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Steps to Buying Cemetery Property 

These steps were compiled by former FCA of CA President Marjorie Bridges and Alan Hutty of Cemetery Property Resales, San Mateo.


In the United States, many people buy cemetery property to prepare a permanent place to keep their remains, identified by a marker inscribed with the name and birth and death dates. In some states, you buy the 4x8-foot piece of land, but in California you purchase the “interment right” to bury a person in this designated space.


The cost of interment rights differ among cemeteries, in locations within the chosen cemetery, and the total embellishments chosen.

Step 1: Choose What kind of Property You Want

Ground burial — sized for an urn or a casket and placed inside a vault or liner (There is no state law requiring a vault or liner, but most cemetery policies require them to keep the ground from settling and make lawn mowing easier.) On price lists the vault or liner may be called an “outer burial container” or OBC.


Lawn crypt — a variation of earth burial, with vaults already installed in the ground.


Wall crypt — with indoor or outdoor locations, generally sealed with what they call “shutters” of granite or marble. Crypts can be for single burials, end-to-end “companion” crypts, or in ‘Westminster” spaces (one crypt below floor level and one above). No vault is needed with a crypt. Realize that the most expensive spaces in wall crypts are at eye level. You can spend less by choosing a very low or very high location.  


Mausoleum — a building for many caskets or just one important person.


Niche — hold one or more urns, in a columbarium building, outside in walls or the ground


Scattering ashes — in a garden or special area of the cemetery. (You could also contract to have someone scatter them at sea or over the Sierras.)

Step 2: Ask Questions

1. How many "interment rights" for caskets or urns will this space hold at the price offered? A single grave means you are buying the right to inter one body, a double grave would allow two bodies or urns to be buried, one below the other. Some cemeteries will allow up to four people in one plot if some are in urns. The add-on rights will be sold at the current rate, not the original purchase price.


2. Is the liner or vault included in the price? The cost of these ranges from $800 to $1,600 and up. Concrete liners are less expensive than vaults and do the same job of keeping the ground from sinking. 


3. Is the endowment fee (of 10 percent or more) included? This may be already paid for if you purchase a pre-owned lot.


4. Is the headstone or memorial marker and its installation included? Your budget for a stone would be from $1,200 to $2,000 and up. Flat markers are less expensive than upright stone monuments.


5. What will be the property or title transfer fee? These will typically range from $145 to $200, but in a few cases as high as $800.


6. What kind of a monument is allowed in this location? Ask if the marker can be vertical or lie flat, size limit, and kind of materials permitted. Who is responsible for damage by vandals or lawn mowers and upkeep of the stone?


7. What are the current opening and closing costs of the grave, crypt, or niche? This may mean digging the plot and refilling with dirt, or opening the wall, putting in the body or ashes, and resealing it. This cost may change in the future if the cost of labor changes. Right now the range is from $400 to $700 for an urn, $900 to $1,200 for entombment in a crypt, and $1,000 to $1,500 for ground burial of a casket.


8. Do I like the location? Some people want a view lot, a level place rather than on a slope, or a high degree of openness. Others like to be shaded, or in a cemetery that allows flowers to be planted or placed at the burial site (or have a vase on a wall). Some like to be included with an affinity group, like a Masonic order, veterans, or from a particular ethnic or religious group.


9. What are the rules and regulations for this cemetery? Can flowers be planted or placed on the grave, or mementos left? What are the visitation hours and how often will the graves be cleaned of all flowers and memorials? Are there water faucets nearby or will someone have to bring jugs of water for the flowers? The cemetery should provide a written copy of the regulations to you.

Step 3: Keep Records

Store all paperwork connected to the sale of the property in a safe place, and tell your relatives where it is, as this will have to be produced when the time comes to use that space. If you change your mind and don’t use the grave, there are definite rights of succession to owning and being able to use it or sell it.  


FCA’s experience has been that religious cemeteries will buy back the cemetery property, to maintain control of who can be buried there. Other cemeteries offer only the original purchase price (Offer $200 for a piece of property in the $5,000 section, for example). So your recourse is to sell it with an ad in the newspaper or online at E-Bay, Craigslist, or a cemetery-targeted website or list it with a cemetery broker specializing in cemetery resales.  

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