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How to choose a cemetery...

How to choose a cemetery...

Sloppy cemetery grounds maintenance.

Sloppy cemetery grounds maintenance.

If you want your remains buried in a cemetery, then you should plan ahead and buy the burial lot yourself.

If you don’t do this, then you will pass along a burden to those you leave behind, and the burial you wished for may not happen in the way you wanted.

Without a plan being in place, it creates a situation where family members are rushed into making burial decisions while under stress (because of your passing). And they might not make good choices.

If you have the financial wherewithal, why not make it easier for your family members by creating more structure about what they are to do in the inescapable event of your passing?

Many people are afraid to even broach this subject. They can’t talk about it. But the reality is you will die. We all will die at some point. We simply are not made to live forever.

Visiting cemeteries, dealing with cemeteries, it’s scary stuff for some people. But cemeteries can be places of great beauty. Why not do some shopping and find one you like?

If I were looking to buy a grave lot, here are the factors I would take into consideration:

  1. Financial strength of the cemetery. This is number one, in my opinion. I would want to know how much money the cemetery has in its perpetual care fund. And I would want to see proof of that amount. If the cemetery is not being cooperative with supplying this information, I would consider that cemetery to be disqualified from further consideration.

    If a cemetery has a low amount of perpetual care money set aside, then this is a red flag. Because if they fail to grow that fund adequately, it can lead to a day where there is no money to maintain the grounds. When that happens, a cemetery can become a forest, unless volunteers or the local government steps in to maintain the property.

    When a cemetery has a healthy perpetual care fund, this is an excellent indication that your grave will be accessible to all for a long, long time.

  2. Reputation of the cemetery. Do a thorough Google search. See if there are any derogatory news reports about this cemetery out there. And look for their reviews on Yelp, Google and anywhere else that pops up.

    Your county probably has online access to court records. Do a litigation search. See if there are any legal actions taken against the cemetery you are considering. Some might have a “slip and fall” case or two. I would be more concerned about cases that involve accusations of fraud, customer service failures, and lost bodies.

    You should also get a feel for the maintenance regime the cemetery follows. Are they cutting all the grass every week, or are they doing only partial maintenance with each mowing? Sloppy maintenance isn’t a good sign.

  3. Determine how much of their inventory is still available for sale. What I mean is, how many burial lots are left? If a cemetery has a weak perpetual care fund and not many graves left to sell, run! It means the cemetery’s money flow will soon dry up, and there isn’t enough money to continue the upkeep of the cemetery for long.

  4. Do you see leaning headstones? If so, it means somebody has done a poor job with the foundations. Cemeteries charge “foundation fees.” For this money they dig a hole and pour concrete. The foundation is meant to give a cemetery monument stability so that it doesn’t sink or lean over time.

    In my county, foundation fees range from $200 to more than $550 for the smallest foundations, depending upon the cemetery. And just because a cemetery may have a higher than normal foundation fee, it does not mean they do a better job than one charging less.

    A proper foundation should be 2 feet deep for the smallest headstone. But many cemeteries cut corners in order to maximize their profit. I am aware of one local cemetery here that used demolition debris as a foundation and charged their customers $400 for it.

    You can tell a lot about what kind of standards a cemetery follows if all the headstones are perfectly set, not leaning, or if there are leaning, tilting, sinking headstones, or headstones that have fallen and clearly have not been attended to for a long time.

  5. Does the cemetery have non-profit status? Especially one overseen by a board? If so, I would consider this to be a positive attribute.

    For-profit cemeteries concern me, especially cemeteries run by the publicly traded death care companies. With them, cutting costs and maximizing profit is their primary mission. So they are inclined to bid out their grounds maintenance needs to the lowest bidder. They are prone to instructing that low bidder to mow every other week, and maybe only trim once per month. And they are more likely to delay paying their low bidder in order to help the quarterly figures, which leads to the low bidder abandoning the job or doing the absolute lowest quality work.

    They are also prone to delaying improvement projects for as long as possible. This means the cemetery roadways might not be repaved for a long, long time.

    For-profit cemeteries run by publicly traded companies are more likely to reduce staff and boost up their fees. And their salespeople can be obnoxiously aggressive in pursuing any sales opportunity that may arise upon your death, such as the monument sale. And their prices are likely to be higher than average.

    Non-profit cemeteries which are overseen by a board and which are non-sectarian are more likely to spend the money for adequate upkeep of the grounds, the cemetery roadways, and staffing, especially if they have a healthy perpetual care fund.

  6. Is there swampy ground anywhere? Are there places in the cemetery that have drainage issues? Is any part of the cemetery at-risk for flooding?

    Swampy ground is bad. It should not be used for burials. Period.

    One disadvantage of swampy ground: it could take a really long time for conditions to be right to pour your foundation, and to set your headstone.

    But also, what about the comfort of your visitors? Do you want them standing on wet ground, swatting away the mosquitoes, wondering what these moist conditions have done to your remains, 6 or 8 feet below?

  7. Will you be allowed to place an upright monument on your grave site? Some cemeteries only allow flat markers, or they have sections were only flat markers are allowed. And flat markers tend to disappear. They get muddied. They get covered up by grass clippings. Eventually, vegetation covers them, unless somebody is maintaining the flat marker.

    If you want an upright headstone for your grave, verify that this will be allowed for the cemetery lot you are buying. Generally larger stones are permitted when you have a family plot that has more than one grave. Also, find out how large of a stone they will allow and learn about all of the restrictions. For example, some cemeteries allow only grey headstones. Most have height limitations. Some do not allow the more modern designs that feature laser etchings.

    It is best to get full disclosure on a grave lot’s limitations before you purchase it.

  8. What does the grave lot cost? And how much do they currently charge for the grave opening and closing? (When they bring in equipment to dig your 6 or 8 foot deep hole.) How much would their foundation fee be? Are there any permit fees? What fees are involved if you decided to sell your grave lot? How many full burials and cremations can go in this lot? How deep of a foundation will it be for the size stone you are envisioning placing there? If you moved out of the area and you no longer wanted this grave lot, would the cemetery buy it back? For how much? Is the policy in writing?

    These are all important details to know.

  9. Are there theft or vandalism issues at this cemetery? For example: has it been reported in the media that vandals tipped over headstones in the cemetery? Have bronze vases from bronze flat markers been stolen from here? Is there any trend in vandalism at all at this cemetery?

  10. Are they using sales pressure and deadlines to clinch the sale? Is it tolerable or overboard? You might not want to subject your relatives and other future grave visitors of yours to an organization that has this sort of culture.

  11. Ask, for clarity, how long it takes, generally, to receive the deed for the lot(s) you might be purchasing. And will it say on the deed that perpetual care is included?

    I am aware of cemetery salespeople who say that if you don’t buy the monument from them, then your grave will not have perpetual care, (which is an outrageous lie since the grave lot deeds at this cemetery say that perpetual care is included).

    It is simply a good practice to be clear about these particular details.

  12. And finally, does this cemetery feel right to you? Listen to your intuition. If it doesn’t feel right, then don’t stop your cemetery shopping just yet. Continue your research.

One other thing to consider… lighting! And avoid trees and rock formations.

I would want my stone to face sunlight so that the stone can be easily readable, and so that the sunlight can bring out the colors of the stone. If the lettering and carvings are facing north, with poor lighting for much of the day or all day, then I think this is not optimal, not good.

Choose a grave lot in an optimal location where your gravestone will be a thing of beauty when the sunbeams are shining on it.

And do not choose a location under a tree. Pine trees will drop sap on your stone. In these situations, a stone will get messy. Sometimes the sap will really mar the stone. And under a tree, bird droppings are more likely to hit the stone too.

Also, the roots of a tree can become a real problem over time, dislodging your neatly set stone. And if more burials are to take place there, roots can either cause the grave to be unusable, or digging the hole will cost more, because of the additional labor involved.

And stay away from grave lots near rock formations. If your grave has solid rock in the way, they aren’t going to dynamite it. Instead, the grave you bought won’t be where you are going. Another gave lot somewhere else will be used.

High grass is not a good sign.

High grass is not a good sign.

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

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