Burial traditions across many cultures have one thing in common—that a permanent resting place is essential for honoring and remembering loved ones. When considering burial options for yourself or a loved one, be sure to choose a burial option (ground burial, interment in a crypt, natural burial, burial at sea, etc.) that seems befitting for both your loved one and family.
What Does a Traditional Burial Entail?
Funeral homes or services that provide traditional burial typically offer a full-service option that includes fees for the funeral director and staff, transportation of body, embalming, burial containers (casket and vault), facilities for a visitation or viewing, arrangements for memorial or funeral services, graveside services, opening-and-closing costs (gravesite preparation, back-filling, and landscaping), and the hearse and other necessary vehicles. Financial preparations could also include the cost of a cemetery lot or crypt, perpetual care of gravesite (sometimes added onto the total cost of a lot), a grave liner (if necessary), and the grave marker, monument, or headstone (which could include fees for installation).
Know Your Options
Choices for burial options can vary greatly, depending on your preferences and budget. Cemeteries typically provide most, or all, of these property options for selection and purchase:
- Single burial space – used for the burial of one person or cremated remains
- Double-depth space – used for two individual persons, one buried at a deeper depth and the other buried at a normal depth on top of the first
- Family lot – a designated area used for multiple family members
- Mausoleum – a building, public or private, for above-ground placement of caskets within crypt spaces.
- Private Mausoleum – a building, typically an adorned stand-alone building, that houses the remains of family members and creates a space of private visitation
- Community Mausoleums – a community, usually climate-controlled building, where families can select the location and level of crypt and personalize crypt plates and crypt markers
What Should I Ask Before I Buy Cemetery Property?
Be sure to do a little research on your area cemeteries to determine which options best fit your needs before purchasing cemetery property (burial spaces, lawn crypts, or mausoleums). There are three types of cemeteries:
- Private cemetery – private property designated as a cemetery in which lots or burial spaces are not sold to the public and in which burials are restricted to members of a family by blood or marriage or friends of the family.
- Public cemetery – a privately owned or municipal cemetery property in which burial spaces and lots are sold to the public.
- National or state cemetery – a government-owned cemetery in which eligible veterans, their spouses, and dependents may be buried at little or no cost to the family. Learn more about veteran’s burial benefits.
Many cemeteries include fees for maintenance of the grounds, sometimes included in the property value, so be sure to inquire whether or not perpetual care is included or if fees can be expected for upkeep of the gravesite and any monuments, headstones, or markers that will be present. You may also want to request information about any rules or regulations that the cemetery might enforce, such as types of monuments or markers permitted, seasonal decorations on graves, the allowance of grave candles, and rules about flower placement.
Caskets come in many different materials and a variety of price points. The selection of a casket is solely up to you and your family. Modern caskets are typically made of wood or metal and are lined by varying kinds of interior fabric. The cost typically depends on the materials used for construction. Some caskets (typically made of metal) are designed to withstand outside elements, while others, such as those used in green burials (made of hemp, wicker, and other biodegradable materials) are meant to encourage the process of decomposition.
Outer Burial Container Options
In order to prevent uneven landscapes and avoid ground sinking, most cemeteries require that an outer burial container, typically referred as a burial vault, to be placed around the casket in the ground. Costs of outer burial containers can vary, but most containers are constructed from concrete and metal.
Natural burial, or green burial, is a burial with minimal impact on the environment. Green burials may include nontoxic, biodegradable casket or a burial shroud. There is usually no embalming, or if embalming must take place, eco-friendly embalming fluid can be used. A green burial takes place in a dedicated green cemetery or natural preserve. Please note that green burial grounds are not available everywhere. Check the Green Burial Council’s website for a listing of certified green burial providers. A more natural burial can also be practiced in a conventional cemetery by allowing a wood or biodegradable casket to come into contact with the earth. If a vault or grave liner is required by the cemetery, it may be turned upside down without a lid to allow the casket to degrade naturally.
What if traditional burial isn’t right for me?
The most common alternative to burial is cremation. Another option is donation of a body to medical science, however, this is not a true form of disposition since the body is usually cremated and returned to the family after about a year. Examples of less common forms of disposition are burial at sea, alkaline hydrolysis, also known as water cremation, aquamation, or resomation.
Ancient forms of disposition include mummification, exposure or sky burial, practiced by Tibetans and some Native American tribes.
The most recent developments in body disposition include cryogenic freezing, space burial, plastination (preservation of body parts by replacing water and fat with plastics), and promession (freeze drying with liquid nitrogen and using vibration and dehydration to reduce the body to a dry powder).
Please note that not all forms of disposition are legally recognized by each state. Check with your state and local laws and regulations to ensure that the disposition method you wish to use is legally available in your state. You may also transfer a body to another location where your chosen form of disposition may be legally carried out.