How do cemeteries make money?
June 23, 2005 1:58 PM   Subscribe

How do cemeteries make money?

When I go to a cemetary to look up where someone is buried, there is a person there to help me look up the name. There are also presumably many other daily maintenance chores (outside of the actual burials). So the question is, do they just keep making money on new funerals? Because eventually, they're just going to run out of land, and therefore money, right? Or do the "memorial" memberships pay enough to maintain the property and the funeral expenses themselves just pay for the individual funerals?
posted by Steve Simpson to Work & Money (8 answers total)
AskGoogle brings up this page which includes this paragraph, which indicates that the huge fee of burying someone is invested in a perpetual care fund:

The burial business can involve unexpected costs. Cemeteries can charge twice as much for placing the marker as for the plot itself, for example, and the marker can cost four times as much. Digging and filling the hole is an additional cost, generally $1,000. Today, the cost of the plot itself is minimized — both as a marketing ploy and because the cemetery has to pay 10 percent of the cost of the plot into a perpetual care fund. It almost makes sense to give away the plot and charge a bundle for associated services. In fact, a lot of cemeteries do give away plots, or offer two-for-one deals.
posted by jazon at 2:13 PM on June 23, 2005

Some areas have public cemeteries, which are maintained with funds collected by a cemetery taxing district. Everyone within a certain distance of the cemetery pays a share of their property tax to help maintain it.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:33 PM on June 23, 2005

I work in a public cemetery in Norway and we get most of the money to maintain the cemetery from the city council, and therefore paid for through taxes by the inhabitants of the city.

Funerals are mostly paid for by the relatives of the dead although only a small amount of money goes to the cemetery directly, mainly rent of our chapel, and payment to dig the hole. If there are nobody left behind or they have problems paying there is a public fund that will pay. Stones are paid for by the family to a stone cutter, if not the grave only get a wooden cross.

Income: After 20/25 years (depending whether you have a urn or coffin-plot) you have to pay a fee to the cemetery to keep the plot and gravestone. Of not we take the stone away and a new person may be buried there. Furthermore you can "preorder" a plot (like beside your partner) or have a family plot which you pay for per year before somebody is buried there. Aside from that the family or a special fund (for i.e. war graves, graves of historic interest) can pay us to maintain the particular grave and/or gravestone, planting and caring for flowers on the graves.

But most of your expenses, which there are many - machinery and general maintenance; cutting grass, hedges, trees, taking away old stones, clearing snow and leaves and spraying paths with herbicide, and most of the general maintenance is, as said paid for through taxes.
posted by mummimamma at 3:14 PM on June 23, 2005

All cemeteries are different. But, yeah, for the most part, there are all kinds of ways they can generate funds:
Taxes, hefty upfront fees, some sell headstones, some sell vaults. Some charge for the opening/closing of the graves.

For the most part, we refer to it as "the most expensive real estate you'll ever own." Unless, of course, you take into account that you'll own it forever.
posted by ColdChef at 4:19 PM on June 23, 2005

Well, in my state (Connecticut) the law restricts ownership of cemeteries and burial grounds to towns, ecclesiastical associations and a special kind of corporation called a "cemetery association."

Cemetery associations aren't allowed to conduct business for private gain.

In the case of crypts and mausoleums, management is required to set aside one hundred dollars from the proceeds of the sale of each crypt to a perpetual maintenance fund. Although this doesn't appear to be a requirement in the case of regular burial plots, the law is structured in a way that strongly encourages the establishment of a trust to take care of a cemetery. Plus, towns are allowed to take over if a cemetery is neglected.

CT cemetery law can get pretty esoteric:

You can be fined up to ten dollars for opening a grave without permission of the superintendent, assuming you were aware of the cemetery's bylaws beforehand.

You as a plot owner have ten years to get a past due account up to date before they can sell your plot out from under you.

Cemeteries have to allow tombstones and markers at the grave of any "soldier, sailor or marine," or pay a $50 fine.

You can't sell spots in a public crypt or mausoleum until it's finished.

And though it doesn't answer your question, here's a fun story about cemeteries in my fair city of Bridgeport: P.T. Barnum convinced the city and state to establish the Mountain Grove cemetery during the rural cemetery movement of the mid-19th century. What usually gets overlooked in most accounts of his public service is that the retired butcher he hired to handle moving about 4,000 bodies from the old municipal cemetery to the new one wasn't all that big on matching bodies with headstones or even doing a complete job. Skeletons and headstones turned up from time to time at the site of the old cemetery at least until pretty recently.
posted by Opposite George at 7:53 PM on June 23, 2005

A friend was recently telling me that when they went to find a plot for her father's ashes, the crematorium (privately owned, presumably) were charging $1100 for a plain plot in their garden with a plaque, and $2000 for a plot with a rose bush planted on it.

In New Zealand I believe cemeteries are City Council property and so maintained and financially managed like any city park. I don't believe there's a time limit on plots here yet, but we still have land to spare, especially with the popularity of cremation.
posted by tracicle at 9:45 PM on June 23, 2005

In some places, you only get the plot for a period of time, then you're replaced. Vaults aren't allowed, you're expected to rot.
posted by Goofyy at 1:00 AM on June 24, 2005

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