Buying a burial plot, grave, crypt, or niche, is literally a once in a lifetime decision. The decision is tremendously personal and will affect the individual, their next-of-kin, extended family, the entire community of mourners for this generation and the next. To further complicate the buying process, making this decision can be emotionally taxing as it forces the purchaser to face their own mortality. Finally, buying a burial plot, or cemetery plot can represent a significant financially expense. Because this decision is unique, with both short term and long-term ramifications, a solid understanding of the process and options allows for the best decision to be made.

The purchase of a burial plot, grave, crypt, or niche is a three-step process:

  1. Select the Cemetery
  2. Choose a Specific Site Location
  3. Arrange for Purchase and Payment

The selection of the cemetery must necessarily be the first step in this process. A cemetery should provide a peaceful and dignified place for visitors and mourners to gather with at the same time providing honor and dignity to those individuals entrusted to its perpetual care. Each cemetery will offer different types of burial (in-ground, mausoleum entombment, inurnment, etc.), different types of permitted memorialization, and different levels of service. For insight and guidance about selecting the most appropriate cemetery, read the article How to Choose a Cemetery.

Fundamental Consideration for Site Selection

Within the grounds of a cemetery, different sections may afford different burial options and types of allowed memorialization. Considering logically the fundamental three decisions will facilitate the selection of the most appropriate burial site. The first fundamental decision is that of Traditional Casketed Burial vs Cremation. This decision will immediately narrow down the most appropriate burial options to be considered. The second fundamental decision will be the selection of either In Ground Burial vs Above Ground Entombment. The final fundamental decision will be the preferred type of permanent memorialization. With these three basic preferences identified, the selection of the specific burial site will be precise and appropriate.

To learn more about the different burial options offered by cemeteries, please read the article Burial Options.

To learn more about different memorial options, please read the article Understanding Memorialization.

Insights and Questions to Ask

Once the cemetery has been selected and the general burial site requirements are understood, an individual can choose the most appropriate specific site within a given cemetery.

When evaluating burial site locations in order to buy a grave, important considerations include:

  • The ascetic beauty of the surrounding area. Are the trees and landscaping fully grown and mature or are they young and developing?
    • Fully mature sections may be more costly.
    • Fruit bearing trees may drop nuisance seeds at certain times of the year.
  • Is the burial site near any special feature? Sculpture, Memorial, Water Feature, Pond?
    • Being near a special feature is wonderful, but it may add cost.
  • How far, or near, from a paved road is the burial site to accommodate visitation?
    • Burial spaces closer to the roadway are more accessible but may be less private.
  • How easily located is the grave within the cemetery and within the specific section?
  • Is the space on elevated land or is it in a depressed area?
    • Low lying areas may retain surface water more frequently.
  • How are other burial sites maintained in this section?
    • Identify both recent burials as well as older burials or entombments.

Costs and Financial Considerations

Once an acceptable group of burial site options have been identified, the differences in purchase price and budgeting options should be evaluated. Burial plot costs may range from under $1,000 to well over $10,000 depending on the cemetery and the specific location within the cemetery. Asking broadly for the range of prices available within the cemetery will help to provide the proper financial framing for the decision. The burial plot may or may not include the other cemetery arrangement components (cemetery labor charges, permanent memorialization, perpetual care), so these costs must be explicitly defined, and the determination must be made if they are part of the burial site cost or charged for separately.

With the total cemetery costs identified and understood, the purchase process can proceed to the financial considerations. Typically, the only way to secure a specific burial site is to make payments towards the purchase directly with the cemetery. Frequently, when making pre-arrangements, purchases before a passing, the purchase of a cemetery plot can be financed over time with favorable interest and financing terms. If a death has already occurred, cemeteries require that payment be made in full prior to a burial. This is a compelling advantage and reason to pre-plan for the purchase of the burial site. Cemeteries may or may not allow for the pre-payment of the other cemetery requirements (labor services, memorial, perpetual care). If the cemetery does allow for this pre-planning, it makes prudent financial sense so long as the goods and services are guaranteed and locked-in at their current rates. If the cemetery does not allow for the pre-planning of these other goods and services, final expense insurance or burial insurance may be used. To learn more about final expense insurance or burial insurance, read the final expense insurance article.

Purchasing Directly from the Cemetery or from a Private Seller

There are distinct advantages to purchasing a burial plot, grave, crypt or niche directly from the cemetery. There are frequently multiple available sites to select between, there is trust and transparency in the transaction, and payments can be budgeted for over time. Alternatively, cemetery plots, graves, crypts, and niches may be offered and sold by private 3rd party sellers. Purchasing a burial rite from a private seller has the primary advantage of being less costly however the associated downsides are the limited ability to choose the specific location, lack of trust and transparency, and need to pay in full at the time of purchase.

Ancillary Information about Buying a Cemetery Plot

While a significant amount of information can be gathered via the internet and email an in person visit to the cemetery is an essential part of selecting a specific cemetery plot, grave, crypt, or niche. While the general look and feel of a specific cemetery can be judged with online tools like Google Earth, the true holistic levels of care and maintenance are better determined at any specific burial site. An in person visit to the cemetery site of interest is even more important when dealing with a private seller because of a lack of recourse. Once a private sale is complete, there is generally no altering the finished transaction. Whereas, if a burial site is purchased directly through a cemetery, it can typically be changed until an in-person visit has been made.