Burial vaults are an interesting phenomena of the death care industry in the United States. These, often elaborate, containers are intended to protect a casket from the elements that may settle around it in a grave as the casket slowly disintegrates over time. Their necessity has been very much in question since the first company in the United States began selling them on a large scale in the 1930’s. The company was simply looking for another line of revenue for its casket making business , and found that the idea of burial vaults was appealing to many customers who wanted to buried their deceased loved ones in style. Customers of modern day funeral homes and cemeteries often question the purpose of burial vaults, which can add, a minimum of $500 to the cost of a burial (and some models can cost as much as $10,000), and this article attempts to clear up some of the common questions.
What the Law Says About Burial Vaults
State and federal laws are mostly silent on the topic of burial vaults. We say “mostly” because there are thousands of laws in the United States that directly relate to cemeteries and funeral homes, and it’s possible that a few of them that related to particular jurisdictions do mention burial vaults specifically. But, except for these relatively obscure possibilities, governments at all levels in the United States keep the question of burial vaults strictly between cemeteries and the customers they serve.
But that said, federal law, under the Funeral Rule does make it illegal for employees of a funeral home to make false statements about burial vaults or anything related to the death care products their company offers. Consumer advocates, therefore, advise that any attempt by a funeral home employee to convince a customer that any law requires the purchase of a burial vault should be treated with caution. Ask for a written reference to the particular law, the advocates urge. If none is forth coming, then a report to the Federal Trade Commission of a possible violation of the Funeral Rule may be in order. Unfortunately, consumer advocates say, the Funeral Rule does not apply to employees of a cemetery, so false statements about burial vault laws are not necessarily in violation of federal law if uttered by a cemetery employee, but they should be verified by a customer anyway. Cemeteries and funeral homes do have a vested interest, of course, in convincing their customers that burial vaults are required by law.
The (unfortunate, from many people’s perspective) fact is that burial vaults are required by cemeteries themselves, not by any law. Because the usefulness and effectiveness of vaults have been almost universally questioned by experts not involved in selling the products, consumers are typically advised to find another cemetery if the one with whom they are trying to do business requires them to purchase a vault. The trouble for consumers is that, when all cemeteries in a particular area require vaults for their graves, they are left with little choice in the matter.
What Types of Burial Vaults are Available
Because the state of today’s death care industry often leaves consumers in the unfortunate position of having to buy a burial vault that they do not need or want, it is important for families to understand their options for a burial vault.
Vaults are available in a great number of styles and very hearty, non-degradable materials. While some are extremely elaborate and artistically designed, it is important for consumers to remember that a vault is rarely seen by anyone other than those who may be present as it is installed in a grave. It is perhaps true that future generations of archeologists will find an elaborate vault and be impressed by it, but that chance seems, to many experts, too remote to justify the thousands of dollars that such a vault would cost.
The best vaults for those who feel forced into buying one are the least expensive. At most cemeteries, the simplest vaults are made of concrete and are actually referred to as “burial liners” instead of vaults. Burial liners are typically manufactured in three pieces (two sides and a top) and are installed around the casket after it has been placed in a grave. With a liner, the casket sits atop naked earth, but is protected from the elements on the sides and the top. Other vaults are designed with four walls including a top that is very securely attached after the casket has been placed inside.
Why Do Cemeteries Say Burial Vaults Are Necessary
Cemeteries typically say landscaping is their chief concern in requiring burial vaults be installed in all graves. They claim that the vaults prevent the ground from caving in around the caskets, creating unsightly, even dangerous, pockets throughout their property. Cemetery managers typically argue that the non-degradable nature of the vaults is a necessity if cemetery personnel are to be able to efficiently maintain their property using heavy lawn equipment that has become the norm in recent years.
Are Burial Vaults Really Necessary
Consumer advocates argue that vault seals are not guaranteed to be permanent. This means that, in many cases, elements leak into the vault and cause the ground above to crater slightly anyway. Further, natural settling of the dirt in the six feet between the surface and the top of a vault is likely to create problematic pockets anyway. A quick tour of just about any cemetery that requires burial vaults will usually reveal many imperfections in the level of the ground. Cemetery landscapers usually tend to these blemishes by simply filling in the wholes with sand or dirt. And consumer advocates wonder why that’s not a solution, also, for repairing divots that may be left by un-vaulted graves.
Though many United States cemeteries require vaults, there is much doubt as to whether they are necessary or not. Consumers are urged to use great caution when ordering a vault.