While no one likes to consider the end of their lives, sometimes we can benefit from planning our end- of-life accommodations. In the case of choosing a final resting place, you may be interested in pre- purchasing a cemetery plot for yourself or your family. Not only will it spare your loved ones from stress and added expenses, but it can also help you take control of your estate and save your family money in the long run.
Before you make such a big purchase, there are many aspects to consider. That’s why we’ve created this guide to help you navigate the complicated (and often expensive) details of purchasing a burial plot for yourself or a family member.
Burial of the dead has been a practice among humankind for millennia, dating back longer than we have a written historical record for such things. The earliest known human burial, dating back 78,000 years, is that of a child in Kenya. Today, the practice is found worldwide by people of many cultures, creeds, and religions.
Cemetery plots, or burial plots, are designated areas where a body is laid to rest. While most burials take place in cemeteries or other designated areas today, that has not always been the case. For much of human history, burial plots have been on church property, religious or sacred land, public property, and even privately owned land.
In modern times, there may be state or local laws forbidding burials outside established cemeteries. Before you consider a home burial, you may want to research the burial laws for your state.
Cemeteries are areas that have been set aside by public authority or private individuals for the burial of the dead. There are two types of cemeteries: public cemeteries (where anyone can be buried) and private cemeteries (where use is restricted to family or community membership).
Legal issues are not the sole reason to consider interring your loved one in a secure, safe location. More than a physical location, cemetery plots offer loved ones a place to gather first to mourn their loss, and later, it can become a place of solace and remembrance.
As unlikely as it sounds, burial plots are a place for the living. They give us the space we need to work through our loss and grief. As we come to terms with our loss, a grave is also a place to spend time with your loved one's memory.
Many people visit gravesites regularly - bringing flowers, small trinkets, and even simply talk to their loved one. It offers the opportunity to share our lives with the memory of those we have lost.
Cemetery plots also keep a person’s memory alive. Their headstone stands forever to immortalize the legacy of their life, their name, and the family they left behind. These are important places – sometimes even sacred ones – that hold meaning beyond the final resting place for a loved one.
When you start looking for a cemetery plot, you'll soon discover that the process is more complicated than you might suspect. One such consideration is, of course, the price. Much of pricing for cemetery plots depends on two factors: where you live and what kind of plot you want.
Many other considerations come with choosing a cemetery plot such as the following:
When it comes to average costs for cemetery plots, the price breaks down accordingly:
This is the most affordable option and the best one for those working within a highly constrained budget. These plots run approximately $200 to $2500.
Private cemeteries are quite a bit more expensive than their public counterparts. A burial within one can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000, depending on location. For heavily populated, high-cost areas, a single burial plot in a private cemetery can run up to $20,000!
The cost for urn burials is another affordable option if you are considering cremation. In public cemeteries, you may pay between $200-500 per burial plot. For private cemeteries, this may be between $1,000 to $2,500.
Purchasing a pre-owned burial plot is an excellent option if you know one has come available. As you are buying from a private owner, their price can vary greatly.
You may be able to get an excellent discount if the person is looking to sell quickly. However, if the plot is in a highly desirable location with limited space, you may find yourself paying more than the original cost.
As you begin researching burial plots, it's important to know what kind of plot you and how it will be used. You may be surprised at how many options exist and how each has certain advantages or drawbacks to the utilization. Some of these plots are more practical and affordable than others. However, let’s take a look at your options.
This is the most traditional type of burial plot. Single cemetery plots are plots designed for a single person. They are typically a standard size (3.5 feet wide by 8 feet long according to the International Cemetery, Cremation, and Funeral Association) and are sized for a single casket.
Perfect for couples, this type of companion plot is perfect for married couples. These are two adjacent plots that can share a single, double-wide headstone with a family name engraved upon it.
In many instances, the names of both people are engraved on the surface of the headstone even if one of them still lives.
In this type of companion plot, you purchase a double-depth single plot. This allows individual burials to be stacked on top of one another without disturbing the burial beneath.
Not only does this option save space – which can be an issue in larger, urban areas – it is also a money-saving option for those considering companion plots.
In some cases, a cemetery will set aside a specific area of land to hold burial plots for a family or specific group of individuals. These family plots are typically administered by one person (or an estate) and can become the home of multiple persons.
This often saves money and makes sure that close family members can stay together even after death.
Mausoleums are above ground crypts where caskets are interred. These tombs are external, free- standing stone buildings constructed to hold human remains.
They can be designed to hold a single set of remains or many as part of a family or other group. In many parts of the world – including New Orleans – they are a traditional type of burial practiced by large parts of the population.
Others may choose mausoleums because they do not like the thought of being buried beneath the ground or because they live in areas where land is scarce or expensive. Mausoleums can be built several stories high, making it a great option for those who live in these spaces.
Given the overall complexity of these burials, they may be more expensive to build for private use. However, an individual burial in an established mausoleum may be more cost-effective overall.
Lawn crypts are underground structures designed to house one – or many – caskets inside a single subterranean structure. Lawn crypts are heavy, concrete structures that protect the caskets within them by keeping them clean and dry.
Unlike a typical burial where the casket is interred in a small underground vault, lawn vaults are much larger and designed to keep the caskets within them safe from the elements, including extreme temperatures, weather, and include a drainage system to keep them intact. They are underground mausoleums!
If you or your loved one ever considered cremation, you may want to consider purchasing a columbarium niche for a final resting place.
Columbariums are display vaults, often structured as walls, which niches specifically designed to hold cremation urns. These niches are single compartments that hold a shelf where an urn can be placed and then locked into position, providing the deceased a respectful, solemn final resting place.
They come in a variety of sizes suitable for single urns or multiple family-sized niches. Columbarium niches are found in cemeteries, churches, indoor crypts, and outdoor monuments.
Today, a surprising number of burials consist of cremated remains. With this growing trend, many cemeteries set aside a certain portion of land to house cremation burial plots.
Some plots are housed within a family area while others are single plots designed to take up smaller spaces. As such, these areas are less expensive than traditional burial plots because they are so much smaller.
They also have smaller, often flat, grave markers designed to commemorate the space of your loved one. You can even consider companion urns for interring remains of multiple individuals into a single plot.
Some cemeteries have areas called "urn gardens" that are separately landscaped from the rest of the cemeteries. There may be rock features, pathways, and landscaped areas. For more information on cremation urns, you can read our extensive article on the subject - Buying Guide for Cremation Urns.
You may have heard that the US military veterans receive a free burial and/or funeral. That is partially correct. There are some stipulations to this rule.
All veterans with other-than-dishonorable discharges are eligible to be buried in a national VA Cemetery for free. Because space is limited, it is important to fill out the official documentation for pre-determination of eligibility.
If location is an issue, many states have veteran cemeteries as well. For more information, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs. To reach the regional Veterans Affairs office in your area, call 1-800-827-1000.
If a service member would rather be buried in a civilian cemetery, the VA will pay a small fee for a plot allowance and provide a free headstone.
For a more environmentally friendly choice, green burial plots are focused on simplicity, lessened ecological impact, and sustainability. To purchase a green burial plot, there are other considerations to be had, including no use of embalming fluid, no concrete burial vault, and the burial must occur with a biodegradable coffin.
Green plots are designed to encourage complete decomposition of the body to leave no trace.
Green cemeteries are gaining popularity in the United States. They are typically no more expensive than a traditional burial plot but you may be limited geographically depending on where the nearest one is located. Here is a list of all current green cemeteries in North America.
Funerals can be expensive. Many times, they come with several hidden expenses and decisions that can be stressful during an already difficult time.
If you want to alleviate the stress or burden on your family – and have control over what happens to your remains and your final resting place after you pass on – you can make these decisions early.
That’s why it might be in your best interests to consider pre-paying for some, if not all, of your funeral well in advance. (You can read more details about funeral pre-planning with our in-depth guide: 10 Benefits of a Prepaid Funeral.)
When it comes to pre-paying for certain aspects, one crucial piece that you might not immediately consider is the cemetery plot. It might surprise you that you can purchase a burial plot in advance and, more than that, that you might find it more appealing than you would think. So why you should consider prepaying for your final resting place?
As we’ve already mentioned, pre-purchasing your cemetery plot does make funeral planning for your surviving family less stressful when the time comes. It can be difficult for anyone to make rational decisions after the loss of a loved one.
Often, a grieving family will make hasty or otherwise ill-informed decisions if they are blindsided by the many choices and associated costs that come in funeral planning. It can also offer peace of mind, as you'll be making the final decisions for yourself.
Unlike with most real estate purchases, there is no real advantage to waiting for market trends to change before you make your purchase. Burial plots only seem to increase in value as time goes on.
You won’t have to worry about depreciating value for your purchase and, if anything, you may be able to get a much better deal, considering that you won’t be worried about being rushed into decisions.
Speaking of time, planning your own funeral offers the chance to take your time. Many funerals are planned under a heavy time constraint, leaving many of the decisions feeling rushed and the grieving family later regretting their inability to make the best choices for their loved ones.
You’ll great ability to negotiate for the burial plot you want, given that you have time to wait and the opportunity to reach out to other locations/cemetery management companies. This bargaining power can help you save money now.
While this can be a difficult, emotionally draining process, funeral planning has more benefits than you might think, even for yourself. While we've mentioned that this is a way to exert control over what happens once you pass, it is also an opportunity to reflect on your life and your legacy while you are still alive.
Preplanning also allows you to sit down with your family and explain your decisions, as well as giving them all the relevant information they’ll need to contact the proper vendors and locations.
When you are ready to begin seriously searching for a cemetery plot, you might find yourself overwhelmed with the options and sheer volume of information you’ll need to sift through to plan properly. We have put together a list of tips to help you through the process.
As with any big life decision, research is a key component to making the best choice for you and your family. While our guide is written to be a good start in your end-of-life pre-planning process, many aspects require more detailed research that can only be done once you've made a few key decisions.
Once you've begun the planning process, you'll have time to take a closer look at available cemeteries in your area – or the area you would like to be laid to rest – and begin to narrow down your options.
As you begin looking, you may want to ask yourself the following questions before you decide if it is a good fit for you:
One largely ignored aspect of end-of-life planning is how it affects the entire family. When you begin this process, you should sit down with your family and discuss your options.
You also want to make it clear to them exactly what you would like and what estate planning you’ve begun. If you’re considering purchasing a family plot, you will want to discuss that as well.
You never know what others have in mind for their final arrangements and it is better to have an open discussion rather than make assumptions.
You’ll also find that discussing these topics with your family may give everyone more time to come to terms with any nontraditional arrangements you might want.
Before you do anything, it’s important to start with a budget. You will want to take your financial means under consideration when you begin looking at cemeteries.
Knowing your budget will help shape the rest of your planning and help you avoid spending more than you can afford. You will find that some funeral planning services are very quick to sell upgrades or add-ons that are not necessary (or required by law).
It bears repeating that funeral arrangements can be expensive. Even in purchasing a cemetery plot, many other fees surrounding the transaction crop up. These costs will certainly factor into your budget when you begin planning, although not all of them need to be paid for immediately.
Opening/Closing a Grave – The fee for the physical burial process, as both digging and then closing the grave takes time and manpower.
Buying a Vault/Grave Liner – Many cemeteries will not allow you to bury a casket without an approved grave liner made of concrete or other protective material around it.
Perpetual Care – This is a fee paid to maintain the cemetery grounds and the gravesite itself.
Headstones / Grave Marker – Burial plot fees do not include a market for the grave. You will need to purchase that separately.
Headstone Installation – Placing the stone on the gravesite is often an additional fee.
These additional expenses can cost you thousands of dollars in hidden fees. It’s important to discuss each cost with the potential cemetery before you make your purchase. The total cost might affect your decision if you are comparing prices for several locations.
Knowing both state and federal laws regarding burials and funeral practices in your country can be incredibly helpful when you start looking at cemeteries or making final arrangements. It is important to know what is legally required by law as well as what rules or regulations cemeteries may enforce in addition to that.
You will want to know the cemetery’s policies on potential issues like reselling your burial plot if you move or relocate, transferring the deed to another property, or even what monuments or markers are allowed on site.
You should also consult an attorney specializing in estate planning, especially when it comes to finalizing the paperwork for the burial plot. You don’t want to end up with any unexpected fees or unpleasant surprises in the terms of your contract.
Once you have a location in mind, make sure you take the time to visit the physical property. Photos are easily staged, and you wouldn’t want to make a purchase only to discover the reality does not match up with what you were sold on paper.
Schedule a tour and speak with a representative on site. This will also allow you to ask specific questions and make sure you understand their regulations and policies.
Since you are planning well in advance, you have the upper hand when it comes to negotiating for pricing – and gravesite location! – when looking at specific cemeteries. Given that pre-purchasing a plot lets you "shop around" as it were, you have an advantage in your search.
Some cemetery management companies will negotiate prices once it becomes obvious that you are not in a rush to commit. You may also find that certain funeral planning companies and agencies offer discounts for certain things, like veteran status.
Some cemeteries offer payment plans or, if it’s possible, a discount for paying the full purchase amount in advance.
In the United States, you own a cemetery plot in perpetuity. The phrase – which has philosophical origins – means “continual existence.” In short? You should own your burial plot forever. Or, as is more practical, you own the plot so long as the cemetery continues to exist.
There may be other factors that come into play in the determination of the burial plot ownership, however. If the cemetery land is condemned or closed for any reason, your deed may become invalid.
Additionally, there is always the very slim chance the cemetery may run out of space and remains may be moved to another location. These are very unlikely scenarios, however. If they were to happen at all, it would be decades after the burial.
However, it’s very important to read the contract before your purchase a plot. There may be additional rules or stipulations in the agreement that dictates plot ownership. Some states have laws allowing cemeteries to reclaim the land after a certain time (typically a few decades) have passed or if certain stipulations have not been met.
Technically, you can try to negotiate for a better price on a cemetery plot. After all, cemetery plots are just another piece of real estate, subject to the whims of the market. It's likely that, if you are pre-buying a cemetery plot you are likely to get a better deal than if you are buying in the middle of your grief or loss. That will often put you in a better position for bargaining with the funeral services or cemetery.
Do not be too disappointed, however, if you cannot get the same discount or contract negotiation that you might have wished for. After all, it is always a gamble when choosing any kind of real estate purchase. The person selling the plot is, at heart, a salesperson and often subject to certain rules and regulations when it comes to pricing. Treat them with respect and courtesy no matter what their final offer may be.
Purchasing a cemetery plot is, at heart, a simple action. It is very similar to buying real estate. First, you choose the cemetery location where you would like to make your purchase. Then, you’ll reach out to the property either directly or through a third-party management company.
Additionally, funeral directors and burial planners can assist you in finding a good location and price. Sometimes, these services are offered as part of a greater funeral package. This can take much of the work out of it for you, lessening your stress during a difficult time.
Once you've made your selection, you will sign a contract with the cemetery and receive a deed to use the land. Remember, you do not actually own the land where the burial plot is located. You own rights to use it.
The number of people buried in a cemetery plot depends on the type of plot it is. For a standard single burial plot, only one person can legally be buried in it. However, if you purchase a larger plot – like a companion burial plot or a family plot – then multiple people may be interred in the same location.
Different types of cemetery plots have different costs and regulations associated with them, so be sure to check with the cemetery you plan to purchase from to be sure you understand what is allowed.
In a divorce, a pre-purchased burial plot is treated like any other marital asset. This means that ownership of the plot should be decided in the divorce settlement. It may be more feasible for one party to retain ownership or may be more contentious. If an agreement for ownership cannot be reached, then the plot may be sold and the proceeds divided up between the parties.
However, it is very important to settle this ownership issue before the death of one ex-spouse. If that occurs, there may be controversies surrounding any secondary marries and use of the plots that occur afterward.
Much like real estate, the monetary value of a cemetery plot varies greatly by location. Real estate costs differ among regional locations. A plot in Los Angeles, California will be priced higher than one in rural Ohio. The average cost for a single burial plot ranges from $200-$2000, depending greatly on the cemetery.
Rural cemeteries fall on the lower edge of this spectrum while urban cemeteries, already crowded and often in high demand, are on the upper end of the price range. You may need to widen your geographic range to find a plot that fits into your budget properly.
Whether you can sell your cemetery plot depends on several factors, including the state (or country) in which you bought it. Because purchasing a cemetery plot does not mean you own the land, you may find that selling the deed to a plot can become complicated.
Most likely, you will need to contact the cemetery management company before you can sell. They may have rules regarding whether you can sell to a third party or whether it must be returned to the company instead.
If the cemetery is owned by an organization outside of normal rules and regulations – like a religious organization – you may find the rules are much different. They often have their own set of procedures, fees, or bans regarding changing deed ownership. Always check with the company or organization's rules and regulations regarding deed transfers before you make your purchase.
In most states, it is completely legal to transfer ownership of a burial plot to another family member. This typically comes without a fee or legal challenges. It is, of course, very important to check your local laws to learn all your options.
Yes, you can be buried above ground in certain circumstances. Most above-ground burials occur in mausoleums. These above-ground tombs are built to accommodate one or more burials. Mausoleums gained popularity in Europe though they are found in certain areas of the United States, most notable New Orleans, Louisiana.
Due to the stone walls, intricate building design, and overall size, mausoleums are considerably more expensive than other burial options. They are also not available in many cemeteries.
The average cost for a single burial plot in a public cemetery ranges from $200-$2000, depending greatly on the cemetery. The price greatly depends on the location and type of burial plot. The cost for a private cemetery can be much higher, often ranging from several thousand dollars per single burial plot.
While you may think there is only one way to be buried, you will find that there are multiple options for funeral types and burials. Here are some of the most common:
Traditional Burials. These are what most people think of when they consider funerals. Traditional burials are below ground and may be a simple casket or in a lawn crypt.
Above Ground Burials. In most cases, above-ground burials refer to mausoleum burials. Mausoleums are large free-standing stone buildings that house the remains of many human beings. There are private mausoleums designed to house members of a group of family and community mausoleums that may be open to the greater public.
Cremation Burials. Often burials occur even after the cremation. In that case, the burial plots are smaller but no less important.
Green Burials. For those who may want to prioritize sustainability and lessen their ecological impact, green burials are an excellent option. Green burials prioritize complete decomposition of the remains which prohibit the use of chemicals in the preparation process. Green burials are often less expensive funerals.
In most public cemeteries, children and infant cemetery plots are less expensive than those of adults. However, cemeteries have a separate area for those graves. If you anticipate being buried together as a family, you may find yourself paying more to keep your graves together.
Burials are subject to local and federal laws regarding practices for handling the dead. However, there are very few state or federal laws dictating the use of vaults or outer burial containers in funerals. Most of these regulations come from the cemeteries and funeral homes themselves.
The policy is in place to prevent the ground above the casket from sinking in. If you have questions regarding the use of burial liners, you may want to reach out to the cemetery and research their policies.
There are several aspects to consider when choosing a person’s final resting place. The most important of which are:
Given the cost of cemetery plots, this is an important question to consider. Typically, you may only want to purchase a plot for yourself unless you have spoken with your family and made a decision to purchase a family plot.
However, you cannot always anticipate where members of your family – especially children or grandchildren – may eventually move or relocated as they age. If you are married, you may want to pre-purchase two cemetery plots so that you and your spouse may be buried together after death.
There is no correct age to begin planning your funeral arrangements. For many, it is wise to wait until you are retired or have the financial means to begin the process. You will also want to know where you would like your arrangements to take place, including the location of your gravesite. However, the earlier you start looking at your options, the more time you have to be certain of your final choice.
No, you do not own the land where your burial plot is located even after you have paid for the plot. This might sound confusing. However, you can look at this purchase as buying the right to use the land. The land’s owner – mostly likely a cemetery management company – still retains the actual piece of property where the plot is located.
Your right to use the land only extends as far as the intended purpose – for burying the remains of one (or multiple) deceased human beings. You cannot decide to use it for another purpose, even if you’ve paid for it.
Perpetual care is a one-time maintenance fee – often 5-15% of the burial plot’s price – paid to the cemetery management company that is added to a general cemetery maintenance fund. This fund is used for groundwork, security, and a variety of other tasks. It funds mowing, weeding, maintaining pathways and roads, and signage. It does not typically include headstone or memorial maintenance.
Yes! Your family will likely be the responsible party for any care for your burial plot outside the basic perpetual care done by the cemetery management company. It's important to do your research in advance to know what responsibilities will be in your family's hands. For more information about what decorations and care are appropriate, you can visit Decorating the Grave of a Loved One.
Responsibility for grave maintenance depends on several factors included in the contract/deed in the original purchase. Most of the time, the grave owner – or their estate – is responsible for upkeep on any memorials, gravestones, or planting done on the burial plot.
There are no true standards or rules when it comes to headstones. Grave markers can be as simple or elaborate as desired. Many are unique testaments to the person while others may be as plain and unassuming as one might prefer. The same can be said for burial urns interred underground or in columbarium niches.
In the case of both, the only true stipulation is on the size – you will want to make sure the marker you choose fits on the burial plot you’ve purchased!
No, you are not required by law to purchase a headstone or grave marker from the cemetery where your burial plot is located. Sometimes it may seem like the simplest solution, but it’s not a requirement. Many cemeteries do not directly sell grave markers but may be able to recommend a company they work with regularly.
However, you should always read the fine print to make sure you do not have any additional fees for using a third-party vendor for your headstone.
When we begin planning for the end of life, it’s important to educate ourselves as best we can so that we are prepared to make the best choices for ourselves, our family, and the legacy we leave behind. Part of that comes with choosing our final resting place.
Pre-purchasing a cemetery plot can help alleviate stress and fear of the unknown as well as taking some responsibility from the people we love most in the world. Armed with the right knowledge, we know that you’re ready to take the next steps to plan for the future.
August 7, 2021 by Frances Kay