Wanna hear of an eerie impulse buy? I sort of hate to admit this one. But earlier this year, I bought two gravesites — one cemetery plot for me and another for my husband.
Total price: $2,790.
Why spend that kind of money before you’re dead? Or before you’re expecting to die? Good question. After all, you could live a little and go on a cruise for that kind of cash.
But whether we like it or not, many of us may be thinking more about death these days. And many of us, frankly, are curious when we see headlines — often around Halloween — proclaiming: “Forget stocks, invest in cemetery plots.” The theory is that grave prices are only going up, not down.
Demographics mean many young adults will soon be burying their parents. Baby boomers born in 1946 turned 72 in 2018.
Yet plenty of financial pitfalls — and totally unexpected fees — await on the way to the grave.
Many consumers are shocked to discover that they owe thousands of dollars in extra costs, such as fees to open and close the grave and buy a vault, according to Holly Shreve Gilbert, the interim president for the Funeral Consumer Information Society in Michigan.
She heard from one family who was upset that they had to pay an additional $800 to open the ground just to bury cremated remains. Some cemeteries may charge $1,500 or more to open the ground for a traditional coffin burial, even if you have already purchased a burial space.
Experts warn some interment fees can exceed the cost of the cemetery plots.
“Most, but not all, cemeteries require you to purchase a grave liner, which will cost several hundred dollars,” too, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s report on “Buying a Cemetery Site.”
Grave liners and vaults are containers that the coffin will be placed into before to burial.
Charges called “perpetual care” are sometimes included in the purchase price of a cemetery plot but not always.
Another warning from the FTC: Some commercial cemeteries offer free plots for a veteran, but they may charge “exorbitant rates” for the spouse, and high fees for opening and closing each grave.
The FTC has what’s called a funeral rule that enables you spend money on only those goods and services you want or need, whether you are making arrangements when a death occurs or in advance.
While the rule covers pre-need sales of funeral arrangements, it generally does not apply to cemetery arrangements, said Craig Tregillus, funeral rule coordinator for the Federal Trade Commission.
Cemeteries are governed by state law, not the FTC, he said.
If you’re planning a funeral, funeral directors must give you price information on the telephone if you ask for it. You don’t have to give them your name, address or telephone number first. Although they are not required to do so, many funeral homes mail their price lists, and some post them online.
Not so with cemeteries.
Another good tip: If you prepay for any cemetery or funeral expenses, keep copies of an itemized contract and proof of payment, including canceled checks and receipts if possible, said Julia Dale, director of the Michigan Corporations Securities and Commercial Licensing Bureau, Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
Make sure the face of the contract details what items are guaranteed at a set price for use in the future, and which items are not, Dale said.
DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF EMOTION
For me, spending $2,790 was purely an impulse purchase. And I’m happy to say my husband was OK with it.
I’d never suggest it’s likely to be a good investment, particularly since my mother told me long ago about all those extra charges, such as opening the grave.
Ken Brant, owner of Grave Solutions, a multilisting service for the resale of cemetery property, said he’s had people list gravesites because the family doesn’t want to pay $3,000 or so in added costs just to use a grave that’s already been purchased.
“People are just saying, ‘Nope, we can’t afford it,’ ” said Brant, 76, who said the last four funerals he attended all involved cremations.
“The higher prices have forced people to the cremation market,” Brant said. Many times, a cremation can be handled for $1,000.
Over the years, I’ve thought about where I wanted to be buried.
My mother bought three plots together when my Uncle Joe died in 1993. Later, Dad was buried there in 2001. Mom was buried in 2011 between Dad and Uncle Joe. And Busia, my beloved grandmother, is just very short drive away in another section at the same cemetery in Detroit. And I’ve wanted to be near them.
When my only sister, Linda, died in February, I figured I’d try to shop for one last discount with her.
What if, I asked my brother-in-law Larry, we offered to buy a few plots at once? Could we get a discount? (No, my family wasn’t shocked in the least that I’d entertain a bit of bargain shopping during a very sad time in our lives. My sister probably wouldn’t have expected anything less.)
We were able to get a price reduction of $155 per grave. So I paid $1,395 for each. I was able to pay in installments and spend a few hundred dollars each month. Because I paid the bill in full in less than 12 months, I didn’t pay any interest charges.
The graves are in the same section as my parents and my husband, and I will be next to my sister and brother-in-law.
WHAT’S A GOOD PRICE?
Prices will vary based on cemetery, special areas, the state you live in and the community.
Prices also vary based on the inventory available and whether you’re looking at a more expensive private mausoleum or standard ground space, said Mathew P. Forastiere, vice president of operations for Midwest Memorial Group, which has 28 cemeteries in Michigan.
“We have ground burial interment rights starting as low as $2,195 in some of our cemeteries,” Forastiere said. “We also have mausoleum crypts that are priced at $48,000 for a single interment right.”
Often, people plan in advance because they want to be buried near loved ones. Many times, people make arrangements to make it easier for their loved ones when they die. Various payment plans can help cover the bills of buying the burial rights.
Before you commit to a cemetery, consider if you plan to be living in the same area when you die.
Yes, you may be able to unload unwanted cemetery plots on Craigslist or eBay or online sites called Grave Solutions. Or not.
Gene Hill, 92, listed one burial space at Forest Lawn in Detroit on Van Dyke on the Grave Solutions site early this year. So far, no takers.
“I never had a call,” he told me.
The asking price is $1,200 — which the ad says is a good value since it’s less than half the going rate for a similar space at that cemetery.
Hill — who worked in marketing — lives with his wife, Tricia, 93, in Franklin and has plans to be buried at the nearby Franklin Cemetery. The couple paid $3,500 for one plot there. They plan to be cremated and buried together in that one plot.
Typically, Grave Solutions said it can take on average 15 months to sell a grave site via its website. Sellers need to be prepared to drop the price to about half the cemetery’s going rate.
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