Cemeteries and Burial Plots: Understanding Your Options

Although more people are choosing cremation these days, burial continues to be the preferred method of final disposition in the U.S. Even those who choose cremation must decide what to do with the cremated remains, and, for many, burial is the answer.

Just how does one choose a cemetery and burial plot? Depending on your cultural and religious traditions, location, budget, and other factors, you have many options to choose from. Keep in mind that cemeteries are not governed by the Funeral Rule, 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 Cemeteries

In general, there are four types of cemeteries to choose from:

  • Public or district cemeteries, which are typically owned by a local government
  • Private cemeteries owned by private enterprises
  • Religious cemeteries owned by a church or other religious organization
  • Veterans cemeteries are operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

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

A fifth type of cemetery – the so-called “green” cemetery – is a relatively new option. Green cemeteries are distinguished not by membership affiliation but by their strict adherence to ecologically sound burial practices. As more people become aware of the environmental impacts of traditional burial, many are choosing to lay their loved ones to rest in idyllic natural cemeteries, where toxic embalming fluids aren’t allowed and bodies are buried in biodegradable containers or wrapped in linen shrouds.

Types of Burial Spaces

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

  • Ground burial – Ground burial in a cemetery plot is the most common type of burial. 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 an above-ground entombment site that contains concrete or stone crypts in which caskets are stored. Mausoleums are secure, clean, and dry.
  • Lawn Crypts – A lawn crypt is a cross between a traditional in-ground grave and a mausoleum – a sheltered grave within a natural environment.
  • 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.

Questions to Consider When Choosing a Burial Plot

Burial is almost always a permanent arrangement, so be sure to take some time to consider the following questions:

  • Do you plan to visit the cemetery often? If so, location is very important.
  • Does your 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 and grave marker in a national cemetery.
  • Do you understand all the costs associated with burial in the plot you’re considering? In addition to the cost of the actual space you purchase, you may incur costs for a grave liner or burial vault, opening and closing of the grave, continued maintenance of the grave, and a headstone or grave marker.

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