The Basics About Cemeteries

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Cemeteries Are A Final Resting Place

A cemetery is the place where the dead are buried or interred — a "final resting place" for the deceased. In the past, people were buried on family property, in church yards, or in community cemeteries.

Cemeteries eventually became privately owned businesses organized "for-profit," however some States prohibit for-profit cemeteries. Religious, municipal, and veterans cemeteries are organized on a not-for-profit basis. The result is a diverse mix of styles, sizes and ownership structures. A typical cemetery:

  • Offers caskets, outer burial containers and grave markers or monuments.
  • Holds services in their chapel or at graveside.
  • Opens and closes the grave.
  • Installs the grave marker (although this installation may be done by a monument company).

Cemeteries and other funeral service providers work together to coordinate funeral plans. For example, the Funeral Director is generally responsible for the:

  • Procession to the cemetery.
  • Services on cemetery grounds.
  • Return transportation for the family.

A distinctive place for eternal use

Cemetery Grounds Cemeteries, with their natural beauty, are where survivors can return over time to remember and honor their loved ones.
   
Cemetery Feature The grounds may be adorned with sculptures, memorials and other decorative elements.
   
Cemetery Road Besides these features, cemeteries also differ in the basic elements such as the quality of their roadways, irrigation and maintenance.
   
Cemetery Grounds Memorial parks are distinguished from traditional cemeteries by their more park-like appearance due to the absence of upright monuments. Memorial parks allow only flush markers.
   
Cemetery Grounds Traditional cemeteries allow both upright monuments and markers that lie flush with the ground. The upright monuments are bold physical statements that enable passers-by to quickly recognize a cemetery.

Future Availability of Burial Space

Some cemeteries have ample space to accommodate new interments for many years to come. These cemeteries can expect a steady revenue stream well into the future. Others are nearly full. Constructing new mausoleums and lawn crypts (see descriptions that follow) are ways to accommodate additional interments. However, these are expensive to build and may not be viable options.

Therefore, if you are looking for multiple sites for family members, ask about availability of space in the future or pre-purchase your cemetery property.

Perpetual Care Funds

Unlike other funeral service providers, whose work is finished at the end of the funeral, cemeteries must provide perpetual care for the grave site and the grounds. To cover this cost, cemeteries establish "perpetual (or endowment) care funds" to generate ongoing income. Calculating how much money must be set aside, or endowed, for a cemetery’s long-term care is not an exact science. Therefore, most States have laws requiring a minimum portion of each sale be deposited to a care fund. Some cemeteries may be under-funded despite these State laws. This poses an unanswered question for our society, "what will happen if someday the money runs out to maintain a cemetery?"

Combined Operations

Funeral Home Sign

When a cemetery owner constructs a funeral home on a cemetery it is called a "combination operation." These "combos" may provide certain efficiencies due to the common ownership and are a "one-stop" source for funeral services.

Whether or not combo operations should be allowed is a controversial industry issue. Some argue that combos promote competition and are good for consumers. Others believe that combos put the independent funeral home at an unfair disadvantage. With this in mind, some States have prohibited common ownership of funeral homes and cemeteries.

Cemetery Property

Following are the different types of cemetery property and a description of each:

Grave Space


Single Monument

Grave space, or burial plot, is a section of land in a cemetery where the casket containing human remains and an outer container are buried. Some cemeteries allow two to be buried in one grave space. The size of grave spaces varies.

   
Crypt

A crypt is a concrete enclosure for the casket. There are various types of crypts:

Star Mausoleum crypts are placed inside a building known as a mausoleum, which are constructed for private families or entire communities. Mausoleums often have marble or granite facings and are sometimes decorated with sculpture and stained glass. Some have a chapel inside.
   
Mausoleum Garden Crypts are housed in an outdoor mausoleum. These are similar to indoor mausoleums, but the crypts are visited outside rather than inside.
   
Lawn crypts Lawn Crypts are concrete enclosures that house caskets underground. They are similar to grave spaces, however, no outer burial container is used because the concrete enclosure serves the same purpose of supporting the earth.
Lawn crypts Lawn crypts may be built for one or two persons and may be configured side-by-side and/or several levels deep.
   
Niche Space


Columbarium
A niche is a space for interment of cremated remains. Niches are constructed in a columbarium, a free-standing structure, or are housed in an area within a mausoleum.
Mausoleum niches
Urns are often displayed in glass enclosed niches inside a mausoleum.
   
Scattering Garden


scattering garden Scattering garden refers to a designated area in a cemetery where cremated remains can be scattered.

See related topics:

Funeral Services — Sources at a Glance
Funeral Directors
Funeral Homes
Alternative Funeral Providers

Go to Funeral Guide — Index of Topics.