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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 as a means of temporarily preserving a body, a whole new industry arose to care for the dead. Until a generation ago, burial with emblaming and open-casket viewing was the norm. 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 there has been a return to the practice 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 Home Funerals & Green Burial.

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 Member Prices & Plans. For information about cemeteries, see the section below.

While full body burial at sea is more commonly associated with deaths occurring on the high seas, it is a legal option for anyone. Burial at sea is regulated by the EPA and requires a permit, detailed procedures, and notification of the EPA within 30 days.

If an individual is a veteran, they 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 apply to the spouse as well. For more information visit the Veterans section of this website.


There are a wide variety of cemeteries in Washington State, ranging from prairie grass cemeteries in rural areas to high end cemeteries with manicured lawns and gardens with water features. The State of Washington requires that some cemeteries have an endowment fund to provide for the long-term maintenance of the cemetery property, however there are many cemeteries in the state that do not have such reserves. Before you purchase cemetery property, inquire whether or not there is an endowment fund and the sufficiency of the funds to pay for the maintenance of the cemetery in perpetuity. For a list of cemeteries at which PMA members receive a discount, visit the Green Burial Options page.

Consumers should understand that when they 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, which is called a “right of interment.” The cemetery owns the property. As a result, the cemetery owner also has the right to establish rules and regulations regarding how you may use that property. Before you purchase cemetery property, ask to see a copy of their current rule and regulations, but also be aware that they may change at any time.

Some cemeteries offer not only ground burial but also interment in a mausoleum, which is an above-ground structure. Many cemeteries also have ground plots for cremated remains as well as a columbarium, which is an above-ground structure for urns. Most cemeteries now allow the interment of pets or cremated remains of pets in human cemeteries.

The price of cemetery plots in Washington state may range from as little as a few hundred dollars in rural areas to $25,000 or more at some cemeteries in the Seattle area. Keep in mind that in addition to the purchase price for the right of interment, there will be a required contribution to the endowment fund, opening and closing costs (digging the grave and filling it back in), cost of grave vault or liner (which may also be purchased from funeral home), and whatever type of monument you may choose. To help you compare prices, we have created a Cemetery Cost Worksheet.

You may save thousands of dollars on cemetery property by purchasing it on the second hand market rather than directly from a cemetery. Cemetery lots for sale are commonly posted on Craigslist. In addition, People's Memorial Association has a program where donated cemetery plots are resold, with the proceeds being used to fund the PMA Indigent Cremation Fund. For more information on this program visit the Buy Plots page of this website.