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Burial & Cemeteries

Burial & Cemeteries

Humans have been burying their dead for approximately 200,000 years. Here in the U.S., prior to the Civil War and the advent of embalming, burial was primarily handled by families and religious communities. With the art of embalming to temporarily preserve a body, a whole new industry arose to care for the dead. Then, burial with emblaming and open-casket viewing became the norm. However, it is possible to have burial without embalming for those who choose not to have it.

Orthodox Jews, Christians, and Muslims continue to practice burial for religious reasons. For others, burial is simply a personal preference. In recent years, people have returned to the practices of families caring for their own dead at home, as well as burial without any chemical preservation or concrete cemetery vault or liner.  All of these options are available in Washington State. To learn more, visit the page Green Options.

Keep in mind that burial involves not only funeral home costs, but also cemetery expenses.

For a better idea of funeral home prices, see the website section Why be a Member?. For information about cemeteries, see the section below.

Full body burial at sea is a legal option for anyone although it is more commonly associated with deaths occurring on the high seas. Burial at sea is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and requires a permit, detailed procedures, and notification to the EPA within 30 days.

Veterans may qualify for numerous benefits that can greatly reduce these costs, including free cemetery costs at a state or national veterans' cemetery. Some veterans benefits also apply to the spouse. Visit the Veterans section of this website for more information.


Cemeteries

Range of Choice and Prices:  Cemeteries in Washington State range widely from simple, rural prairie grass cemeteries to high-end cemeteries with manicured lawns and gardens with water features.  Some offer both ground burial and interment in a mausoleum (an above-ground structure); and for cremated remains both ground plots and columbarium (above-ground structures for urns).   Most cemeteries now allow the interment of pets or their cremated remains in human cemeteries.  Price vary according to location and complexity, from a few hundred dollars for a simple rural location to $25,000 or more at some Seattle area cemeteries.

Ownership and Rights:  Because cemetery owners own the property itself, when consumers purchase a cemetery plot, they are not actually buying a piece of real estate but simply the right to be buried in a particular plot, called a “right of interment.”  Therefore, the cemetery owner has the right to establish rules and regulations regarding how that property can be used.  So before you purchase cemetery property, obtain a copy of its current rules and regulations, and realize that the cemetery owner may change them at any time.

Endowment Funds:  Washington State requires some - but not all - cemeteries to have an endowment fund to cover their long-term maintenance.  So before purchasing a cemetery plot, find out if it has an endowment fund to maintain the cemetery property in perpetuity, and that such a fund will be sufficient for that purpose.  If you select a plot in a cemetery with an endowment fund, expect to be required to contribute to that fund.

Other Costs:  Beyond purchasing a right of internment and contributing to any mandatory endowment fund, other costs include those to:  open and close the grave (dig it and fill it back in); purchase the grave vault or liner (which can be purchased from the funeral home); obtain and install any type of monument chosen, and of course for the funeral arrangements themselves.  The Cemetery Cost Worksheet we created helps you compare prices. 

How to Save Money:  You can save thousands of dollars by purchasing the right of interment on the second-hand market rather than directly from a cemetery.  Cemetery lots for sale are commonly posted on Craigslist, at www.craigslist.org.  In addition, People’s Memorial Association re-sells donated cemetery plots and uses the proceeds to fund its Cremation Assistance Fund.  Visit the Buy Plots page of this website for more information on this program. 

Visit the Green Burial Options page for a list of cemeteries that provide PMA members a discount.

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