It's rarely easy when a loved one dies, but a prepaid burial plan can be a comfort to those left behind. Even those who elect not to pre-plan their funerals often make arrangements for their cemetery property in advance.
Understanding and buying burial plans can be confusing. We're here to help! In this article, we'll answer the following frequently asked questions:
What are the benefits of prepaid burial?
There are several reasons to consider a prepaid burial plan. Among them:
- It makes a difficult time a little easier. Purchasing cemetery property in advance reduces the number of decisions your loved ones face while they are grieving. That reduces their stress and relieves them from the emotional burden of trying to get things right.
- It eases the financial burden on your loved ones. Burial costs can be a hardship for many families. With a prepaid plan, your family won't have have to think about money for your cemetery property.
- You can plan to be surrounded by loved ones. By purchasing cemetery property now, you can ensure you stay together with your spouse in perpetuity. With , you can set aside spaces for children and even their families for generations.
- You can secure the property you desire. In some ways, the purchase of interment rights in a cemetery is like any other real estate investment. In certain places, especially in cities and vacation destinations, space is limited and sells quickly. Like other real estate, space near the water, under a stately tree or with a good view can increase in price faster than surrounding properties.
- It protects against rising costs. Once you have secured your cemetery interment rights, they're yours forever. That means that today's costs are locked in and can never be impacted by inflation.
- It provides peace of mind. Planning ahead can provide comfort and security for both you and your family.
What’s covered by a prepaid burial plan?
A basic prepaid cemetery plan includes:
- Right of interment in a particular cemetery space. Unlike other real estate purchases, when you purchase a gravesite, you are buying the rights to be buried in that spot. The cemetery property itself is held in a perpetual trust by the entity that owns the cemetery, for the benefit of all the people buried at the cemetery.
- Perpetual care. In the United States, most states require cemetery spaces to be maintained in perpetuity. This means that cemeteries deposit a portion of the proceeds from all sales into a maintenance fund that is held in trust and dedicated to the upkeep of the grounds and the graves. Usually the principal is protected from creditors, and only the interest on the principal can be used toward maintenance, ensuring that the funds will be available for keeping the cemetery beautiful forever.
Most cemeteries also offer optional advance purchases, such as:
- Grave marker or monument. Also called a headstone, a grave marker (flat) or monument (upright) is an important part of a final resting place. Usually made of granite or bronze, a marker or monument serves as a lasting remembrance of a loved one's life. Read about .
- A vault and its installation. Most state cemetery regulations require vaults, outer burial containers or grave liners. These containers house caskets underground, protecting them from damage that could occur from the weight of the earth above them, water or heavy machinery that may be used to reach other nearby burial spaces. They also protect the beauty of the cemetery by preventing settling of the earth over graves. No outer burial container can provide full protection from the elements, and they do not come with a guarantee.
In-ground burial options
Traditional in-ground burial involves being placed in the earth in a casket.
In-ground burial options include:
- Individual plots hold a single casket. It's common for families to purchase several plots together so that many members can be buried together.
- Lawn crypts have preinstalled outer burial containers, which means there's no need for a vault. Lawn crypts are available in single-depth or double-depth options, depending on the cemetery.
- Private estates include gated estates and hedge estates. A gated estate is typically kept private with a wall or a fence and a gate. Similarly, a hedge estate takes its name from the hedgerows that indicate that it's a private area. Private estates are more expensive than cemetery plots or lawn crypts.
Aboveground burial options
There are many types of aboveground burial spaces. Some are private and exclusive, while others are community options. They all can be personalized.
Among the aboveground burial options:
- Community mausoleums include garden mausoleums, with only outdoor crypts, and indoor mausoleums, which are usually climate controlled. Depending on the mausoleum and cemetery, options can include single spaces, side-by-side spaces and companion configurations.
- Private mausoleums are exclusive, custom-built spaces usually for an individual, couple or family. They can be built to hold traditional caskets, cremated remains or both. Because they can be more costly and take time to construct, private mausoleums are often built well in advance of need.
Cremation burial options
By 2023, the U.S. cremation rate is expected to reach 59.4%, according to the . Those who choose cremation for themselves or their family can opt for a permanent resting place in a cemetery. This gives friends, family and future generations a place to visit and remember. And some religions—including the Catholic faith—require ashes to be buried or entombed.
The many cremation options include:
- Cremation burial may be offered in an urn garden or within a traditional burial plot. In the case of the latter, some cemeteries allow more than one urn to be buried in a single gravesite, because urns don’t take up much space.
- Mausoleum niches may have granite, bronze or glass fronts. Glass-front niches allow for the display of an urn along with photos or small tokens of remembrance.
- Cremation memorials include granite benches, pedestals, boulders and more and can house the cremated remains of one or more people.
- Scattering gardens are cemetery sections where ashes can be scattered.
- Columbaria are banks of cremation niches for individual urns. A columbarium can be large or small, private or public.
- Ossuaries are chambers, often at the center of a columbarium or in an underground vault, where cremated remains are co-mingled. The individuals in an ossuary are typically memorialized with plaques nearby.
- Cremation memorial markers may be placed in cemeteries by families who choose to scatter ashes in a meaningful but far away place and wish to have a lasting honor for their loved ones, as well as a place to visit.
- Memorial spaceflight or reef burial are two of the newer cremation options offered by Dignity Memorial.
In addition to cemetery property, a prepaid burial plan might include other products or services, depending on your burial choice. Those items could include a casket, a vault, an urn, a marker and cemetery fees.
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What’s not covered by a prepaid burial plan?
Items offered by third-party providers are typically not included in a prepaid burial plan. Because both funeral homes and cemeteries are part of the Dignity Memorial network, you can usually select and prepay for all your funeral services and cemetery items. What is usually not included are things such as sales tax, a newspaper obituary, police escorts and state permits. You can, however, set aside money for these things in a prepaid plan.
It’s important to understand what’s included in your plan. When you sit down with a Dignity Memorial professional, he or she will walk you through all of your options and answer any questions you may have. In most cases, you can customize a prepaid burial plan—all you need to do is let us know what you have in mind.
Are opening and closing fees included in a prepaid burial plan?
Also called interment and recording fees, cemetery professional service fees or interment services fees, opening and closing fees cover much more than just digging a plot. Burial requires many steps, including internment verification, researching ownership records, surveying and marking, preparing the burial site, filing for permits, installing the vault, opening and closing the gravesite, installing the casket-lowering device, setting up canopies, chairs and astroturf, and landscaping the site after burial.
Because of the work, people and processes involved, opening and closing fees for casket burial can average as high as $1,900 or more, depending on the location. The opening and closing fee may also cost more on weekends or holidays. Mausoleum and urn entombment also incurs opening and closing fees, though inurnment fees are typically less than a casket burial fee, usually around $1,250.
People who prepay their funeral and purchased cemetery property often forget to include opening and closing fees, leaving family to deal with an unexpected bill that can be a sizable portion of the cemetery plot cost. Many cemeteries allow you to prepay and guarantee these fees, and some prepaid funeral plans can include a line for third-party items, which would be payable from the funeral home to the cemetery to cover this fee—though if the fee goes up, the family would need to pay the difference. Either way, you can prepay an opening and closing fee to ensure your family won’t be surprised.
How to prepay for a burial
According to the , the median funeral cost in the United States in 2019 ranged from $6,645 for a cremation with a viewing and memorial service to $9,135 for a funeral with a viewing, service and vault. When cemetery costs are factored in, the total median cost can exceed $10,000.
That's why when you are thinking about planning end-of-life details in advance, you want to look for a licensed provider with a good reputation—and then sit down with a planning professional and share your personal preferences, religious and family customs, and budget to plan a lasting place of remembrance. All Dignity Memorial cemeteries are licensed in their respective states or provinces and are backed by our . .
The first step in buying a prepaid burial space
The first step to secure your cemetery property is choosing a final resting place. Your religious, cultural and personal preferences will inform whether you want a traditional full-body burial or a permanent space for cremated ashes. You have many options, from beautiful , to above-ground or cremation placement in .
Your budget and the offerings at the cemetery you choose will also impact your decisions. Not all cemeteries have the same types of properties, but a cemetery tour can help you understand all of your choices.
Plan a beautiful, personal remembrance
Each life is like no other. Particular passions, milestone moments and legacies created weave together to tell a story that is completely unique. The Insider’s Guide to Funeral & Cremation Planning will walk you through inspirational ideas and the simple steps to planning an unforgettable memorial of a loved one’s life—or your own when you plan in advance. Get started today.