How to Buy a Burial Plot

October 14, 2019

When it’s time to arrange a funeral, if the deceased is to be buried, you will also need to own a burial plot in a cemetery. This can be purchased at the time of arranging the funeral, but more and more people are securing these details in advance. In this way, everything is already taken care of ahead of time, and is often purchased at a lower cost, with more time to think through all the best options.

With this in mind, here is a guide to buying a burial plot.

Types of Burial Plots

Cemeteries offer several types of plots for in-ground burial. Not all cemeteries have every option, but these are what you’ll typically find:

Burial Plot for One Person. This is a plot that holds the remains of one person buried in a casket.

Burial Plots for Couples. Called “Companion Plots,” these plots are large enough for two caskets. Depending on how the cemetery is designed, a companion plot might hold two caskets side by side or they might be placed in the earth one on top of the other. You’ll want to ask about the two types, which are commonly called “Side-by-Side Plots” and “Double-Depth Plots.” The advantage of the latter option is that families can save money because only one headstone is required and only one outer container is required. A burial container can be a grave liner or a vault.

Burial Plots for Families. Families who wish to have different generations buried together in one spot can purchase family plots. Very often, these plots are arranged with a central headstone or statue (“monument”) engraved with the family name. Smaller headstones can be purchased at the time of securing the family plot package and left blank with no engraving. Then, as family members are added to the plot, individual headstones are engraved with their names and dates. Alternatively, the smaller headstones can be purchased separately as plots in the family-designated area become used.

The smaller headstones can be arranged in a square around the central marker or they can be placed in rows in front of the family headstone. In older cemeteries, it’s also common to find an iron fence around the family plot.

Burial Plots for Cremation Urns. Remains that have been cremated and placed in an urn can be buried in the ground in a cemetery as well. They may be placed in a plot with other family urns or near casket burial plots or they may be buried as individual graves.

Some cemeteries have a dedicated area for cremated urn burials, called “urn gardens.” The gardens may have special features like extensive landscaping, pathways, and hardscaping elements like fountains, rock retaining walls, benches, and rock gardens. While it’s traditional to use burial markers, some cemeteries incorporate the burial plot into the landscape or hardscaping elements such as fountains and rocks.

What to Expect with Costs

When it comes to the cost of buying a burial plot, there are a number of different factors that come into play. Since a plot is essentially a small piece of land, prices will vary state by state according to the average cost of real estate. For example, in California, where the average cost of real estate is higher than in other states, the cost of a burial plot will be higher. Some examples of states where burial plots are more affordable are Alabama and Florida. To learn more about the state where you’re considering buying a plot, read average costs for burial plots now.

Another factor is the type of plot you wish to purchase. The larger the plot the more you’ll pay, of course. But some people aren’t aware that lots of cemeteries reduce the price of each plot when you purchase more than one at a time. For some families, therefore, it makes sense to consider purchasing a family plot.

Keep in mind that with each plot purchase, there will be additional costs for burial. These include:

  • Possible one-time maintenance fee imposed by the cemetery
  • Grave site opening and closing fees (possibly additional charge in winter if the cemetery is located in a region where the earth freezes)
  • Vault or grave liner (unless it’s a green cemetery)
  • Headstone, which also carries a fee for engraving

Other Considerations

In addition to the type of burial plots available and what they cost, you’ll also want to know about some of the legalities involved with your burial plot contract.

Transferring the funds. People sometimes move after they’ve already purchased their plot, so you’ll want to find out whether the contract you sign includes a statement allowing you to transfer the funds you’ve paid somewhere else.

Right of First Refusal. Whether you move to another state or simply change your mind after you purchase a burial plot, it’s important to understand the right of refusal. This means that if you no longer need the plot, you are obligated to offer it for repurchase to the cemetery before you offer the rights to anyone else.

Keep in mind this is often not reciprocal. In other words, cemeteries do not typically promise you the plots that surround the one you purchase. They have the right to sell them to anyone without first offering them to you. Some cemetery managers will work with you as a courtesy and inform you that the surrounding plots are about to be sold. At that point, you may try and purchase them yourself.

How to Buy a Burial Plot

Armed with good information about the different types of burial plots, what to expect with costs, and what to do if you change your mind after your purchase, you can start thinking about the next step. At this point, you should feel more prepared to start contacting cemeteries, burial planners, and/or funeral directors about what kinds of options are available to you in the area where you wish to purchase a plot. And finally, it’s a good idea to talk to your loved ones about the decision that you’re making, to ensure that everyone’s wishes are fulfilled.