There are no rules that govern specific burial or maintenance practices in Pennsylvania. Private, for-profit cemeteries (there are about 600 out of 10,000) fall under the jurisdiction of the Real Estate Commission because they are involved in the buying and selling of deeds. The other cemeteries, run by churches and fraternal organizations, are exempt from state licensing requirements.

Nothing in state law prohibits a burial on private, family property. Check with the county or town clerk for any local zoning laws. Philadelphia has ordinances prohibiting human burials anywhere but in an established cemetery. If you bury a body on private land, draw a map of the property showing the burial ground and file it with the property deed so the location will be clear to others in the future.

Consumers Guide to Cemetery Purchases, Funeral Consumers Alliance
Consumer Guide to Cemeteries, Pennsylvania Cemetery Cremation and Funeral Association

PA Laws Regarding Burial Practices and Cemeteries
FCA’s (our national organization) information on Filing Complaints

Do a litigation search on the cemetery or headstone dealer before you buy
Check with the Better Business Bureau

Media accounts of problems and complaints

Rest in peace? Not with Pennsylvania’s cemetery laws
Evening Sun
Post Gazette
York Dispatch
Lebanon Daily News

Partial list of Philly area cemeteries
Partial list of Newtown area cemeteries

  • Visit various cemeteries and compare prices.
  • Ask if the cemetery and its representatives are licensed with the PA Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs.
  • Ask to see prices for ground opening and closing, extra depth interments, mausoleum entombments, and entombment or inurnment of cremated remains.
  • Ask whether you are required to buy a vault
  • Ask if the cemetery has an endowment fund to maintain the grounds.
  • Make sure the contract spells out whether you will hold a deed to the plot and who might be buried there.
  • Obtain a copy of the signed contract that includes the date, the names of the buyer(s), the seller, all items purchased, and any finance charges.
  • You may cancel any contract that was signed in your home by written notice received by the seller within three business days. Your contract should indicate your cancellation rights.
  • In addition, you will likely want to buy a headstone. Ask if you can buy from any vendor and if the cemetery charges for installation, requires a base, etc.
  • Keep in mind that cemetery charges are separate from what you will pay the funeral director.

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  • Cemeteries can regulate the size and type of markers, as specifically as “flat with bronze nameplate set in granite.”
  • No cemetery can refuse an outside monument dealer, but can require approval of a marker prior to installation to insure foundation, size, etc.
  • Cemeteries may install their own foundations.
  • Cemeteries may charge a marker demarcation fee ($50 is typical) if they do not install their own foundations. Some also charge a foundation inspection fee before the foundation is poured to make sure the depth is below the required frost line ($50 is typical). They can also charge an inspection fee after installation to insure that the work was done according to specs and no dirt is left on the grass. Most fees are built into the marker price.
  • Vet markers are free. The upright tablet markers weigh 240 lbs., and are usually installed by two people for the cost of $250 (which is break even for the marker company). You can order markers on line, but you must find an installer.

How to Handle a Cemetery in Disrepair

There are cemeteries all over the country that aren’t maintained as they should be. Lack of upkeep is rampant. There’s virtually no regulations or oversight of cemeteries. They are private companies with no laws protecting consumers in this regard.

If you’re not getting any results with your complaints, phone calls, emails, etc., here’s our suggestions:

1) Write a letter (and include pictures) and send it to PFDA (PA Funeral Directors Association; the cemetery owners; and if there are any other co-owners or parent company.
2) Try to get others with family buried in the cemetery to do the same, so the cemetery knows it’s not just one person they can fob off. If there are enough angry people banding together for a letter-writing campaign (to both the cemetery and the media) it could make a difference. Strength in numbers!
3) Leave a public review on the conditions.
4) Public shame them in other ways, such as getting the media involved.

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