7 Questions to Ask When Buying a Burial Plot

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Whether you’re making your own burial plans or organizing the burial of a loved one, you’ll have a lot of decisions to make. One of the first questions will be: where? Choosing a cemetery can be simple (if your family already has a plot somewhere) or downright difficult if you’re starting from scratch. If you’re picking a burial plot for the first time, here are a few questions to consider.

1. What location makes the most sense?

If you’re pre-purchasing your burial plot because you want to be buried near loved ones, picking a location is as simple as opting for the same cemetery section. If not, think through what spaces mean the most to you (or your loved one). Is proximity to relatives crucial, so people can visit the gravesite easily? Or is it more important to be buried in one’s hometown? Or is there another place with special meaning that should trump other options? These aren’t simple choices to make, especially if you’re making them for someone else, so enlist family and friends to help.

2. Does the type of cemetery matter?

If someone was religious or served in the military, the type of cemetery they’re buried in may matter deeply. Here are the four main types you’ll encounter:

  • Religious cemeteries: These nonprofit cemeteries are often tied to a church or other religious group. They may have guidelines over what type of gravestones can be used in the cemetery and will likely ask about the religious affiliation of those seeking to buy a burial plot.
  • Public cemeteries: These for-profit cemeteries are typically open to anyone, with all manner of nondenominational gravesites present.
  • Municipal cemeteries: Nonprofit cemeteries owned by the county or city, municipal options can be significantly less expensive than for-profit options, but harder to get into.
  • Veterans cemeteries: Run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, these cemeteries host burial plots at no cost to those who served in the armed forces.

3. Do you need an above-ground or below-ground plot?

With most traditional funerals, caskets are in-ground, meaning buried below the surface. But that isn’t your only option. With an above-ground interment, such as in a crypt or mausoleum, the body stays sheltered from outdoor elements. This is purely a personal or religious decision. Some families do not want their loved ones underground or for the casket to ever get wet or dirtied. When a casket is protected in an above-ground crypt, those weather-related issues aren’t a concern.

4. What type of gravestone do you want?

Gravestones are another factor that may play into where you’re buried, as some cemeteries have restrictions around the size of the headstone or monument, or what can be depicted on either. Ask for any guidelines upfront, as you compare cemetery options, so you’ll know early on if something that matters to you would be a no-go in this particular spot.

5. How big of a plot is needed?

Whether you only need space for one person or want to make room for more, here’s the lingo to make sure your burial plot can accommodate your wishes.

  • Single plot: Intended for one person, these plots are the most straightforward.
  • Side-by-side plots: Also known as companion plots, these are intended for two people and sold as a set.
  • Double-depth: With this type of burial plot, two caskets are eventually buried together, stacked one on top of another. This can be a space-saving option for family members when side-by-side plots aren’t available at their preferred cemetery.
  • Family plots: This can refer to a single row of plots purchased by one family, or even a section of the cemetery dedicated for one particular family.
  • Plots for cremated remains: Cremated remains can be buried in cemeteries, alongside regular caskets.

6. What’s available?

Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll need to dig into specifics at the cemeteries you’re considering. Maybe you want to be interred in a mausoleum, but the only opening is close to the ground and that makes you uneasy. Or maybe you always dreamed of being buried near some large, shady trees but the only available plots at the cemetery are near the back and lack the scenic vista. Find out which particular plots are available, and make sure to visit those areas in person (if possible) and not just review them on a cemetery map, before making your final decision.

7. How much will this cost?

On average, a cemetery plot costs $1,000, but prices can range from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars. And costs beyond the plot can vary significantly. Ask for a price list in writing, and in addition to the cost of the plot itself ask about:

  • Vault requirements. Many cemeteries require a vault or grave liner, which covers or encloses the casket and helps keep the earth above the casket from settling over time. (Vaults and grave liners are not required by any state laws.) The national median cost of a vault is $1,395, and there may be an additional fee to install the vault.
  • Cost to dig the grave (sometimes called the open and close fee). This can add another $1,000 to your final bill.
  • Fees associated with installing the headstone or marker
  • Up-front or annual fees for grounds maintenance
  • Discounts or free plots for veterans (but watch out for other inflated charges)
  • Discounts for family members who opt for the same cemetery
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