Choosing a Cemetery

by Paul Konrardy

If your loved one has not previously paid for a cemetery plot or made other arrangements, you will have to choose a location for burial or the cremated remains. You may wish to have a trusted friend or family member assist you in gathering and reviewing the information.

What to Know

Types of Cemeteries

Traditional cemeteries have upright monuments and may have private mausoleums and/or a chapel. They may be either nonprofit or for-profit ventures.

Memorial parks or memorial gardens have memorials placed level with the ground. Both have beautiful landscaping and attractive features. Like traditional cemeteries, they are either nonprofit or for-profit ventures.

Cemeteries and memorial parks may be owned and/or managed by cities or other municipalities, religious groups or private organizations. The owners set the policies under which the locations are managed.

Burial versus Entombment

Earth burial, the most common means of disposition in the United States, includes a casket, cemetery plot, opening and closing of the grave, a grave liner or vault and a memorial or marker.

Entombment, or placing the casket above ground in a mausoleum, may be more expensive than a burial, depending on the cost of mausoleum space.

Cremated remains may also be buried, depending on the rules of the cemetery or memorial park. Read 2 Points to Consider When Considering Cremation for more information.

Types of Graves

Graves can be either a single plot, accommodating one casket or a plot that accommodate two or more graves, depending on what is available. Many cemeteries allow for the burial of two caskets in a grave or have sections where this is available.

Double depth means that one casket is placed in the grave at an approximate depth of seven feet. When a second interment is required, the second casket is placed on top of the first casket at standard depth.

Burial Vault and Grave Liner

Both a vault and a liner are outside containers into which the casket is placed.

  • The burial vault is designed to protect the casket and may be made of a variety of materials including concrete, stainless steel, galvanized steel, copper, bronze, plastic or fiberglass.
  • The grave liner is a lightweight version of a vault, which keeps the grave surface from sinking in.

Most, but not all, cemeteries require you to purchase a grave liner, which can be several hundred dollars. In most areas of the country, state or local law does not require that you buy a vault/container to surround the casket in the grave.

However, many cemeteries require that you have one or the other so that the ground will not sink. Either a grave liner or a burial vault will satisfy these requirements.

Types of Markers and Plaques

The plot can be marked with either a flat plaque or marker or an upright monument. Prices can vary so choose within your price range.

  • Monuments come in three grades of stone rated according to their density (light, medium, and dark with dark being the most-dense).
  • Plaques/markers are generally made of bronze.

If the deceased is a military veteran, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will furnish an appropriate headstone or marker for the grave of an eligible veteran buried in a private cemetery, whose death occurred on or after September 11, 2001, regardless of whether the grave is already marked with a nongovernment marker. This is in accordance with Public Law 107-103, the Veterans Education and Benefits Expansion Act of 2001. For more information, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs’ website.

Military Honors

If the deceased is a veteran, he or she is entitled to a free burial in a national cemetery and a grave marker. This eligibility also extends to some civilians who have provided military-related service and some Public Health Service personnel.

Spouses and dependent children also are entitled to a lot and marker when buried in a national cemetery. For more information and to determine eligibility, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs’ website.

In addition, many states have established state veterans cemeteries. Eligibility requirements and other details vary. Contact your state for more information.

Questions to Ask

May I use a vault purchased elsewhere or do I have to use one provided by the cemetery?

What is the cemetery’s policies on the following:

  • The type of monument or plaque allowed
  • Plants, flowers or wreaths at the graveside and scheduled removal dates
  • Year-round grounds maintenance routines

What is the final cost for burial and what is included in that cost?

  • Most cemeteries will have a breakdown of costs either at their administrative offices or online.
  • Fees can include monuments, interment, recording fees, land size by child or adult, grave liner, opening and closing the grave, etc.
  • The cost of a gravesite can range between $600 up to $5,000 in some cemeteries.
  • Perpetual care on a cemetery plot is sometimes included in the purchase price; clarify this before you buy a site or service. If it’s not included, look for a separate endowment care fee for maintenance and grounds keeping.

WHN TIP – Watch the Numbers: The costs and fees associated with cemeteries can add up fast, track them carefully. Use the FTC’s Funeral Costs and Pricing Checklist when comparing costs from several funeral homes.

For More Information

Federal Trade Commission – Shopping for Funeral Services
This section provides extensive information to help consumers make informed choices. It also includes information about the FTC Funeral Rule. Enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Rule makes it possible for you to choose only those goods and services you want or need and to pay only for those you select, whether you are making arrangements when a death occurs or in advance. The Rule allows you to compare prices among funeral homes and makes it possible for you to select the funeral arrangements you want at the home you use.


The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional advice. These tips are from experts and people who have shared their real-life advice; always check with appropriate professionals you trust in making your purchasing or life-related decisions.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

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