How To Buy a Cemetery Plot

It can be a difficult time mourning the loss of a loved one while at the same time making necessary funeral arrangements. If the deceased decided to be buried, you’d need to know a few things to ensure you carry out their final wishes precisely as requested.

How to Buy a Cemetery Plot

Doing most of the planning on your own can be stressful. Wondering how to buy a cemetery plot is the last thing on your mind, but you must do it if the deceased did not make the arrangements themselves before their death.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the more critical things to consider when it comes to burial plots. From choosing a burial site to funeral planning, this guide will go into each topic and break down what you need to know.

Let’s look at what you can do to relieve some of the burden and stress from the planning and decision-making, so you can focus on what matters most when remembering your loved one.

What Are Burial Plots?

A cemetery or burial plot is a designated spot where a human body is buried. For many years burial plots were primarily located on church properties, designated sacred land, or the land attached to the deceased’s home.

Today, most burials occur in cemeteries or other areas designated by law for burial. Many state and local laws forbid burials outside of a cemetery, public or private. If the deceased wishes to be buried at a home burial plot, you’ll need to speak to city officials or law enforcement to ensure home burials are legal.

Aside from legal issues, cemeteries are designed to offer a safe and secure burial location for your loved one. Whether it is a public cemetery where anyone can be buried or a private plot used exclusively by family or members of the cemetery community, cemeteries are places where people can go to mourn, remember and find solace in a peaceful setting.

Things to Consider when Buying a Burial Plot

Wooded Burial Plot

When it comes to buying a burial plot, there are many things to consider in addition to the type of plot you wish to buy. There are costs associated with the kind of funeral services you choose, the style and design of the grave marker, the cemetery’s location, public or private plots, and much more.

Here are a few more important things to know when you are making arrangements for a final resting place for you or your loved one.

Dealing with the Cemetery and How to Buy a Grave Site from the Funeral Home

When you buy a burial plot, it can be the highest cost of any funeral planning, but it’s not technically a part of the cost of the funeral. By federal law, even companies operating funeral homes and cemeteries under one name must legally keep those two operations separate.

This is because of anti-trust legislation enacted in the 1980s to help curb abuses in the funeral home industry. The industry’s lobbyists, however, were successful in keeping cemeteries exempt from most of the new rules.

It means the two industries must remain as separate as possible. Given that the two industries are naturally related, this is sometimes an awkward law to enforce. This applies to customers and those in the industry. Knowing what to do to get the best deal and assure that a family is not taken advantage of can be tricky.

Pre-Planning Your Own Grave Plot

A grave plot is perhaps one of the best investments you can make of all the things you can purchase ahead of time regarding final expenses. In general, consumer advocates say pre-need purchases are usually best avoided, but the risk is very low in the case of grave plots.

Oddly enough, grave sites are very much like traditional real estate purchases because the purchaser has the right to buy and sell at will. So, any investment in a plot will only increase in value as the prices of cemetery land continue their decades-old trend of nearly doubling every ten years. That’s a rate of increase that far outweighs even that of traditional real estate practices.

The only problem with this idea of using a cemetery plot as an investment is that selling it typically requires that a new one be purchased to fulfill the original need of a plot for every person.

This means that the “investment” factor of buying a plot is only a consideration in cases where a person has some alternative plan for their death – such as cremation or burial in a family graveyard where there would be no additional charge for a plot.

Regardless if you are purchasing your own cemetery plot as an investment, for sentimental reasons, or for several other reasons, here are some financial aspects to remember when making this purchase.

Financial Benefits of Pre-Purchasing A Plot

Cemetery Plots

Suppose you can pay cash for a piece of cemetery land or negotiate a reasonable interest rate with the cemetery or other land owner. In that case, you have a better chance of locking in rates at low prices in a volatile, ever-increasing market.

The only real financial risk you would suffer is if the United States government, through the Securities Exchange Commission or the Federal Trade Commission, were to step up regulation efforts of the cemetery industry.

Suppose those regulations increase or a unilateral act of Congress happens. In that case, the unusually rapid rate of inflation of grave plots might end up coming to an end at some point, or it could even be reversed.

In a worst-case scenario, it could mean that plot prices start dropping to bring the industry in line with most other businesses that involve buying and selling real estate property.

However, the United States has shown a historical reluctance to get involved in the business of death care or perpetual care. Critics of The Funeral Rule’s enforcement will point out a lack of willingness by the government to enforce regulatory laws that are approved against the industry.

It seems reasonable to assume that the nation is in store for at least several more decades of cemetery plot land, doubling every ten years. So, while it is possible that buying a plot ahead of time may turn into a case of a person being “upside-down” on loan for the land, such a scenario is relatively unlikely.

Buying Cemetery Plots for Family Members Ahead of Time

If it seems to be a good investment for an individual to buy their own cemetery plot ahead of time, then it stands to reason that buying a plot for family (and even friends) can also be a great benefit.

If you can get an extended payment term, you can usually reduce the monthly price of a plot to less than $100. This means that most families in today’s modern economy of the United States will barely notice the loss of what a cemetery plot would cost when financed over a long period of time. It saves your family from generating a large sum of cash for a plot all at once.

The only risk in buying a plot ahead of time is if a person’s death happens before the plot is paid for entirely. If this occurs, a family or individual in care of financial arrangements would be faced with paying off the remaining amount.

This scenario can be avoided almost entirely, of course, with the purchase of burial insurance or even a traditional life insurance policy. For some people, paying into such a policy may be a good alternative to buying a plot in advance.

Buying a Cemetery Plot at a Time of Need

Cemetery by the Sea

Pre-purchasing a plot may be a subject that many avoid for emotional reasons, but in most situations, it can be less emotional than having to purchase a plot at the time of need. It can put added stress on loved ones who are already struggling with grief.

Aside from dealing with the grief, family members are also put in an uncomfortable position to deal with the potentially questionable tactics of some cemetery salespeople. In some cases, a funeral director or planner may take financial advantage of a family suffering from grief and emotional stress over losing a loved one.

Cemetery salespeople are often skilled and highly trained. They know that saying something like, “we want to help you get what is best for the memory of your loved one,” can often lead to a family deciding to spend much more than they might otherwise have spent or could afford.

So, it is best for families to do their research, talk to the Better Business Bureau, get referrals from trusted friends and family, and read online reviews of a funeral association in your area. Doing your homework gives you a better idea of best practices already established in the cemetery industry.

It is also good to negotiate with cemetery salespeople. Purchasing a plot at a time in need may be much higher than if you had bought it ahead of time. Cemetery salespeople will sometimes upsell the average price of a plot by at least $2,000 more than a plot sold pre-need.

However, when selling pre-planned plots, cemeteries usually make up most of that cost, if not all of that difference. Interest rates alone can generally add $2,000 or more to the price of the plot. It can be tough to do negotiations when you are constrained by time or dealing with a heavy emotional state.

Buying a Cemetery Plot from a Friend or Family

If you base your cemetery or grave decision on saving money, then the best cemetery offer you’ll get will come from purchasing a plot from a person who has decided not to use it and has decided to sell it. The most common reasons why a person would sell off their plot are:

  • The person decided to choose cremation instead of burial.
  • Their church or family decided to offer a burial plot for free.
  • Someone in the family buys several plots for other family members at once, and a few or many of those members decide not to use the already purchased plots.
  • The person selling the plot due to financial hardships needs the money.

It is often possible that buying from a friend who has a cemetery plot to sell can be a financial boon for both parties. When someone was given a plot, the buyer could strike a deal that saves them thousands of dollars while also being a financial blessing to the seller.

One may be wondering about the legalities of a private owner selling land that is already part of a cemetery. In most cases, cemetery staff will be glad to help broker such deals when asked. And some cemeteries will not even charge a fee for the service. Keep in mind that cemetery staff will not usually offer that service readily because, naturally, the cemetery will want to sell its own land.

Types of Burial Plots

Cemetery with Flowers

A typical cemetery site offers several types of burial options for in-ground burials. However, each cemetery operates differently, and some may not have every option available. These are the most common ground burials available at a cemetery:

#1. Burial Plot for One Person

This type of burial is a single plot designated to hold the remains of one person in a casket. The surrounding plots may not be other family plots, but in most cases, members of a particular family will buy multiple plots all in the same general area.

#2. Burial Plots for Couples

More commonly known as “companion plots,” these plots are double in size and can accommodate two caskets. Depending on the design and layout of the cemetery, the burial plot can hold two caskets beside one another, called “side by side,” or placed on top of one another in the same plot, called a “double depth companion plot.”

If you are planning your own burial plot for yourself or your loved one, you’ll want to ensure you know which type of plot you purchase. There are advantages to each style. A side-by-side burial will give each family member their own gravestone. At the same time, a double-depth companion plot will have one gravestone with both names on it.

#3. Burial Plots for Families

Family burial plots are designed to hold different generations all buried alongside one another in one area of the cemetery. In many cemeteries, these family plots are marked with a central headstone, grave marker, or, in some cases, a statue or monument with the family name engraved in it.

In addition to these family markers, individual, smaller grave markers can be purchased honoring your loved one’s place separately but still within the family plot area. These smaller grave markers can either encircle the family monument or be laid in rows facing it. Most cemeteries will have guidelines in place for burial in a family plot.

#4. Burial Plots for Cremation Urns

Burial Plots

Some final arrangements of loved ones that pass include cremation. You can cremate remains and bury them in a burial plot in a cemetery. Or, you can place cremated remains in an urn in an individual plot alongside other family urns, near a casket burial plot, or you can bury them in an individual grave.

Some cemeteries even have a designated area, especially for the burial of cremated remains. They call these areas “urn gardens.” These gardens are designed with scenic landscaping, walkways, fountains, decorative rock walls, benches, and stone gardens.

#5. Mausoleum Entombment

Mausoleum crypts are above-ground structures where a casket or caskets are interred. Most mausoleum crypts are constructed out of stone, are free-standing structures that resemble houses, and securely hold the remains of those laid inside.

Depending on the size of the structure, they can contain the remains of one person or several people from the same family. Some will choose to be placed in a mausoleum because they don’t like the idea of ground burials, or the expense of a burial plot is too high because cemetery land is scarce.

#6. Lawn Crypt

A lawn crypt is a structure built underground that can hold on or several caskets. They are built out of concrete to protect the caskets from the elements such as rain, snow, and cold or hot temperatures. Lawn crypts are much larger than typical burial vaults or a standard-sized grave liner and are more of an underground version of a mausoleum.

#7. Columbarium

Unlike a burial plot for an urn, a columbarium is another consideration for holding cremated remains. A columbarium is a type of display vault with a series of wall-like structures with shelves designed to hold cremation urns.

The urns are securely locked onto the shelf but visible through a glass door or sealed off with a decorative marker. You can ask to have the family name or some other decorative artwork engraved onto the marker. It is a place for loved ones to lay flowers and visit often.

A columbarium comes in various sizes to accommodate a single urn or several family member urns at once. Many columbariums are located in churches, cemeteries, indoor crypts, or outdoor monuments. It is a perfect idea for those that want a memorial marker without taking up the space of a burial plot.

#8. Veteran

The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a VA burial benefit to qualified veterans to obtain a veteran burial plot at a national cemetery. Currently, there are 144 cemeteries that the VA owns, and eligible families can have their loved ones free burial at one of these plots.

Contact your regional Veterans Affairs office to see if you or your loved one qualifies. Here are some of the benefits veteran family members receive with the VA:

  • The opening and closing of the grave
  • Ongoing gravesite care
  • A headstone or grave marker
  • A burial flag
  • A Presidential Memorial Certificate
  • Veteran’s spouses and dependents may also choose to be buried beside the vet free of charge.

#9. Green Burials

Burials can also be part of the environmental movement with green burials at green cemeteries. With a green burial, the body does not go through the embalming process and is placed into a natural casket container. Both the container and body decompose naturally into the ground. You may even find a local cemetery offering this special service.

#10. Pre-Owned Burial Plot

Another thing to mention is pre-owned burial plots. These plots were previously purchased by a person who chose to pre-plan their arrangements. However, plans may change during their life. They may go through a divorce, remarry, or move to another part of the country.

A plot owner who sells off their plot may also fall on hard times and need the money. Those who are pre-planning their funerals and wish to save money can usually buy pre-owned burial plots at a discounted price.

Average Plot Cost by Type of Cemetery

Burial Costs

The average cost of a burial plot is affected by many factors. Whether the person is purchasing multiple plots or spending money on additional funeral costs such as specialized markers and grave decorations, prices can change drastically. Here are some things to consider:

  • Whether you or your loved one will be buried in a public or private cemetery.
  • If the plot size is larger or smaller.
  • Where the space in the cemetery is located.
  • If the area where you live has high living costs also have high prices for final arrangements.

You can look at national average costs as a way to gauge how much things will roughly cost as you begin to shop for a burial site. Most prices are for single plots, but if you purchase a side-by-side plot, you can expect to double the price.

Prices for community mausoleums, crypts, columbariums, and private mausoleums are priced similar to grave sites. However, there will be additional costs for things like structures, decoration, and the extra land that the mausoleum occupies, and with different mausoleums, there will be different prices for each.

Public Cemetery Plot

A public cemetery is where there are many people buried alongside one another. In most cases, family members are not always buried beside other members of the same family in public cemeteries but can be buried in the same cemetery. They cost an average of $525 to $2,500 for a public cemetery plot.

Public Burial Plot for Cremated Remains

Some people who choose to be cremated want their ashes buried. This is a much less expensive route for burial since multiple urns can occupy a space for one casket. This is a cost-effective way of burial. The average cost can range between $350 and $500.

Private Cemetery Plot

Private cemeteries can be more costly than public cemeteries. The average cost for a burial space can range between $2,000 and $5,000. Prices can be even higher. It depends on factors like the area it is in and if the plot is for a single or double burial.

Private Burial Plot for Cremated Remains

Although a more affordable option. The burial of urns in private cemeteries can range between $1,000 and $2,500.

Green Burial Plot

The environmentally sound option of a green burial can run about $1,000 to $4,000. Along with a green burial space, it also includes:

  • Interment
  • A gravestone or marker
  • Perpetual care of the site
  • Burying cremated remains without an urn for approximately $200 to $1,000

Many consider green burials because there is no need to embalm or even cremate the body. The caskets are biodegradable and much cheaper than more traditional options.

Pre-Owned Burial Plot

The owner and not the cemetery determine the cost of a pre-owned site. Prices will change depending on the following:

  • How desirable the cemetery is.
  • The plot’s location within the cemetery and the plot’s desirability.
  • The price that the owner paid for the original plot.
  • How urgent the sale is.

Plots that are in high demand are typically more expensive. However, an owner in a hurry to sell the plot may drastically lower the price. This means that you get a good deal on a great located plot.

Additional Burial Plot Costs to Consider When Budgeting

The type of cemetery, the size of the plot, and the type of gravesite you choose are all factors that affect cost. However, there may be additional costs for a plot. Some of those may include:

  • Rural plots may be cheaper than those in urban areas.
  • Some cemeteries may have higher prices than other less-desirable places.
  • Plots for children and infants are usually less expensive than adult plots.

Other Things to Consider When Buying a Burial Plot?

Other than costs, some factors may affect your decision to purchase a burial plot. Some of the main reasons are:

  • The cemetery may set out rules and bylaws regarding gravemarkers, decorations, perpetual care, and visiting hours. Check to see if these rules fit your needs.
  • Check to see if the cemetery will be expanding, and if so, will it affect your burial plot location.
  • Pre-planning a funeral may allow you to pay the cost over time in installments. It is important to note that such plans may include interest, additional fees, and other costs.

Cemetery Plots: A Place For The Living?

As strange as that may sound, cemetery plots are a place for the living. They provide a space for those in mourning to work through their grief, remember their loved ones, and cope with their loss.

People will regularly visit a cemetery plot to lay flowers at grave markers or adorn the burial plot with flags, trinkets, and photos. Many who visit a loved one’s burial plot spend hours talking to their loved one, sharing their feelings, or sharing a memory. Burial plots have become a place of healing for visiting friends and family members.

Making Plans For A Final Resting Place

Making plans for the end of life can be difficult for most people. Whether you are pre-planning your own funeral arrangements or a deceased loved one, there is a lot to think about. Talking to funeral directors or burial planners will help if you need to buy a burial plot.

However, the more you know about the options available, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with this vital aspect of planning end-of-life services and arrangements. Planning a funeral and burial is stressful enough. Relieving a bit of that stress with some knowledge will help you focus on what is important, remembering your loved one and being together with those grieving their passing, and supporting one another during your time of need.