3 Reasons to Buy a Cemetery Plot in Advance

Purchasing a gravesite before you actually need it can offer several advantages

A Headstone
Photo © Rob Atkins/Getty Images

Despite the growing interest in cremation during the past several decades, ground burial of a deceased human body remains the primary form of disposition in many countries worldwide, such as the United States, Poland and Italy, and in areas where religious beliefs prohibit bodily disposition by fire. This article explores three reasons you might want to buy a cemetery plot before you die, and the advantages that buying a gravesite in advance of death can offer if interment in a cemetery (whether above or below ground) is your preferred form of final disposition.

"They Ain't Makin' No More"
Explaining why he continually invested his money in oceanfront property, humorist Will Rogers once said, "For the sole reason that there was only so much of it and no more, and that they wasent [sic] making any more." Land is indeed a finite resource, and any real-estate agent will tell you that the most important rule governing a property's purchase price is "Location, Location, Location." Two identical houses placed on significantly different properties -- one with a beautiful ocean view and the other overlooking a crowded landfill, for example -- will sell for vastly different sums.

The same principle governs the cost of a cemetery plot. The desirability of a particular gravesite, specifically, and the availability of plots within a particular cemetery, generally, drive demand and therefore the amount of money people are willing to pay.

Despite the existence of more than 40,000 cemeteries in the United States alone that regularly inter human remains, many graveyards today face a harsh reality: they cannot create more burial space and will eventually run out of room.

Add to this the decreasing amount of land available for use as a cemetery due to the inexorable spread of residential and business development, zoning restrictions, and the fact that many existing cemeteries are now landlocked because of urban expansion, and it's easy to understand why some graveyards will eventually need to hang "No Vacancy" signs on their main gates.

In addition, even cemeteries with plenty of available space for the next several decades have fully plotted -- cookie-cutter fashion -- the most-efficient use of that real estate in order to maximize the number of saleable gravesites and then priced these plots according to geographic desirability. Unfortunately, there are far fewer pastoral sites beneath shady oak trees atop grassy hills than there are run-of-the-mill plots lost among row after row of tombstones breaking up otherwise nondescript acreage. Guess which type of site sells soonest.

Thus, purchasing a gravesite sooner rather than later generally offers you not only a greater number of sites from which to choose within any given cemetery, but also a larger selection of desirable locations.

Death, Taxes and the CPI
According to Benjamin Franklin, only death and taxes were certainties, but if he still lived today, he would probably add the fact that just about everything grows more expensive over time. (The U.S. federal government's Consumer Price Index, or CPI, reflects this increase in the average price of goods through the years.) For example, in 1991, the average price of a gallon of gas across the United States was $1.10, a new car generally ran $9,989, and Americans spent about $125,500 for the average house.

That same year, the cost of a regular adult funeral averaged $3,742.

Today, a typical adult funeral runs more than $6,600 (a figure that doesn't even reflect the cost of a cemetery plot and headstone, among other funerary items), and consumers can only dream of buying a house, a car or gas at 1991 prices. Even disregarding the desirability of a particular item (as noted above) and how it affects price, the growth of any given population (among other factors) increases the cost of finite-resource goods, i.e., more people wanting the same item means some of them can/are willing to spend more for it than others.

Therefore, buying a gravesite sooner rather than later likely means that the price you pay now for a plot will be less than you will pay in the future.

The Luxury of Time
Another significant advantage of buying a gravesite in advance of death is the ability to "shop around." While the idea of comparing the plots offered by two or more cemeteries might seem odd, purchasing a gravesite without the pressure of imminently burying a loved one allows you to weigh your options more clearly without feeling clouded by grief and loss. The numerous decisions that must be made following the death of someone you love can prove burdensome when planning a funeral and burial because of the time constraints involved. Grappling with a myriad of choices in the midst of sadness, it is common to select services and options without too much thought simply because the immediacy of getting things done demands it.

On the other hand, by shopping for a cemetery plot before it is needed, you eliminate such pressure and can think clearly. With the luxury of time on your side, you can fully research your options, preplan your funeral and burial, prepare a list of questions to ask, and even tour the cemetery in advance.

Sources:
"Will Rogers on Real Estate." www.willrogerstoday.com. Retrieved August 20, 2013. http://www.willrogerstoday.com/will_rogers_quotes/quotes.cfm?qID=7

"Final resting place: Cemeteries lack oversight," May 20, 2012. www.cbsnews.com. Retrieved August 20, 2013. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57437573/cemetery-misconduct-raises-concerns

"Why You Are Paying So Much for Gas" by John T. Harvey, April 26, 2011. www.forbes.com. Retrieved August 25, 2013. http://www.forbes.com/sites/johntharvey/2011/04/26/why-you-are-paying-so-much-for-gas

"Prices in the 90s." www.inthe90s.com. Retrieved August 25, 2013. http://www.inthe90s.com/prices.shtml

"General Price List Survey." www.nfda.org. Retrieved August 25, 2013. http://nfda.org/about-funeral-service-/trends-and-statistics.html. Note: The figures cited above do not reflect the cost of cemetery and monument/marker costs or miscellaneous cash-advance charges, such as for flowers or obituaries.

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