Choosing a Cemetery: What To Look for and Where To Start

Planning for death is never easy. Whether planning for your passing or dealing with a horrible loss, there are many choices to make, one of which is choosing a cemetery.

When choosing a cemetery, you’ll want to look at factors such as cost, location, burial plot types, and if you are interested in cremation or not. You’ll also want to consider the kind of cemetery and whether that supports traditional or non-traditional burials.  

This article will detail the factors you’ll want to consider when choosing a cemetery. Asking these questions will help you sort through the various cemeteries you’re looking at and can ensure you get the exact resting place you want. Let’s get started!

Factors To Consider When Choosing a Cemetery

Choosing a cemetery for yourself or a loved one is an important decision you mustn’t take lightly. After all, a final resting place is, well, final. You’ll want to consider several factors before deciding on a cemetery. Here are some of these factors you may want to start thinking about if you haven’t already.

Type of Cemetery

Before getting into any other details, you’ll want to decide what type of cemetery you want. There are four main types of cemeteries for you to consider:

  • Religious Cemetery: Religious groups usually have designated private cemeteries for their followers. If you are part of a particular group and are interested in being buried in their cemetery, stop by your local church, mosque, or synagogue and ask them to help you coordinate.
  • Public Cemetery: The most common type of cemetery is a public cemetery. These are widely available, and you can easily find one through your funeral home.  
  • Municipal Cemetery: Cities and counties often own some cemeteries, municipal cemeteries. Depending on the town’s size, these may be hard to get into. To learn more about this option, contact your local town clerk.
  • Veterans’ Cemetery: Veterans and their families may also be interested in the government-owned veterans’ cemeteries. Those buried in a military cemetery can receive military honors at no charge to the family.

Burial Plot Options

When considering a cemetery, one thing you’ll want to ask is what types of burial plots you’re able to choose between. There are several different plot options depending on what will happen to the body and if you will bury the body alone.

For example, some cemeteries will only allow casket burials, so if you desire cremation, this may not be the best resting place for you, and vice versa.

You’ll also want to ask about family burials or double burials if they interest you. Often, families will choose to be buried together or close to each other. They may also choose alternative options such as an urn garden or a mausoleum.

If you’re interested in a family burial option, these are probably questions you’d like to ask when searching for a cemetery.

Proximity to Family and Friends

For many families, proximity to loved ones is essential when selecting a cemetery. Many choose cemeteries in their hometowns or places of significance for their families.

Additionally, the surviving family may want the option to visit their deceased loved one, so you may want to consider the wishes of both sides.

Military or Other Benefits

I’ve already discussed veterans’ cemeteries, but what if you (or a loved one) were military and now aren’t interested in those? Military members can still enjoy a host of benefits and discounts regarding burials and memorial items.

Those not honorably discharged from the military will likely qualify for burial benefits at private cemeteries, and their surviving loved ones may also receive benefits. These benefits include a headstone, burial flag, and a burial allowance.

Contact your local veteran’s affairs office if you or your loved one are interested in seeing if you qualify for these benefits. You may want to consider any information you learn before selecting a cemetery to ensure you choose one that is compatible with your benefits.

Plot Contracts

One factor that most people forget to consider is the plot contract. You may think that once you buy a burial plot, you own that plot forever. However, there are some states where that isn’t the case.

According to some state laws, a cemetery plot will be considered abandoned if the grave has no activity for 50 years or more. After that time, cemetery owners have full rights to reuse the grave site if they choose to do so. In 2017, a family in Florida experienced this firsthand. Unbeknownst to them, the cemetery had not received a current forwarding address for the plot of a loved one, and they placed a stranger on top of their father.

However, not all states have such laws. So, when searching for a plot, ask about the cemetery’s rules regarding grave abandonment and reuse.

Headstone and Grave Marker Options

Another factor you’ll want to consider includes the different headstone and grave marker options available for the cemetery you are considering. This factor can come as an afterthought to some families, so asking about these regulations ahead of time can save you some headaches in the long run.

Headstones come in different shapes, sizes, and colors, but it is essential to remember that not all cemeteries allow raised grave markers. Some facilities only allow flat grave markers that you may not be able to see from farther away. If a raised headstone is important to you or your family, you may want to consider that.

Fees and Prices

Lastly, one of the deciding factors when choosing a cemetery is how much it will cost. Burial plot pricing in a cemetery varies depending on the plot you purchase. However, in addition to the plot, some cemeteries may charge other fees you need to factor into your total price tag.

Some of those items include:

  • Vault, grave liners, or burial container (if required)
  • Maintenance fees
  • Grave marker installation
  • Permits required
  • Labor for the burial

It is crucial to thoroughly discuss all the costs for a specific cemetery so you aren’t surprised by any hidden fees down the road.

While having this conversation, it may also be a good idea to ask about any discounts available that you can take advantage of. Some cemeteries will offer different packages that can help families save costs.

Remember, cemetery prices can vary between facilities. If you aren’t happy with the price at one location, you can always look elsewhere for a better price. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a final resting place you know isn’t the right fit for you or your loved one.

Wisconsin cemetary in early Autumn.

How To Choose a Burial Plot

When choosing a cemetery, you’ll need to consider what type of burial and plot you want. For example, if you plan to have a casket, you’ll need a different kind of plot than if you plan to bury your ashes in an urn.

You’ll also need to decide if you want to have a single, family, or double plot. This consideration may change your cemetery options and how much the burial will cost.

Burial Plot Pricing (Ashes and Casket)

In general, if you choose to bury a casket instead of an urn, you can expect to pay more money for the plot. Plots for traditional caskets can cost anywhere from $525 to $5,000, while plots for urns will likely cost between $350 and $2,500.

If you’re choosing to go with a multi-plot such as a family plot or double casket, you may be able to save some money in the long run.

For example, if the cemetery allows a double casket, you will save on the labor of digging two plots and the cost of the second casket. Additionally, many cemeteries will offer discounts when you buy more than one plot at a time, making the companion and family plot options more attractive.

Grave Vault or Not

It is also essential to find out if the cemetery you are considering requires a casket to have a grave vault. The grave vault is a container in which the casket is placed for burial. This vault helps protect the casket by providing extra support so the ground doesn’t sink above it.

Today, most cemeteries require some type of vault or grave liner for caskets because it helps keep the ground stable in the cemetery and looks better for the graveyard.

But what if you are choosing cremation? If you plan to bury your urn, you may still need to purchase a burial vault.

Because a vault is something you’ll need to purchase up front, it is good to ask about the rules at the particular cemetery when discussing different plot options.

Alternative Burial Options

So, we’ve discussed in detail the factors you need to consider when choosing a traditional cemetery. But what if a conventional cemetery doesn’t fit your needs?

There are other burial options and, therefore, different types of cemeteries that may be more suitable to some families. Here are a few of those options:

Family Cemeteries

Some families choose to create a family cemetery instead of paying to bury loved ones in a more traditional public or private cemetery. While many family cemeteries were established long ago, it is perfectly legal to start one if a traditional cemetery isn’t appealing to your family.

If this is an option you are interested in, check all local and state laws before moving forward with your burial planning.

Ash Scattering

While many people choose to bury ashes after cremation, that isn’t the only option. Ash scattering, which allows loved ones to select one or more final resting places that aren’t in a traditional cemetery, is also popular.

However, keep in mind that spreading ashes isn’t as easy as they make it look in the movies. There are regulations regarding where and when you can place the ashes of a deceased loved one.

Before spreading the ashes, research the laws around where you’re looking to place them, as there may be some local laws to consider.

Green Burial

With environmentalism on the rise in the U.S., many people are considering more eco-friendly options instead of traditional burials and cemeteries. Recent studies have shown that conventional burials harm the environment because of the different chemicals used to embalm the body and the materials used during the burial.

Consequently, green burials are becoming more and more popular. These burials allow for natural decomposition. Bodies are not chemically embalmed and are buried in a fully compostable container.

Not every cemetery will permit green or natural burial options. If this is a route you are interested in pursuing, you may want to seek out a non-traditional cemetery or ask if they have any eco-friendly options up front. 

How To Start Choosing a Cemetery

While death is a complicated subject, it is important to start talking about it. Funeral planning affects the entire family emotionally and financially, so the sooner you start talking about final wishes, the better.

If you are having trouble getting the conversation started, here is a list of questions to begin with:

  • Do you want to be buried or cremated?
  • Do you want to rest in a traditional or non-traditional cemetery?
  • Are you interested in a natural burial?
  • Are you a military member who would like to take advantage of a veterans’ cemetery or other military benefits?
  • Where do you want to be?
  • Do you want anyone else to be there with you?
  • What is your burial budget?
  • Are there wishes from other loved ones you’d like to consider?

Final Thoughts

Choosing a cemetery can be difficult, but the process doesn’t have to be overwhelming. If you go into the conversation prepared, you are more likely to choose an option that is right for you and your loved ones.

Before choosing a cemetery, ask yourself the questions outlined in this article, such as what type of burial you want, where you want the resting place to be, and what price you are willing to pay.

These discussions will save you and your loved ones a lot of headaches and money in the long run.


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Alex Noel

Hi there! I'm Alex Noel and live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I started this website to share my experience. My goal is to provide Americans a more fulfilling goodbye.

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