How Long Do You Own a Cemetery Plot? Rights and Laws

Published January 25, 2021
New burial plot markers

When considering a cemetery plot, one of the questions that arises concerns the plot itself. People may wonder, how long do you own a cemetery plot? There are several points that need to be taken into consideration about cemetery plot ownership.

How Long Do You Own a Cemetery Plot?

The question itself reflects the confusion that surrounds the purchase of a piece of land for burial. When a cemetery plot is purchased, most of the time what is actually being bought is a "Grant of Exclusive Right of Burial." Ultimately, you are purchasing the right to decide who will be buried in the property. The time can be open-ended, but often the set period runs between 25 and 100 years. "Purchasing" a cemetery plot is more like agreeing to a lease.

The Lease Can Be Renewed

When the lease runs out, a letter is sent to the owner offering the opportunity to renew the lease. A new time period is agreed upon, along with a new price purchasing the lease. When the lease is renewed, the rights of ownership often stay the same. If the lease is not renewed, two situations usually occur.

Angel overlooking burial plot
  • If the property has not been used, the property reverts back to the actual land owner. The property can then be leased to someone new.
  • If the property has been used and a person has been buried, the plot will not be disturbed, but the headstone may be removed. Additional burials make take place in the plot depending on the size and style of the plot. If the owner of the lease knows the lease will not be renewed, often the lease will be personally resold in order to recoup some of the cost.

The Lease Can Be Passed on to the Next of Kin

The owner of the lease can pass on the cemetery plot in a couple of ways. The owner can offer the plot to a family member in order to become a joint owner of the property. The authorities of the cemetery need to be informed of the transaction. The surviving owner becomes the sole owner in the event of a death. If there is not a joint owner, the Executor or Administrator of the Estate becomes the responsible party. Ownership will be transferred according to the laws of the state. The plot can be given to one family member if all those with an inheritance stake consent. If a will is present, the wishes in the will are followed.

The Lease Can Be Sold

In most circumstances, a pre-owned burial plot can be sold by private individuals. Burial plans change due to relocation, divorce, or remarriage. Financial difficulties often prompt the resale of property. The land is usually offered at a discounted rate.

The Land May Be Reclaimed

There are many laws that govern the use of property for burial. In some states, there are laws which allow the actual owner of the land to reclaim the space if a large amount of time passes with no activity at the gravesite. Normally the amount of time is at least 50 years. The amount and kind of activity is often declared in the lease.

Old cemetery burial plot

Special Circumstances May Affect the Lease

The answer to the question, "How long do you own a cemetery plot?" can become even more complicated. Several issues can interact with the length of time the lease can stand.

State Laws

Cemeteries are usually regulated by the state government. Particular laws vary from state to state. Local regulations of the cemetery can also dictate the amount of time and the conditions for lease renewal. It is important to know the laws that govern the cemetery where a plot is purchased.

Type of Cemetery

Private and public cemeteries are often governed by different laws. Individual cemetery policies may be dictated by those laws. Private cemeteries, including gravesites attached to churches, often have limited space. Public cemeteries, including probate cemeteries, may have a longer life span of the lease. Plots for green burials often include larger landscape areas and a less than traditional setting which increases the value.

Type of Plot

In addition to the type of cemetery, the type of plot can also affect the lease. The higher the value of the property, the more likely that changes will need to be made. Several factors affect the outcome.

Woman cleaning gravestone
  • The location of the plot - Location is a factor within the area, and within the cemetery itself.
  • Single space plot - Single space lots hold one casket. It is the most common type of plot.
  • Companion plots - Companion plots are two spaces bought together. These are often used for couples. The value of this type of property obviously increases. The companion plots can be side-by-side or double-depth.
  • Family plots. A family plot is a group of spaces that can be used to bury several members of the family. Plots can be purchased in a row or in a geometric shape. One large headstone identifies the family, with smaller markings for the individuals. The value of this property increases with size.

Cemetery Reuse Because of Space Shortage

In some areas, reusing graves has become an accepted practice. This normally occurs because of a critical shortage of grave spaces, especially in urban areas.

Cemetery Reuse Because of Development

There are times when cemetery use is suspended because of development. Public development has often caused cemeteries to be relocated and destroyed. If the plot had not been used, the lease may be cancelled.

Cemetery Property Uncertainty

There is no way to guarantee that a gravesite or cemetery will be undisturbed forever. The answer to "How long do you own a cemetery plot" can be determined as long as you understand that the transaction is more of a lease or an easement, and that unforeseen circumstances may alter the length of time or the location.

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How Long Do You Own a Cemetery Plot? Rights and Laws