Paying For Cemetery Arrangements

I have been setting up cemetery, cremation, mausoleum, and funeral arrangements for 27 years. I keep up to date about prices and practices, and I can give you good advice on divesting yourself of cemetery property you own. I will tell you best how to handle it all.

If you don't own any property or arrangements, or your family doesn't have any in your name, I'll give you some pointers so that there is no confusion or over-spending at the time of need.

Many memorial parks (endowment care, perpetual care cemeteries) and cemeteries generally can set up a payment plan for you to pay for lots, vaults, headstone/marker, and sometimes labor of opening and closing of the grave and vault setting. Some will not have any pre-payment plans. (SEE TABLE) The ones who do have prepayment plans normally freeze your costs at today's prices. But they almost all charge interest on plans that are beyond, say, two years. You have to decide whether it would be better to: 1) estimate future costs of cemetery arrangements and make that part of a fully insured burial and funeral plan (see example), 2) leave it all until "time of need," 3) pay the interest on a contract with the cemetery, or 4) pay a cemetery contract off quickly to avoid paying interest. When you set up plans with most memorial park companies and cemeteries, and you should need to use any of what's in the plan because someone has passed away, whatever is going to be used must be paid in full. Their plans are usually not insured in any way and they won't allow you to continue to make payments on anything that has now been used for the deceased.

The following table can help you plan for what you still need to do:


If you don't have burial vaults and cemetery labor paid for yet, my best advice is (unless you can arrange a no interest plan for all of it) is to pay for a burial/funeral insurance plan as ONE PLAN, with all of its benefits--rather than the interest on the cemetery contract which gives you nothing in return. (Use my Loan Calculator to run scenarios to pay interest). Cemetery Contracts can freeze your burial vault cost but not usually the labor.

My plans do not charge any interest. The cost of stretching the plan out up to ten years is an insurance premium, not interest, and it provides you with coverage should you not be able to make the payments. It also provides tax-free cash value growth.

If you have not purchased cemetery plots yet or need to buy more, buying them in advance on a cemetery contract makes sense if you need to secure a location (near family members, for example) and freezing the current cost is important. City cemeteries don't have the inflation rate endowment care cemeteries, especially the "chains," do. So making an "allowance" in your single plan with growing cash value should easily take care of your cemetery plots. You simply specify the cemetery you want, provided it is not close to being sold out of space, and factor in the apppropriate amount, such as $1,000. I explain on another Web page how you can take care of everything, cemetery and funeral costs, with roughly $6,000. Learn how by clicking here.

I help you reasonably estimate what future cemetery costs will be and also recommend cemeteries that charge less for the same arrangements as the larger, high profile companies. The exception(s) would be if the cemetery you have chosen has family members or close friends you wish to be near or the cemetery is running out of space. In these cases, you probably don't want to defer paying the cemetery until later (as with using an insurance plan).

But if these factors are not an issue, and you don't mind having your survivors choose from among what is available at the time you pass, you're probably better off with burial insurance plan--one I can set up for you at the best rates.

The cemeteries won't set you up on a payment plan beyond five years or will discourage it. The amount of interest you would pay is considerable. I can set up a ten-year burial insurance plan for $2,500 with growing cash value for $28-$29 a month. If you want to add in any additional funds for things such as flowers, obituary, death certificates, you can do that and get the growing cash value to cover inflation. With a cemetery contract, you don't get the growing cash value and you pay them interest.

Which plan sounds better?

BOTTOM LINE: Chain memorial parks and cemeteries like to get as much of your cash in advance as they can get, even if they give you a "buy three get one free" deal. They also like to charge interest if you stretch payments out. You need to evaluate if the payment plan they offer on ANYTHING cemetery-related is worth paying for in advance through them. If you don't think it is, consider estimating and factoring these costs into another, better, insurance plan that will also grow in cash value.

More About Burial Arrangements

Many people have told me over the years that they would like to sell burial spaces they bought a long time ago that they no longer plan to use. I've sold around 1,300 burial plots myself over 20 years. Some of these folks with plots to sell have decided to be cremated and want to sell their plots before they buy a cremation plan from me. Others have bought more than they need or have decided to use another cemetery instead. Cemetery property continues to go up in value, not down. Get your money's worth from them if you are selling. I have a Web page about selling cemetery property, but it needs to be updated for 2018. Check back later. Use is my best short advice for now.

Methods Of Disposition

What follows is how you can be put to rest or "disposed of" when you are gone.

1. Interment (earth burial). This is where the body is placed in a casket and then into the earth. Most cemeteries require a burial vault (or "outer container") also, which the casket goes into. The original reason for burial vaults (now most often referred to as "grave liners") was to deter grave robbing around the nineteenth century. The reason a vault or liner is required today is to prevent the ground from sinking or settling. The soil above the vault can be compacted without the casket being crushed, and the ground will remain level and not sink or settle over time. Burials can also be done as "green burials" with no casket, something that is of concern to some environmentalists.

2. Entombment. This is the use of a mausoleum or tomb for either casketed or cremated remains.

3. Cremation. (See my cremation page). This is the process that reduces a corpse and whatever container it may be in to ashes and small bone fragments. Cremations are on the rise in the United States. Elsewhere in the world, cremations have been the norm for a long time for various reasons, the primary being scarcity of land for burials. There are four primary reasons why cremation is becoming increasing popular in the United States: (1) cremation usually costs less than burial or interment; (2) our country is running out of cemetery space; (3) modern cremation methods are relatively clean, quick and efficient; and (4) cremation has become more tolerable, especially among religious groups, than in the past.

All of these options can include a "service" or "memorial." It all very much depends on whether you want survivors to see and/or remember you. Generally having a funeral service with a viewing involves more costs. If you are not directly cremated or immediately buried, the body is required in most cases to be embalmed, a fee that runs around $600.00-$800.00 on average.

Double Depth ("Stacked") Burials

Most cemeteries and memorial parks allow the option of burying two persons in one grave space, normally known as a double depth interment. It is one on top of the other, each with its own casket and vault. They generally charge extra for what is known as a “second interment right.” A second interment right is nothing but an additional cost, as you are not buying additional ground space. Typically second interment rights cost half of what a regular, second burial space would cost. For example, if a single burial space for one adult costs $1,400.00, a second interment right in that space might cost $700.00. These rights can be purchased with the space at the outset for one total price, or they can be purchased later in a burial space you already own. Double depth burial arrangements will normally cost you less money than two burial spaces, and it helps the cemetery conserve burial ground. The size of the marker or headstone on the ground is a bit more limited, because the grave width is typically around 40 inches. When you have two side-by-side burial spaces, on the other hand, you can have a much wider marker by putting it midway between the two spaces.

Headstones and markers are not required for a burial or funeral to take place. They can be purchased much later, or even never at all. Therefore, they are not as thoroughly discussed on this Web site or in my book.

16 x 24 is big enought

What Is “Embalming” and Why Is It Required?

“The word embalm, in the beginning, literally meant to place balm—a mixture of tree or pine sap and aromatic spices—in the body after removing the internal organs and then allowing the body to dry out. Modern embalming replaces the blood and other fluids of the body with solutions designed to retard decomposition. Embalming, according to a funeral director’s handbook, ‘is the art of disinfecting dead bodies and thereby slowing the process of decomposition.’ In other words, the handbook admits that the decomposition of the body is merely ‘slowed’ rather than prevented—a major distinction often obscured by funeral directors when they sell surviving family members on the idea of embalming.”

Darryl Roberts, Profits of Death, p. 16

“Corpses are embalmed for two main reasons: public health and public viewing. Public health reasons are, at best, questionable; public viewing is an American cultural phenomenon.

Advocates suggest that embalming ensures public health by preserving the corpse for transport over long distances and by preventing the spread of infectious disease to mourners or into the ground when the body’s fluids disperse after burial. An early reason for embalming a body in the United States was to preserve the body during transport to the site of burial. This solved a practical problem. Embalming a corpse to protect public safety is highly questionable.”

Kenneth V. Iserson, Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies?, pp. 187-188

Most funeral home General Price Lists will describe embalming such as this:

“Except in certain special cases, embalming is not required by law. Embalming may be necessary, however, if you select certain funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with a viewing. If you do not want embalming, you usually have the right to choose an arrangement that does not require you to pay for it, such as direct cremation or immediate burial.”

This means you should plan on paying for embalming unless your plan is to be immediately disposed of, with no family or other viewing, ceremony or service.

Burial Vaults

What are called “vaults” today are usually “grave liners” or “outer burial containers.” The law is particular concerning how a representative of a cemetery or funeral home can refer to this container.

A “vault” must be a sealed container, and what most burials utilize is not a sealed container or vault but simply a concrete or cement box.

Outer burial containers, normally made of concrete or cement, are required by almost all cemeteries today so they can compact the soil after the burial. Without a concrete outer burial container, any compacting could crush the casket. The compacting is done to disallow the ground from sinking or settling over time.

You should really only purchase the minimum container required by the cemetery. As with caskets, there is nothing about the construction of a vault that will slow down decomposition of the body or protect the body. All an expensive vault will do is protect the casket. But the body will decompose no matter what. Only an Egyptian-style mummification will preserve a body.

So if a funeral home salesperson insists on a sealed vault that costs more money, you can say you don’t need or want it. Some vaults are reinforced with various materials such as hard plastics that prevent them from cracking. Again, this will help preserve the casket but not the body. So why would you want to pay $2,500.00 for a vault when a $900.00 concrete box will do?

One advertisement promoting expensive sealed vaults reads:

“The primary purpose of the Outer Burial Vault is to protect the casket from the weight of the earth. A standard burial vault has at least 18 inches of earth covering it. Just the weight of the earth alone is over 3,000 pounds, not to mention the pressure of the heavy equipment we use to maintain the park.

The vaults we offer are designed to withstand that weight. Most are also designed and warranted to protect against the entrance of outside elements, such as water and dirt. We also offer a non-protective grave box that does not provide any of the sealing protection from the outside elements, but still meets most cemeteries’ requirements.”

Note the words “protect the casket.” It does not say it protects the corpse or body. It then refers to the minimum required as a “non-protective grave box,” which doesn’t sound anywhere as good as the word “vault.” The vaults advertised were retailing for between $2,000.00 and $4,000.00.

You only really need a “grave box” or outer burial container. This should cost you around $800-$900, plus the cost of setting it in the ground. Don’t let them convince you that you are better off with a vault costing $2,000.00-$3,000.00.

I can freeze the cost of a concrete vault (outer burial container) with Premier Funeral Services for $895. They guarantee it will be delivered to the cemetery at the time of need. They will give you the best price at the time of need. If that price is below $995, you will be refunded the difference. You will never be required to pay more once you have frozen the cost at $995. If you purchase the vault with a single payment, there is a discount based on your age and health.

How to Purchase Burial Vaults

Every burial vault, grave liner or box, has two associated costs: (1) the physical vault itself, and (2) the cost of the “setting” or putting it in the ground. The two can be purchased together and then guaranteed at one price, regardless of future price increases. The vault “setting” fee is a separate and different charge than the “opening and closing of the grave” (which includes digging with a backhoe). Setting merely means lifting the vault with a machine, lowering it into the ground, and placing the lid on it after the casket has been lowered into it. Some cemeteries, such as those owned by conglomerates, will allow you to pay for the vault, the vault setting, and the opening and closing of the grave all as one package in advance.

In your funeral plan, you can often freeze the costs of the setting and the physical vault, and, in more rare cases, the opening and closing of the grave. If it is possible to freeze all three costs, it is usually because the cemetery or memorial park is owned by the insurance company funding the guaranteed pre-paid funeral, or the insurance company and the cemetery are owned by the same company, which often the case with conglomerates companies.

There is one of the three costs which virtually all funeral service providers can freeze the cost of, and that is the physical vault. The “box” itself is no different than the casket in that it can be stored and inventoried like furniture. Typically at today’s cost a physical vault or grave liner will run $700-$800. The setting fee can easily be $500-800, sometimes more. Opening and closing of the grave (digging and putting the dirt back and compacting it once the vault and casket are in place) could be between $500-$1,000. And these “labor” charges most often are dependent on whether the work is done on a weekday, Saturday, Sunday, or holiday. For this and other reasons, many facilities won’t allow you to pre-pay the labor charges at all. But you can nearly always get the physical vault taken care at a pre-determined price.

Some cemeteries or memorial parks often will charge a much lower price for their physical vault than funeral homes can charge, and then charge an exorbitant amount for the setting of the vault. This means that if you buy a vault from a funeral home or funeral provider, and then add the vault setting fee, you will pay more than if you buy the vault and the setting from the cemetery. They do this to prevent burial space owners from buying vaults from anyone but them.

It’s a toss up whether you should include a vault in your funeral plan or not.

Check with the cemetery to see if they have plans for purchasing vaults in advance and the costs. Sometimes they will have plans that include all labor pre-paid, regardless of the day when it is done, plus the physical vault. But the finance charge and/or price are often steep for this type of arrangement.

Since a funeral home or funeral service provider can nearly always sell you a physical vault without the labor included, it may not be a bad idea to include that in your funeral plan. But if you can work out a deal with the cemetery in advance for the vault plus all the labor, or the vault and the setting fee only, at the right price and with finance charges you can live with, that may be a better idea. Most memorial parks that have pre-need plans will sell the vaults or grave liner (“boxes”) with the setting included. It is more rare to see the vault sold by itself without the setting if the cemetery is funding the plan. Using 2012 prices, a vault with setting plus the opening and closing of the grave will be around $2,000. Use that average figure for calculations.

Cremated Remains to Be Buried

Cremated remains, or "cremains," can be buried in a cremation space--which is smaller than normal and costs less than a full adult burial space. Or two cremated remains, along with the required cremains vaults, can be buried per adult burial space. Up to four can be buried in double-depth arrangements. Some mistakenly believe that large numbers of cremated remains can be buried in a single space. Cemeteries generally have a limit of (2), as many cremains vaults as will fit in the space. And they will not bury cremated remains without a vault (outer container).