Deciding where your physical body will spend the rest of eternity is not a decision to be made in haste or taken lightly. The trend today indicates more and more people are choosing their final resting place ahead of time. Why, you ask? Reasons can vary from a desire to spare loved ones the decision at a time of grief to a desire to secure a place near a close family relative or personal friend; from the desire to lock-in the costs at today’s prices to the desire to have the final word over what happens when we can’t speak for ourselves.
So where does one begin the process of determining a cemetery plot? The first step is to give the choice the same attention as you would any other major decision in your life. Such a decision is obviously an emotionally packed one; however, that does not mean you should not give this decision any less research than you would give to buying any other piece of real estate. Taking the time to research your choices ahead of time can save you and your family difficulties and money down the road.
Here are some tips for choosing a cemetery:
All cemeteries are not the same; some may be owned by the local government or a government agency, a religious group, a benevolent association, or a private entity. As such the cemetery may be operated as a non-profit or for-profit venture. Herein often lies the basis for the difference in pricing from one cemetery to another.
Before choosing a cemetery, make sure to understand its policies. For instance, some cemeteries have strict policies regarding grave markers or monuments. Some memorial parks or gardens only allow grave markers that are flush to the ground. Other more traditional cemeteries allow upright monuments, at least in some areas. Many of these traditional cemeteries have developed policies concerning the pouring of proper footings to prevent the sinking or tilting of the monument by years of ground freezing and thawing.
* Another important issue for some families to consider concerns the policies on artificial and/or cut flower arrangements, potted plants, and in-ground plantings; the use of shepherds’ hooks, solar lights, and grave-side park benches; and/or the placement of loose items such as framed photos, stuffed animals, and other small, personal keepsakes on the grave.
Some cemeteries allow such items to be placed on the graves for certain holidays or months of the year; but, for obvious reasons, require these items to be removed during the summer mowing season. Other cemetery policies do not allow for such items to be placed at the grave site at any time.
Does the cemetery allow for the purchase of large family plots? These plots can consist of any number of grave spaces, depending upon the family’s needs. One of the benefits of planning such a purchase is that relatives can visit many graves at once without traveling miles between separate cemeteries. Some like the idea that, even though they may have lived far apart during life, they will spend all of eternity next to family. Just remember that if you choose to start a family area in a cemetery, make sure to reserve several spaces at once so the area isn’t sold to others in the future.
* Never overlook the importance of individual preference. Go to the cemetery where staff should provide a map of available grave sites or personally take you around the grounds. Check out all the options the cemetery has to offer. Some people prefer burial spaces that provide a grand vista of the country side; others prefer a quiet secluded place off the beaten path. Some people love the lure of a wooded area where wildlife ventures out; still others want to be near a roadway so relatives have easier access when visiting.
* Consider the lay of the land as you choose a burial spot. Is the area located on the side of a hill? You need to consider the possibility of erosion in such cases. Is the area low, making it prone to flooding or a high water table? Think of the area of the country in which you live. Heavy snows and icy conditions may make some sections of the cemetery inaccessible during inclement weather.
Cemetery prices for grave spaces vary from cemetery to cemetery and often within a cemetery from section to section. Today’s prices can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. While price shouldn’t be the only determining factor, it is definitely a reason to shop around if that is possible.
Most cemeteries today require some type of vault for the casket, including cremains.
While this cost is usually covered by the funeral home’s burial plan. It is definitely something to make sure you have accounted for in your planning.
* Another cost to take into consideration is what is termed as the opening and closing costs. As its name suggests this is the cost the cemetery charges to open the grave in preparation for the burial and to close the grave and restore the burial site. Again, this cost may be covered by a funeral director’s plan, but it is more often a part of the pre-need arrangements at the cemetery.
Visit the cemetery you have in mind several times during the course of the year. Most grounds personnel will have the cemetery in top shape on Memorial Day, but how does the cemetery look the rest of the year? Ask other families for recommendations, consult with the Better Business Bureau, drive or walk around the grounds to see how the older grave sites are maintained. Are the gravestones clean, the grass trimmed around the stones, and trash removed?
* Some cemeteries charge a fee for periodic cleaning and tending to the grounds while others leave that responsibility to the family members. Still other cemeteries offer a Perpetual Care service. This service costs an extra one-time fee and guarantees that the property management service will keep your cemetery plot clean, mown, and free of weeds. Non-profit cemeteries often depend on donations throughout the year to offset the costs of grounds maintenance.
Many cemeteries today offer pre-need arrangements to help individuals without life insurance or a savings account to cover burial expenses. With a minimal down payment, many individuals can easily afford to pay for their cemetery burial expenses by the month. This option secures peace of mind for both the individual and the family.
Whether you are considering the purchase of your own burial plot or you are doing so for someone who is dying or has already passed on, you will find it easier if you arm yourself with a little knowledge of how to choose a cemetery.