Especially in this age of “perpetual care” provisions written in to cemetery plot sales contracts (and prices), cemetery maintenance is often looked upon as a job for someone else. And, doing the financial math, makes this even more popular a sentiment for people who have busy lives these days and don’t relish the idea of spending their hard-won weekends hanging out at the cemetery with a weed eater, hoe, and bucket of water. The average perpetual care fee, after all, is about $450. That, in itself, will usually pay for a year or so of lawn mowing service at a typical family home. When you tally up the semi-annual compounded interest of 10-15 percent that the cemetery gets on that money – and then consider that you’ve paid for care of just a tiny portion of a large piece of property (on which many others are paying too) – resentment of the (money grubbing?) folks in the cemetery’s front office can be a natural result. Why would anyone want to waste a moment worrying about cemetery maintenance?
Well, the sad fact is, even the most expensive cemeteries today can have lapses in maintenance: sagging head stones, damaged grave markers, rampant weeds, and untrimmed trees are just some of the complaints that family members of the deceased often complain about in even the most professional of grave yards. We offer these tips for getting the most for your perpetual care dollar.
Understand What’s Needed for Your Grave Plot
The first thing to consider about ensuring good cemetery maintenance is to understand exactly what your relative’s plot’s needs are and to determine, very early, what the cemetery assumes responsibility for. Is litter removal a responsibility of the cemetery staff, for example? What about removal of dead flowers that visitors may leave? And who is responsible for cleaning a headstone or assuring that the headstone gets leveled-off if it starts to sink into the ground? How often will your loved-one’s plot be checked, directly, by a cemetery staff member? What’s the mowing and weed-eating schedule?
As a landowner in any cemetery, you, the customer, have every right to ask many questions about just what “perpetual care” includes. And, if you happen to not like that answers you get to the questions, you may have legal recourse to enforce your own definition by simply turning to the documents you and the cemetery staff signed when money changed hands, and you purchased your plot. Unfortunately, cemetery maintenance is covered specifically by, perhaps, just a few obscure laws in selected states. But, the matter is probably covered quite clearly in documents related to your sale. Turn to those to determine what, precisely is the cemetery’s responsibility and what is yours. The policies and procedures for maintenance will likely vary significantly from cemetery to cemetery, so we will not attempt to address any “common offerings” here.
Enforce “Perpetual Care” With Inspections
Once you know what expectations you should have for perpetual care as it is offered by your cemetery, it is important to not assume that the services will be rendered as advertised. Any random inspection of a cemetery in the United States today will likely show that maintenance issues abound. Often, they are small and not very noticeable, but, nevertheless, they are there. And small problems, left unchecked, will often lead to more significant issues.
It is an unfortunate fact of the state of cemeteries in the United States that the old adage is often true: the squeaky wheel does, indeed, get the oil. If cemetery managers know that you and your family will be paying careful attention to how your family member’s grave plot is maintained, they will likely be inclined to devote much more attention to it than the others. So regular visits to your family’s plot are very important. It is a mistake to assume that your absence from a cemetery for years will be good for maintenance. For best results, families should make it a practice to visit a cemetery at least once a month (perhaps with various members taking turns, so that monthly visits are not required for any one person. This is an especially important practice in cases in which few family members actually reside in the city where the cemetery is). Visits should double as maintenance inspections, and any maintenance issues should be reported to cemetery staff, and those reports then documented in correspondence with other family members. The family should make it a point, then, to check on the issue sometime after the report, to see if the problem has been fixed.
For best results in terms of maintenance, it is probably a good idea to time your regular visits around non-peak periods. Avoid showing up only on weekends and holidays when cemetery staff will be sure to have worked diligently to put their best maintenance foot forward. If your inspection visits are regularly on these high traffic days, you may not be getting a true picture the overall maintenance issues related to your family’s plot.
Recruit – And Encourage – Volunteers
But enforcing the cemetery’s own maintenance policies is just the start. Families also have to be sure to tend to their own end of the memorial maintenance requirements. Cleaning a grave marker is often chief among these, but, in some cases, weed-eating and litter removal are, indeed, the family’s responsibility. As is clearing away brush from tree trimmings and such.
For this work, as it is required, you will likely need volunteers from your family and friends. And, as anyone who has ever worked with volunteers will tell you, finding reliable, uncompensated help can be challenging. For this work, every family who has a grave yard plot needs a good leader who is good at recruiting, and encouraging, volunteers to do the required maintenance work at least once or twice a year. Staying on top of the recruiting can be a significant amount of work – phone calls, emails, maybe even sending out newsletters and maintaining social media sites. But, in the end, it will usually help assure that whatever maintenance needs to be done at a family grave plot will get plenty of attention. And, for that, plenty of generations of family members, and even historians, – not to mention the beloved spirits of the deceased themselves – will most certainly be thankful.