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Do a litigation search on the cemetery or headstone dealer before you buy.

Do a litigation search on the cemetery or headstone dealer before you buy.

Photo: Entrance to Delaware County Courthouse. Media, Pennsylvania.

Photo: Entrance to Delaware County Courthouse. Media, Pennsylvania.

A quick online check with your county courthouse should give you an indication of whether a cemetery or monument dealer is a dirty player or not.

  1. In Delaware County, (Pennsylvania), run a Google search for "delaware county public access."

  2. This link will show up: http://w01.co.delaware.pa.us/

  3. Click the scales of justice icon at the top left. That's the "Civil Dockets and Judgment Index."

  4. Next page: Read their disclaimer, click "I agree" and enter cemetery into the search box.

  5. As an exercise, let's look for case number: 2016-000832 involving Haven Memorial Park Cemetery.

    On the right side of the screen you can see the case filing date was 01/29/2016.

  6. Click 2016-000832 which is on the left of your screen.

  7. In the third section down, under "Docket Information," look for the entry titled: "Case Initiated - Complaint."

  8. Go to the other side of the screen, on that same line, and click: "View Image."

  9. Read the document. According to the complaint, this matter is about a customer paying for her son to be buried in a specific grave lot, and the cemetery buried the son someplace else, without giving prior notification to the customer.

If you are researching a specific cemetery that you are considering buying into, look at every case. Then decide whether they are disqualified from your consideration or not. 

Just because a cemetery is listed in a complaint, this alone doesn't mean they are bad operators.

For example, with case number 2015-005799 involving SS Peter And Paul Cemetery, though they are defendants in a civil action, if you read the filing, they are not the main target of the lawsuit.

A monument dealer is the main defendant.

In this case, apparently, a headstone was placed at the grave site and it did not meet the cemetery's requirements, which includes that it must have a religious element to the stone and it must have grave locator numbers engraved on the stone, in a certain area of the stone. It's not clear what exactly was wrong, but a "plan of correction" was agreed to and the monument dealer said the work would be completed within 30 days after the stone was removed.

By July 31, 2014 this was all supposed to be done and over with.

On July 2, 2015 the customer initiated this legal action with a request to the court to compel this monument dealer to reinstall the stone.

Section 22 of the complaint describes how the plaintiff is in hospice care and is dying, and he wants the stone back where it belongs. "Time is of the essence."

That was an odd story.

It prompted me to run a litigation search involving the word "memorials," because this word is often included in the business name of monument dealers.

I discovered that the defendant involved in the missing monument case at SS Peter And Paul Cemetery has a history of being attacked with lawsuits.

I find the most interesting case among these to be case number 2016-002825. 

They convinced someone to leave their $75,000 a year job to work for them for the same money. Then they were tardy in paying her, and some of those payments were in cash. The complaint goes into detail about the lack of order in how the business is run.

When you look at the whole picture, as the filings show, they've been hit with costly judgments in cases they lost, and there are potentially more judgments against them coming in the future.

In all, it makes this monument dealer a high risk when it comes to consumers buying headstones from them.

Every county courthouse SHOULD have a way to look for these records. 

Another matter to be concerned with involving cemeteries is their financial health and how much they have set aside for perpetual care of the burial lots.

And you should consider how full they are.

If a cemetery is nearing capacity, if they are running out of burial lots to sell, then they better have a healthy perpetual care fund, because the money flow is drying up.

I would be very concerned about buying into a cemetery that is close to selling their last grave lots.

On-going care of the grounds at a cemetery is expensive. I would want definite proof that the money is there, that it is an adequate amount, and that the money has proper oversight and management.   

Besides doing the litigation search and finding out about their perpetual care fund, I would also look for their online reputation. It's found on review sites like Yelp.com. 

Try to uncover what their customers have said about them.

About Pennsylvania's Title 9, covering burial grounds (cemeteries)...

About Pennsylvania's Title 9, covering burial grounds (cemeteries)...

Donors give $220,000 to vandalized Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia.

Donors give $220,000 to vandalized Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia.