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#347 Consumer Rights: Cemetery Arrangements

mp3 #347 Cemetery Arrangements -- What Are your Rights? (mp3 file)

Selecting a cemetery may be based on religious or fraternal affiliations, or on the availability of a family plot. But if these are not factors in your selection, you should consider several cemetery alternatives.

Veterans and their families are eligible to be buried in veterans’ cemeteries. Contact the Veterans Administration for further information.

Public cemeteries are also a source of inexpensive gravesites, although you might have some difficulty finding empty spaces and there might be residency requirements. Check with our city or county offices.

At most cemeteries you may purchase space and services for earth burial, above ground burial or cremation.

Most individuals choose earth burial; this type of interment could include expenses for the gravesite, opening and closing of the grave, a grave vault or liner, a marker for the grave and endowment care.

1. Gravesite: The gravesite is priced according to its location in the cemetery - a plot on a hill under a tree will probably cost more than one on flat ground near the road. You may purchase a gravesite for single casket burial, burial of cremated remains, or burial of two caskets on top of each other. While the double casket burial in a lawn crypt may be presented as a less expensive way for two people to be buried, it is not necessarily practical unless both are buried at the same time. For instance, a wife may decide to buy a double crypt when her husband dies, feeling that she eventually wants to be buried with him. But she might later remarry and wish to be buried elsewhere, and it will be difficult to sell her space.

2. Opening and closing of the grave: The fee for this service is usually the same for all gravesites within the same cemetery. However, the fee may be higher for a multiple depth grave.

3. Grave vaults or liners. A grave vault or liner is not required by law, but will be required for most endowment care cemeteries. The vault is completely enclosed on all four sides and is usually made of cement with steel reinforcement; the linter does not have a bottom. Neither the vault nor the linter provide protection against the casket’s erosion, but rather keep the ground above the gravesite from sinking so that maintenance will be easier.

4. Markers: The cemetery decides what type of marker is permitted. A flat marker rather than a tombstone might be required in endowment care cemeteries so that the lawn can be mowed more easily. Some cemeteries permit both, usually depending on the section of the cemetery. Markers are available at independent monument firms, and you can compare prices with those offered by the cemetery. But be sure the marker meets the cemetery's specifications before you buy elsewhere. Also, there will be the same setting fee whether the marker is purchased from the cemetery or an independent dealer.

5. Endowment care: Cemeteries which have endowment care charge a fee which sets up a trust to provide income for caring and maintaining the grounds.

Above Ground Burial

Most cemeteries offer interment above ground in a columbarium for cremated remains and in a mausoleum for casket burials of uncremated remains. Above-ground burial may be more expensive, particularly for casket burial. The most expensive crypt location is the "heart line" or at "eye level." Question the real importance of not having to look up or down when visiting the deceased’s remains.


Cremation simply rapidly speeds up the natural process of decomposition. The body is reduced to ashes through the use of high heat at the cemetery's crematory. California law prohibits requiring a casket, but it does give the cemetery authority the right to require a container. These containers do not have to be purchased from the cemetery, but must meet the cemetery's specifications. After cremation, the ashes are put in an urn and may be placed in a columbarium niche or buried in the earth in a cemetery plot. Cremated remains may also be scattered or buried on private property, scattered at sea, or mailed by parcel post for interment elsewhere. If private property is used for burial, get the owner's written permission.

Donating Parts of Your Body

Many of today’s major medical achievements involve transplanting tissue or organs from one person to another, or using dead bodies for medical research. The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act allows you to donate all or parts of your body for these purposes without complicated legal procedures.

If you are considering any anatomical donation, first discuss it with your family. Such plans generally can only be made in advance and shou1d be clearly specified in writing. Investigate all the costs involved.

If you have a complaint that cemetery personnel will not resolve, write to: California Department of Consumer Affairs Cemetery and Funeral Board, 1625 North Market Boulevard, Suite S-208 Sacramento. CA 95834 (916) 574-7870,

Include copies of any contracts or other materials which support your case. The Board can mediate your complaint and revoke an establishment's license if necessary. You may also contact thee Board for information on whether or not the establishment is properly licensed.

A copy of the Cemetery Act and Guide to Cemetery Purchases is available from the Cemetery Board, California Department of Consumer Affairs.

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