While preserving traditional burials should be a cemetery’s top preneed priority, a priority should also be placed on the surviving lot owner that is opting for cremation.  The Wirthlin studies that we’ve been referencing in prior posts suggest that most grave spaces sold by cemeteries during the past 20 years will never be used.  One Wirthlin finding indicated that only 16 percent of those surveyed planned to have their cremains buried in a grave space.  With a certain frequency, we see clients’ preneed funeral contracts being flipped from traditional burial to cremation by a surviving widow.  In arranging the burial of her husband, the widow was surprised to learn that the preneed funeral contract did not cover significant cemetery charges such as opening/closing services, a vault and a marker.  Not wanting to burden her children with those costs for her own burial, the widow frequently goes back to the funeral to change her prearrangement to cremation.

When the widow responds to cemetery marketing by expressing preference for cremation, the cemetery can attempt to make the traditional burial more affordable by offering installment funded prearrangement.  But if the widow has made up her mind about cremation, the cemetery needs to have options for inurnment of her cremains in her grave space, or with her husband’s remains in his grave space.  The latter is a popular choice for many widows, but cemetery rules and regulations may prohibit this option.

It is very common for a cemetery’s rules and regulations limit a standard grave space to the interment of a single human remain.  During a meeting of a state cemetery association, we asked the attendees how many allowed for a second interment of cremains to a lawn grave space.  Only about half answered yes.  By implication, that meant that most of those cemeteries had rules that would not allow multiple sets of cremains to be interred in a grave space.  Even though grave deeds may recite the single remains restriction, cemeteries can eliminate this type of restriction by an amendment to the rules and regulations.  The amendment could be limited to the situation were the first spouse had a traditional burial, and the surviving spouse desires cremation and to have his/her ashes buried with their mate.

When the rules and regulations are amended to allow for a second right of interment, the cemetery should also give thought to the remaining grave space.  When the surviving spouse transfers the grave space to children for their use, the cemetery rules could permit multiple cremains interments (below ground) or a family columbarium. Some cemeteries seek to preclude family columbariums because of additional maintenance costs.  Locating a columbarium or bench in the center of a lawn grave space requires more work from the mowing crew.  But to offset that, the cemetery can require a larger endowed care contribution.

In offering preneed burial plans to the prospective cremation client, cemeteries first need to revise their rules and regulations to address three cremation scenarios:  a combo traditional/cremation burial to one grave space,  multiple interments within one or paired spaces, and the above ground cremorial.