How to Shop for a Final Resting Place for Cremated Remains


While most people associate cremation with scattering ashes over the ocean or placing them in an position of honor in the family home in an urn, many family members choose to place cremated remains in a permanent spot outside of the home. Usually, this is either in a memorial garden or in a specific spot in a cemetery known as a columbarium. You can also bury ashes in a burial plot. Here are the different ways you can find a permanent resting spot for cremated remains.

What is a columbarium?

A columbarium, or cremation niche, is a building or wall-like structure within a cemetery with drawer-like spots for urns to be placed and sealed within the building with an inscription or plaque on the outside stone marking the urn’s placement. Columbariums are found in cemeteries and some churches. The word comes from the Latin word columba, meaning dove. Columbariums in Ancient Rome were urban buildings that served as nesting spots for pigeons and doves.

Today, some cemeteries use the word mausoleum interchangeably with columbarium. The difference between a columbarium and mausoleum is that a mausoleum houses deceased bodies, while a columbarium houses ashes. However, many cemeteries have combination mausoleums/columbariums, where a section of the mausoleum is devoted to housing cremated remains.

How much does a columbarium or cremation niche cost?

In general, the cost for a columbarium spot or cremation niche can range from $750 to $3,000. The price is dependent on many factors, including geographic location as well as where the structure is located. Some columbariums may be a wall outside, which may be less expensive than a structure you can step into with the internal walls holding each niche.

The cost of a columbarium placement is also dependent on when you purchase it; there are often different pricing structures for “pre-need” (prior to death) and when the placement is needed. Finally, price may vary depending on whether you choose a cemetery placement or one within religious grounds—some churches or religious institutions may have a lower fee for members. (Related: What is a Direct Cremation?)

Call around and ask for quotes. Before you purchase the spot, make sure the cost is broken down. In general, the total cost will include charges for:

  • The physical space in which the urn will be placed
  • Endowment care (caring for the columbarium and insuring that the niche is protected from structural or elemental damage)
  • Inurnment (the labor and process of putting the cremation urn in the niche, which may be a more expensive process if taking place on a weekend or holiday)
  • Recording of the process in cemetary or religious records
  • Engravement of the niche

These costs should all be explained upfront and you should not be surprised by any hidden or continuing costs for placing an urn in a columbarium. (Related: 9 Things You Can Do With Cremation Ashes.)

How to bury ashes in a cemetery or urn garden

Instead of a columbarium, some people wish to bury ashes either in a cemetery or an urn garden which may exist in a memorial park or the grounds of a church. Burying ashes allows you the opportunity to potentially have a headstone. Urn burial plots can be $350 and up at a public cemetery; $1,000 and up at a private cemetery (in comparison; a full-size burial plot costs upwards of $500 at a public cemetery and $1,500 and up at a private cemetery.)

Urn burial plots in religious institutions may be free for members. Other costs for an urn burial in a cemetery include:

  • Endowment. This endowment insures that the plot will be taken care of and also goes to general cemetery upkeep. Endowments for urn burials can cost $200 and up, and are usually a one-time fee.
  • Labor for burial. This can cost $250 or more, with prices being higher for weekend or holiday services.
  • Grave marker or tombstone. A marker can cost $500 and up; a tombstone can cost upwards of $1,0000.

Ashes can also be buried on your private property, but their existence may have to be disclosed if you are selling the property. Since a cemetery is permanently-protected land, you know the ashes are safe in perpetuity, and a cemetery burial gives your entire family a neutral place to visit the ashes if they wish.


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