Q. I want to arrange for perpetual care for my late husband’s grave, but am not quite sure what’s involved, how to proceed, and how much it will cost. Also, what’s the difference between perpetual care and a permanent maintenance fund?
Most states require cemeteries regulated by the state to establish a permanent endowed fund for cemetery maintenance. The principal cannot be withdrawn from the fund; but the income derived pays for annual upkeep—services like cutting the grass, care of trees, and road repairs. When you buy a grave, plot, mausoleum or columbarium space, anywhere from 5% to 20% of the purchase price is added to the bill. This money is deposited in the fund, which may be called a perpetual care, endowment care, or permanent maintenance fund. In a rural setting the amount could be as little as $20 or $30. Prices are usually higher in urban areas. However, cemeteries that are not regulated by the state are exempted, such as religious cemeteries run by churches or synagogues, and municipal, national, and private cemeteries.
You also may be billed periodically for seasonal care of your husband’s grave and/or certain other services. In such cases you can often choose instead to make a one-time payment for a second endowment for care of the individual grave. The advantage is no more bills in the mail. For example, a cemetery may charge $1200 or $1600 or more for perpetual care for a single grave—or a fraction of that amount—depending on where the cemetery is located.
Before contracting for perpetual care for your husband’s grave, be sure to check on which services are included—and get it in writing. There can be wide variations from one cemetery to another, according to Robert Fells, Executive Director of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA). Some will trim the grass, but charge extra for corrective work if the marker sinks. Cleaning the stone may be additional, as well. One widow paid $2500 for an “endowment of planting” at her husband’s grave, which covers maintenance of shrubs she purchased from the cemetery—plus replacement if they become overgrown or don’t survive.
Robert Fells notes that the term “perpetual care” is on its way out in the cemetery industry and being replaced by “endowment care.” For example, California has switched to the latter, which is considered more descriptive.
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Florence Isaacs is a freelance journalist, author — and a widow herself. Her books include My Deepest Sympathies, When the Man You Love Is Ill, What Do You Say When and Just a Note to Say...The Perfect Words for Every Occasion.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons / Edmund Garman