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Why does it cost so much to open a grave today?

Ken Little


Q. Why does it cost so much to open a grave today? Many years ago it used to cost $50 and it was dug by hand. Today it cost $1,200 and is dug with a backhoe. And do retired military and their spouses get a special rate?

A. Christopher Debnam, a funeral service director with Quinn McGowen Funeral Home, said the funeral home’s price for the service is $575.

“You will find most funeral homes will be lower than the $1,200 (the reader) mentioned,” he said.

“Where the number comes from is the commercial cemeteries that are located near and around the Wilmington area,” Debnam said.

Prices start at about $600 and go higher than $1,200, he said.

Greenlawn Memorial Park Cemetery and Oleander Memorial Gardens are located in Wilmington are owned by Service Corporation International, the world’s largest funeral home conglomerate, Debnam said.

Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington “is also privately owned and their prices are usually in line with SCI’s,” Debnam said.

He said that commercial cemeteries do not allow funeral homes to dig graves in their cemeteries, so the charges quoted are from the cemeteries.

Debnam said that one cost displacement that has changed in SCI-owned cemeteries “is now they provide a tent within this price and before, families rented the tent from the funeral home. This accounts for about $100.”

Quinn McGowen has funeral homes in Wilmington, Burgaw and Wallace.

Debnam said there is an “unwritten rule” that cemeteries normally follow.

“The cost of the maintenance of a cemetery during its normal life should be paid for by the opening and closings (digging of graves). Therefore, if the cost of gas and labor goes up, then opening and closing in commercial cemeteries will go up,” Debnam said. “Or, as burials go down, then cost goes up.”

The N.C. Cemetery Commission is the state regulatory agency for cemeteries.

“The Cemetery Commission doesn’t regulate the sale price of graves, that is left up to the individual cemeteries,” said Vikki Tollefsen, administrative assistant for the agency.

“The Commission makes sure when PreNeed opening and closings are sold that the money given to the cemetery is trusted or bonded. The (N.C.) Cemetery Act doesn’t state what grave plots should cost,” Tollefsen said.

She said prices to open graves “vary greatly across the state.”

“One cemetery may charge $725, for example and 20 miles down the road from that cemetery they could charge $1,400,” Tollefsen said.

She recommends calling specific cemeteries and asking administrators to explain what the charge is and what it covers.

“Some cemeteries may give military a special rate. Some may not,” Tollefsen said.

Debnam said prices differ for discounts for those with military service.

“Every funeral home and cemetery has their own discount,” he said.

In some instances, discounts may be available for members of the military and first responders like police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical services who die while on active duty.

The Veterans Administration provides partial reimbursement of burial expenses for eligible veterans. For more information, go to the Veterans Benefits Administration web site at http://benefits.va.gov/benefits/


What happens to homeless or indigent people when they die and have no relatives?

Where are the bodies buried?


User-contributed question by:
Donald T. Kutz

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