Understanding Cemetery and Burial Plots

Whether you’re making end of life plans or have found yourself in the position to be planning a funeral, it’s important to know that not all cemeteries are the same when you’re researching burial options.

Cemeteries vary drastically with some only offering certain types of burial plots. Others have mausoleums or scattering gardens, some have historical statues and headstones while others only allow a grave marker. Some cemeteries have beautiful city overlooks while others focus on peaceful natural surroundings with nature walks, beautiful landscaping, and even parks.

Graveyard with flowers and some lit candles.

Types of Cemeteries

Here are the five main types of cemeteries to choose from:

  • Public or district cemeteries – typically owned by a local government or presiding body
  • Private cemeteries – owned by individuals or businesses
  • Religious cemeteries – owned by a church or other religious organization
  • Veterans cemeteries – operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Green cemeteries – strictly focus on eco-friendly burial practices

Anyone can be buried in a public cemetery and they are typically the most affordable option. Veterans’ cemeteries exist solely for the benefit of military veterans and their families. Private and religious cemeteries may or may not restrict the sale of burial plots to church members or members of another organization. Fees for burials and cemetery plots vary widely, so you can save time by checking fees before deciding which cemeteries you want to visit.

Depending on your cultural and religious traditions, location, budget, and other factors, you have many cemetery options and burial plots to choose from. Keep in mind that cemeteries are not governed by the Funeral Rule, only funeral homes are, so it’s important to learn as much as you can and understand the choices available to you before you make a decision.

Types of Burial Plots

Depending on whether you’re burying ashes or remains, there are several types of cemetery plots and spaces to choose from:

  • Ground burial – Ground burial in a cemetery plot is the most common type of burial. Cemetery plots can accommodate one individual or an entire family. Most cemeteries require that a coffin be placed in an outer burial container, known as a vault before it is buried in the ground. The purpose of the vault is to keep the casket from collapsing and the ground above the grave from sinking in.
    • Mausoleums – A mausoleum is a building or above-ground entombment site that contains concrete or stone crypts (small rooms) in which caskets are stored. Crypts can be designed to hold one or multiple caskets and some mausoleums even have indoor sitting areas for visitors wishing to pay their respects. There are indoor, outdoor, and private mausoleum crypts.
    • Lawn Crypts – A lawn crypt is a cross between a traditional in-ground grave and a mausoleum – a sheltered grave within a natural environment that can memorialize multiple people if desired. They’re typically lined by cement, steel, marble, or another material to protect caskets from flooding or natural erosion.
    • Columbarium – A columbarium is like a mausoleum for cremated remains. A columbarium is made up of many niches designed to hold one or more cremation urns.

How to Choose a Cemetery Plot

Burial is almost always a permanent arrangement, so take some time to consider the following questions before choosing a cemetery plot:

  •  Do you plan to visit the cemetery often? If so, be sure to tour the cemetery and pick a burial plot you can see yourself visiting.
  •  Does your or your loved one’s religion prescribe certain conditions for burial?
    • Is the burial plot intended for a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces? Veterans are entitled to free burial plots and grave markers in a national cemetery.
  • Do you understand all the costs associated with the burial plot you’re considering? In addition to the cost of the actual space you purchase, you may incur costs for a grave liner, burial vault, opening and closing of the grave, continued maintenance of the grave, and a headstone or grave marker.
  • Are you considering cremation before a burial? Make sure your cemetery accommodates burial plots for cremated remains.
  • How large of a cemetery plot do you need? Will space need to accommodate multiple family members?

How much is a cemetery plot?

While you’re looking through cemetery options it’s important to consider how much a cemetery plot can set you back. Where you live, the type of cemetery you choose, and your burial plot selection can all affect how much you pay. Average costs for burial plots range from $550 to $5,000 for caskets. A rural cemetery will typically cost less than a city or urban cemetery plot, and coveted cemeteries will typically be more expensive than less-popular cemeteries.

How much is a burial plot for ashes?

If you’re considering cremation before burial, you will often be able to save financially. The average cost for burial plots for ashes runs between $350 to $2,500. You will have to consider the cost of cremation and an urn, but these costs are often much less than having a traditional funeral which can run upwards of $10,000. Purchasing a cremation urn online can also save you money since funeral homes tend to charge much more for memorial products. If you’d still like to be able to bury your loved one in a specific location, then a burial plot for ashes can be a beautiful commemoration.

How much does a mausoleum space cost?

If you’re considering a mausoleum burial as an alternative to in-ground cemetery plots, the cost may be even higher. The average cost of entombment in a single crypt in public mausoleums is between $4,000 and $8,000 depending on if you choose an indoor or outdoor mausoleum. However, if you’re considering cremation, a columbarium niche will cost between $500 and $800.

Additional Cemetery Plot Costs and Expenses

Once you’ve chosen the type of cemetery and picked a type of burial, there are some additional costs associated with burial plots that people often think are automatically included. The costs for these services or items are usually added to how much a cemetery plot costs.

Headstones in a cemetary with many red tulips

How Long Do You Own a Cemetery Plot?

Once you’ve purchased a cemetery or burial plot, you own it forever. Unfortunately, if a cemetery closes and plots need to be relocated, that could be one case where you could lose the plot you’ve purchased. In these situations, you would typically still own the new burial plot and expenses are often covered by the cemetery. Some cemeteries also offer prepaid burial plots for those thinking ahead on end of life planning.

Headstone or grave marker installation$100 to $350
Interment$300 to $3000 – the cost for the physical burial varies depending on the type of cemetery
Burial plot liner$550 to $8,000 depending on the type of cemetery
Burial permit$20 – required by some local governments
Landscape and maintenance$10 to $500 – these prices vary drastically depending on the type, size, and location of a cemetery

How to Buy a Cemetery Plot

For those that are pre-planning their own funeral and burial, it’s pretty easy to organize cemetery visits to view what types of burial plots are available. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to buy a cemetery plot.
1. List out the cemeteries you’re considering.
2. Find out what types of burial plots they offer, and which burial plots are for sale.
3. Ask for cemetery plot prices and payment plans.
4. Request a tour of the cemetery and the burial plot options.
5. Check the stipulations, requirements, and rules of your chosen cemetery.
6. Read the fine print before committing and buying a cemetery plot.

Some tips to follow before deciding where and how to buy a burial plot include:
• Reading cemetery reviews.
• Checking for complaints made against the cemetery with the Better Business Bureau.
• Requesting information on cemetery expansion plans in case a burial plot is on the edge of the property.
• Reading the cemetery rules for visitors, maintenance, and markers.
• Finding out whether you can sell your cemetery plot in case you move or decide to be buried elsewhere.

How to Sell a Cemetery Plot

If you purchased a cemetery plot but have since changed your mind on your burial preference or moved away from your initial cemetery choice, you might be able to transfer or sell your plot. Let’s look at some of the options for selling cemetery plots:
• Sell back to the cemetery – some cemeteries will buy back burial plots, even years down the line. This is usually unlikely and will often be at a lower price than your purchase price, and some states may even require that you first offer the plot back to the cemetery before privately selling.
• Sell your burial plot online – the re-sale market for burial plots is not always overly successful because most people don’t know they can purchase a cemetery plot from anyone other than the cemetery. However, you can list your burial plot on local sites, in a newspaper, on a cemetery registry or broker site, or even on eBay. Buyers purchasing on the secondary market should contact the cemetery for legal documents for both parties to sign and ask about stipulations or fees.

Some investors have even turned to the process in an attempt to make money. Analyzing up and coming areas and planning how to sell burial plots used to be a revenue stream for some before cremation became a more popular option.

If you’re going to list your burial plot online, you’ll need to put in a little bit of work to prepare your ad. It should include the cemetery name, section, plot, and grave number along with a description of the plot with notes on the physical environment, noise levels, accessibility, and any rules the cemetery may impose.

You’ll also need to take photos of your plot from different perspectives so people can see the physical surroundings of a potential final resting place. Some people will take into consideration the landscaping, trees, and proximity to other gravesites when making their decision.

Buying and selling burial plots doesn’t need to be a difficult process. Careful planning can make the process smoother for your loved ones after your demise. Taking the time to research even in the unfortunate event a loved one passes unexpectedly can save you from potential issues in the future or financial troubles if you’re unaware of your rights.

We hope our guide has shed some light on understanding the different types of burial plots available. For further information on funeral planning or the cremation process, read through our helpful guides.

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