrics? Sometimes, it might be difficult for inspiration to strike with all of the options to choose from, and that's okay. You are also dealing with grief and should understand there is a lot of grace given.

If you are struggling to come up with ideas, take a walk around the cemetery you selected and pay attention to the designs, shapes, sizes, materials of the burial sites there. Take notes of things you like or things you think might best preserve the memory of your deceased loved one. You can also do some research online and print up images to bring with you to the cemetery when planning on the headstone.


Once you have a good idea of what you would like in terms of headstones, research average prices online and set a budget that works for you and your family. You will want to be sure to add a little room to your budget if you decide to go with any extras the cemetery might charge for, such as the number of letters, fancier fonts, coloring, and images. The engravings can add up to be more expensive than the stone itself.


Next, you will want to pick the material for the headstone that fits into your chosen budget. Be sure to keep in mind the durability of the material over time when making your choice. Think about the maintenance and care that goes with the material you select.

Some other things to think about are what kind of finish you would like for the headstone? You can choose between polished finish, part-polished finish, pitched, or rock pitch finish. The face is usually polished to highlight the inscriptions, but you can choose a natural look or a polished clean surface for the edges.


Once you know your budget and what material you would like, you want to pick the style of headstone or monument. Some questions to ask yourself and your family:

Are you wanting an upright headstone or perhaps a bench monument?

Do you want the headstone to be in a particular shape, such as a cross or a heart?

Should you be choosing a companion headstone?


Options to consider are possibly adding accessories to your loved one’s headstone. There are many options available such as a vase to hold flowers, or you can add stone angels, a place for a flag, or even a cremation urn to sit atop the headstone.

If you would like to select a cremation urn to place on your headstone, here is some information that may be helpful 10 Things You Need to Know Before Purchasing an Urn.


  1. If you decide to add an inscription, it may be the more personal and involved decision you may have to make regarding the headstone. A standard headstone contains the deceased's name, their date of birth, and death. You can also choose to add their nickname to give them a familiarity that most people would know them by.

Some minor choices are the font style, any symbols, or having a photo engraved. With technology today, the photo can be of their favorite hobby, a portrait of them, anything that may symbolize who they were in one image.

You can also choose to engrave some additional words to the headstone that might be a sweet farewell message or a bible scripture. It can be something the deceased often said that would be familiar to anyone who may have known them, or even a favorite poem that embodies the love you felt for them.


  1. Once you have a great idea drafted up for a headstone, be sure to take notes and examples of images so you can review the headstone with your family. The approval of all is vital to ensure they all feel the deceased is reflected in the choices made.

This is just a general quick start guide to help give you an idea of the process of choosing a burial site, selecting a headstone, designing, and installing a perfect headstone for your loved one. Read on to learn more in-depth information about the many headstone styles you can select.

What Headstone Styles Are Available?

There are many styles of headstones to choose from, and you want to be sure to know your cemetery's requirements and restrictions when choosing your headstone. The selections are vast and can be challenging. You want to be sure to pick the one that is most aesthetically pleasing to you and your family for when you visit your loved one, but also stick to what works for your budget.


The most common traditional style of a headstone is the upright headstone. An upright headstone is composed of a base and the tablet where the information on the deceased is placed. The tablet is vertical front and back.

These can be a single upright or a companion upright headstone. Usually, these are used for married couples or partners. Upright headstones are easier to find in cemeteries.


Slant headstones are similar to upright headstones as they are vertical in the back and slanted in the front. The slant makes the headstone sturdy enough without a base; however, a base is still an option when selecting this type of headstone. These two can be selected as a single or a companion headstone.

There are two types of slant headstones. The standard slant headstone has a 2-inch nosing on the front of the headstone, which is an additional vertical piece of stone before the slant begins. The full-face slant headstone does not have a nosing and slants directly from the base up.


Flat grave markers are level with the ground or raised 1-4 inches above. They are made to sit level with the grass and are thick. These markers are usually rectangular and typically 4 inches thick. These two can be selected as a single or companion headstone. These are cost-effective and can be decorated beautifully; however, they can be challenging to locate when visiting.


A bevel or raised top flat headstone is similar to a flat headstone, but to qualify, it must be raised several inches from the ground and raised slightly higher in the back, creating a slight slope. The word bevel means slope. A bevel grave marker is affordable and can be decorated just as intricately as an upright headstone.


A bench headstone is an attractive option that gives friends and family members a place to sit and reflect on their loved ones. They can be made into many styles and are not restricted to only cemeteries. The styles range from an arm bench, park bench monument, pedestal bench, or harp leg bench.


Monuments are larger headstones and can vary in shape and size. A moment can take many shapes, such as lions, angels, or obelisks. A monument can be made into just about any shape, but you will want to check with the cemetery on restrictions. Monuments can be grave markers or a monument that holds your loved one’s ashes.

What Are The Common Headstone Shapes?

Headstones have many basic styles and shapes to choose from. Once you have a style you like, you can choose what shape you want the headstone.

The shapes of upright headstones can help you identify your loved one’s headstone from afar if, however, you can go the traditional route if you prefer.

Square top - is where the stone is flat on the top and all sides, creating a square or a rectangle headstone.

Checked top – This style is angled, usually in a point, and creates a dramatic shape and a slight not-over-the-top take on a traditional design.

Raised shoulder – A raised shoulder is where one side of the headstone is slightly raised, creating an angular headstone design.

Oval or arc – an oval or an arc is a rounded top and is one of the more popular headstones shapes you see in many cemeteries.

Oval with shoulders – this shape is a headstone that is oval but transitions into a flat corner on both sides.

Half-round – A half-round headstone is a more pronounced version of the oval shape.

Gothic – Gothic is an oval type of headstone with a point in the middle similar to many types of gothic architecture.

You can also choose unique shapes for flat grave markers. A traditional grave marker or flat stone is rectangular, but you can get creative with the shape. Common choices can be a book, a circle or an oval, a floral design, or a cross.

What Are Headstones Usually Made Of?

Headstones can be made of many types of materials. Most headstones can last hundreds of years, but each one will weather differently throughout the years. Choosing a headstone that looks nice and stands the test of time, and your loved ones can be remembered through generations.


Granite is a naturally beautiful stone that is an incredibly durable choice. It can resist temperature fluctuations and weathering. Granite can come in a variety of colors. Granite is a common selection as it is the most practically priced, although more difficult to clean due to a white film that builds up over time.


Marble is not used as much today. This stone gradually erodes fairly easily, erasing anything carved into the stone. Marble comes mainly in whites and grays, but you can find many hues. Being a softer stone, marble is easier to carve and add inscriptions. Many also choose marble because of its use as memorials in Washington D.C.


Sandstone and limestone are a softer stone option that makes it any easier to carve. This stone is not as durable as granite and easily cracks and chips at the bedding plates. Sandstone and limestone are difficult to clean as the surface is porous and stains easily. The two materials are rarely used in today's headstones.


Bronze is an elegant choice when choosing a headstone. Bronze is durable but can develop a green patina over time. These are a great choice when you want to have more intricate details on your headstone.


Concrete or cement can be shaped in many unique ways but is susceptible to mold and mildew and needs to be cleaned often. This option is usually not recommended. Concrete is usually only used for bases.


Fieldstones were used in some of the oldest grave markers found. They are a large natural stone with some basic information engraved in this. They're not typically used anymore in modern times.

No matter the choice of a headstone, what truly matters is the care and choice you make for how you engrave your loved one’s headstone.

How To Choose An Inscription

A headstone is usually engraved with an epitaph that includes the deceased’s name, date of birth, and death. But sometimes, you may want to add more words to describe how you feel or show them that you care. Trying to find the right things to say on the headstone can be stressful. Here are some great ways to choose the best inscription.


Take your time. This is a delicate time, and already you are dealing with a lot of emotions. Choosing an epitaph is a process that should not be rushed, and you should never feel bad for taking your time to choose.


Family and friends can be a great source of inspiration for coming up with an inscription. Have a brainstorming session maybe while sharing memories and food. This is a great way to help really capture the essence of the deceased in a way that is personal and meaningful.


Try to choose a poem or excerpt that had meaning to the deceased or that might be meaningful to anyone who read it. This is also a great time to look up any underlined verses in their bible or quotes they used often in life.


Be careful when using humor in an epitaph. Humor in cultures can change through the years. If humor was a large part of who your loved one was, take care in choosing something that will stay funny through the years and not lose its meaning.


Keep the epitaph simple. Keeping it short and sentimental gets the message across in a traditional way. Popular epitaphs you might consider include Rest In Peace, In Memoriam, In Loving Memory Of, Forever In Our Hearts. These epitaphs are a classic and timeless option and give off the right tone and meaning, but you are allowed to be creative and find ways in words to immortalize your loved one’s personality.

An epitaph is traditionally placed on the front face of the headstone; however, if you want to add any additional words or images on any side, most places will oblige. You want to follow some etiquette when choosing an epitaph. You can make it lighthearted and fun if it applies to your situation, but you also have to remember that many families will also see the words you choose on the headstone.

Where Do I Find Headstone Suppliers?

You can find many places that create and install headstones, and it can be overwhelming when trying to decide which supplier is best for your needs. Often funeral homes and cemeteries would prefer you purchase from them. They often supply simple headstones and flat stones to help ease the selection process and eliminate the need to find a third party to create a headstone.

If you want to find a headstone supplier outside of the cemetery, you can look online for reputable suppliers. Be sure to read reviews to make sure they are a good quality supplier, and you want to keep a list of the chosen cemetery's rules and regulations to ensure you are creating one that will be approved. 

These days you can choose to design and purchase a headstone online. People usually tend to go this route because it is a more cost-effective option, and you have more variety, and a website can be easier to navigate.

Be cautious when using this option, as there are, unfortunately, many scammers out there. You want to research the site, ensure they have an address and phone number listed, and check to ensure the business is reputable.

You can also reach out to friends and family to see if they have any good recommendations for monument dealers. You want to work with someone you can trust while navigating this difficult time.

From Creating To Maintaining The Headstone: What You Need To Know

Now that you have an idea of the overall process of what to do prior to purchasing a headstone, let's jump to the actual processing of creating, installing and maintaining your headstone in memory of a loved one.


Headstones usually try to complete a headstone within 2-3 months. The amount of time depends on many factors. If you choose a company that has a long waitlist, or if you have an intricate design and engravings.

If you choose a unique design, this can also be a factor as it takes longer to carve stone that is not a flat surface.

It may take even longer for the headstone to be created as sometimes a family may disagree and have different ideas that they would like to see on their loved one’s headstone. Remember that the most important thing is to honor the deceased and ensure the family is happy with the design. Take your time, and do not feel bad for not rushing.


It’s important to remember that a headstone is not installed until months after the burial is complete. This allows the ground to settle and allows time for the headstone to be created if the death was sudden and unexpected. While it is sometimes hard to not see the headstone until after the funeral, keep in mind the extra time allows you to choose how the headstone will look and preserve their memory.

Most monument makers will offer installation services; however, if you choose to order online, it may be difficult to find a supplier willing to install for you. A cemetery may offer installation services as well.

You may have the option of installing the headstone yourself. Be sure to work with experienced people and have a well-researched plan if you decide to do self-installation.


After the funeral and everything is taking care of and the headstone is in place, you’ll want to ensure you continue to take proper care of their headstone. Not all cemeteries offer maintenance or cleaning. This is something that would have been discussed during the funeral arrangements and headstone selection.

Caring for the headstone can be a group effort. Educate those in your family so they know the care that goes into the headstone that was selected.

All headstones need cleaning and ask them to take part in the care when they visit the deceased. While deep cleaning is not needed except for every few years, ask them to do some spot cleaning here and there when they visit.

For general light cleaning, you just need to bring a bucket of water, a soft cleaner like dishwashing liquid, a washcloth, some Q-Tips to clean the engravings, and towels for drying. Be sure to research how to clean based on the headstone material you chose, as some like limestone or marble are more porous and difficult to clean and can be damaged more easily.

If the headstone has landscaping or flowers beds around the headstone, and the cemetery does not care for the flower beds, pull weeds and maybe water as needed every time you visit. You never have to worry about mowing the lawn, as most cemeteries have a groundskeeper that keeps the lawn tidy.

Any small amount of care can help preserve the headstone through weather and time. A clean and clear headstone of debris when the deceased’s family visits will make visiting a more enjoyable experience, and the family can enjoy the inscriptions for generations.


When visiting the resting place of your loved one, the headstone might be enough, and you may want to bring flowers or light a candle. Sometimes, if the cemetery does not have any restrictions, you can decorate the area near your headstone, usually in the plot you have purchased.

Whether or not you chose to add accessories, you can bring your elements and design the area in a way that honors their memory and make the space a beautiful place to visit. Some options might be setting up flags, putting up a seasonal wreath, wind chimes, photos in frames, religious statues, or crosses, or even leave little notes in a note box.

Some plots allow for landscaping. You can choose to plant flowers or year-round bushes to make the plot around the headstone look better and with minimal effort aside from some light gardening. Gardening can be a peaceful activity you can do while you visit your loved one’s gravesite.

Be sure to read the cemetery's rules when decorating the space. There are many reasons why they have restrictions in place. Usually, it’s difficult to maintain the decorations, or sometimes the elements can carry things off and make lawn care difficult. Other times decorations can be a safety hazard. Always ask permission.

Tips For Pre-Purchasing A Headstone

Some people choose to take time preparing for their death long before it happens. They take time to meet with cemeteries and make decisions on where they would like to rest in addition to their funeral arrangements. They can choose their headstone and what kind of engravings to select. This can take the burden of planning their family when they do pass and allows them to grieve without worrying about what’s next.


If a companion headstone was chosen and the partner passes away, you need to update the headstone to include their partner's information. The headstone will need to be removed and reinstalled. With the original inscription in place and care is taken to leave room for the partner when they pass, the new inscription will be added, and the headstone will be replaced. Adding inscriptions does not take as long as creating the headstone, and most places can get it completed within 60-90 days.


Headstones can last for hundreds of years but always keep in mind many unexpected events can occur, such as earthquakes, tornados, and other natural disasters. This is another instance where the headstone will need to be removed for repairs. Usually, this can be completed by the original monument maker and the cost and time usually depends on the extent of the damage.

Choosing The Perfect Headstone Frequently Asked Questions

What materials are the best option?

Granite is a great choice for headstones as it is the more affordable and stronger of the choices. It can withstand hot, cold, freeze-thaw conditions, and moisture. Marble would be a great cost alternative, but marble tends to crumble over time, and likely you will need to replace it. Bronze is highly durable; however, it is a more expensive option.

How much should I expect to pay for a headstone?

Prices vary in many ways when selecting a headstone based on many factors such as weight, material, designs, and type. Granite headstones are the most cost-efficient. Flat granite grave markers are the cheapest option. The larger the headstone, the more you can expect to pay. Typically, engravings or images can add anywhere from $1000-$3000 more in cost depending on the intricacy.  

What are the standard sizes for a headstone?

The standard size of a headstone is usually determined by the size chosen for the grave plot. A headstone can be anywhere from 24 by 12, 28 by 16, or 18 by 24 inches. Companion grave sizes are usually between 36 by 18 inches or 44 by 14 inches.

What is the difference between a headstone and a grave marker?

While a headstone and a grave marker serve the same purpose, a headstone is raised above the ground and stands up while a grave marker lies flat on the ground.

What is the best material for a grave marker?

The best material for a grave marker is either granite or bronze. These materials are durable against weather and time. Granite is the most cost-efficient choice of the two; however, these are usually more affordable with a grave marker as they are small.

What is an engraving versus an etching?

Engraving is a physical process where a person uses tools to cut lines into the surface of the headstone. Etching is a process where an etcher uses chemicals to burn lines into the headstone. Etching is an excellent alternative to engraving as it can be more cost-efficient and be quicker to create. This is especially handy when you have a tight deadline needed to finish the headstone.  

Can a photo of the deceased be on the headstone? 

With the way technology has advanced, having a photo of the deceased engraved is possible and has been done well. You will want to check with the cemetery if they have any design restrictions on headstones or grave markers. The cost for a photo engraved on the headstone can add a hefty price tag.

How long does it take for a headstone to be created?

The time it takes usually depends on what you have chosen. A simple grave marker with minimal wording is much faster than a hard headstone with a picture or a verse engraved on it. More elaborate headstones can up to several months to complete. Usually, a headstone is placed on a gravesite long after the funeral.

Honoring Their Memory

Selecting a gravestone is the last step in funeral arrangements. You need to have a budget, do research, and discuss options with family members. Ultimately, whether you choose a flat grave marker or a sizeable ornate headstone, you can rest easy knowing you have a personal stone that will last for generations.

Selecting a headstone can be an emotional process, and hopefully, this guide made the process easier. It’s not an easy task, and you may not have been given the gift of knowledge of what your loved one’s wishes were before they passed. Use your best judgment and do the best you can.

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October 31, 2021 by Frances Kay