Friday, November 16, 2012

Cemetery Responsibilities

Maintained Cemetery
Well Kept Cemetery
It’s a question that can be concerning, even confusing – Just who is responsible for a cemetery’s upkeep?  The answers depend on many factors but the bottom line usually appears to be as follows:

Property Tax Form
Whoever is paying the property taxes on the cemetery ground is the individual, corporation, or entity that is responsible for it.

Digging a Grave
Broken Stone
Traditionally, a cemetery’s responsibilities include the allotment and maintenance of the grounds used for burials, and for grave preparation. The family would be responsible for the care and repair of the tombstones.

Cemetery Owned By Bardstown
Charlotteville Cemetery
A cemetery can be owned by an individual, a corporation, a church, a town, a city, township, county, or state.  And the laws will differ depending on the group or government agency that owns a cemetery. 

Cemetery Owned by Indiana Town
In Indiana, if a township owns a cemetery, it must fence it, keep the ground level, keep the weeds down, and straighten leaning tombstones.  But, if a town, city, or county owns the cemetery, then Indiana has no laws that describe how the cemetery should be maintained or preserved.

Uncared for Cemetery
Church Cemetery
In South Carolina, state laws do not tackle the legal responsibilities for cemetery maintenance.  An active cemetery, one that is still being used for burials, should be maintained by its owners.  If the cemetery is private, such as a church, organization, or family cemetery, the owners should perform maintenance.  But many times these cemeteries are forgotten and abandoned.  Bottom line in South Carolina, the family and descendents are expected to care for the graves of their ancestors.

Cemetery Sign
Michigan tries to establish ownership of its cemeteries.  Historic cemeteries will have a sign posted that names the entity in charge of the property.  If a small cemetery has been abandoned in Michigan, it will become the property of the current landowner.

An Illinois Cemetery
The Illinois Cemetery Care Act states that there are two types of cemeteries in the state, licensed and exempt.  A licensed cemetery is owned by a for-profit group, and falls under the jurisdiction of the State Comptrollers Office.  That means the cemetery owner is responsible for the care of the cemetery, its lots, graves, mausoleums, memorials, and markers.

Exempt Cemetery
An exempt cemetery is one that is owned by a non-profit group.  The Illinois State Comptrollers Office does not have legal jurisdiction over these cemeteries.  However, “a cemetery maintenance district can be established by petitioning the county commission or township clerk for a tax levy to maintain and control the burial site.”  This would place the care of the cemetery upon the county’s government.  This also helps to lessen the abandonment of cemeteries when individuals and groups cannot or do not continue to care for them.

White Bronze Planter
Cemetery with a Lack of Funds
Cemeteries are abandoned or “die” because there is no one left to care for them.  This is usually the case in small family cemeteries and in private, church, or organizational cemeteries. 

Uncared for

A cemetery may also be abandoned because of lack of money.  If an older cemetery has reached capacity and has no perpetual care funds to assist with the maintenance of the grounds and stones, an owner may simply walk away and leave the site unattended, and uncared for.

County Courthouse
County Offices
Where should you go to locate the identity of a cemetery owner?  Many times an inquiry at the local town, village, city, township hall, or country clerks office will produce that name.  The County Recorder of Deeds or the County Assessors Office can also provide a legal description of the property.

As Benjamin Franklin so poignantly said, "Show me your burial grounds and I'll show you a measure of the civility of a community."  

It is indeed in our society's best interest to keep our cemeteries well maintained and cared for, for they are the annals of our past and our present, describing just who we were to future generations.

~ Joy

~ Joy


  1. In our local churchyard in the UK it's the parish council who are responsible for the maintenance the the family maintain the graves and headstones unless there are no relatives alive.

  2. Thanks for your helpful advice. Went to visit our family plot in NJ and the large stone was there but all the markers in the ground were moved over and sunk and could not even determine if anything was under there they were so deep. It's a privately owned cemetary and when my cousin complained they said it was not their responsibility. We even have the paperwork from the 1030's saying Perpetual care paid in full. I am not done battling this and due to their neglect in this matter I will hopefully get them to recover the stones that are sunk in the ground...

  3. A few years ago I passed a cemetery just outside of El Centro, CA that had a sign out front. The sign said something about bankruptcy and being bank owned. The cemetery was all dirt, no upkeep had been done, and it looked abandoned. A few weeks later I drove by it again on a fluke and the cemetery was covered in flowers. A holiday had just passed and all of the graves had been visited, and flowers were left.
    Last year I drove by again and it was gone. This cemetery wasn't so old that it had "died". Rather, it had been mismanaged. Saddest thing I've ever seen.

    1. Tina, that is so sad. There are so many older cemeteries that just disappear due to mismanagement and a lack of caring...

  4. My Mother passed away in January and we PAID a cemetery that has passed over to the state of Michigan to bury my Mom and they still have not set the dual headstone in the ground yet. My Father was already there with an existing headstone. When they buried my Mother it was very bad weather but since then they still have not finished what I paid them to do. They keep saying the state pays us to maintain the cemetery so they have limited help there but I paid them not the state. We maintain the grave ourselves and have never complained about having to repay for everything since the original owner spent all of the money and abandoned the cemetery. What can I do to get them to do what I paid them to do?

    1. Oh, Jackie, I'm so sorry you're going through this. It's hard enough to lose a loved one; the cemetery is supposed to help alleviate some of that suffering... I would check with your state's comptroller's office. At least in Illinois, this is the office that oversees cemeteries and burial problems. If that does not help - see whom they suggest, and if your State Attorney's office can get someone in gear to do something.