Establishing a Family Cemetery…or not

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First of all, I want to apologize right now if you are dealing with the loss of a loved one and this article seems insensitive.  I know my own death is inevitable and I have definite feelings about how I want things handled at the time, and I’m  just trying to get the information out there for those who have not made any decisions yet.  With that said, here we go.

My friend, Jane, and I recently took a field trip to a local cemetery. We were mostly interested in the “green” aspect of burial. What attracted us was this:

1. No casket. We could either be wrapped in a sheet, a blanket, a wicker or wooden box, or anything else that would decompose right along with our bodies.

2. No embalming. I’ve gotta be honest about this one. It creeps me out. I was born with blood in my veins and would prefer to leave my body that way.  I don’t even use products with formaldehyde in my home, and I just don’t want it in my body.

Years ago, in writing out my instructions for burial and funeral services, I specified that I DID NOT WANT an open casket with people parading by and saying how good or bad I looked. Today, with the option of being buried quickly in a green cemetery, the family can handle the burial right away and then plan for a memorial service that allows people to be there who have to travel.    Instead of having people judge how I look in a casket, I will have photos of me at my best so they can display them on a table.  I’m sure there will still be comments about how cute I used to be, but that’s okay.   I’d prefer that to having them judge the undertaker’s makeup.

What we learned at the funeral home was a little disappointing. The green burial alone would still cost about $8,000. Of course we’d be saving the cost of a casket, but $8k is still a lot of money. With cremation closer to a $2,000 figure, before I left the funeral home, I was already leaning toward cremation. Some might say that I’m just plain cheap, but I prefer to describe myself as practical. For one thing, if I die on vacation, there’s no need to bring my body back to Texas. My husband can just spread my ashes at my vacation destination. I also like the idea of not having a place where people feel required to come visit and bring flowers. I won’t be there, so save your money and take your own vacation.

As we were preparing to leave the funeral home, I threw out a question about being buried on family property. The funeral director told me that it’s not as difficult as one might think.  Depending on how big your property is, or how much you want to designate as a cemetery, you could even open it up to extended family and friends.  I think if I could have a family cemetery, I would want it to be “green.”  I would want wildflowers growing all over with simple little markers to designate who is buried where.

Not all of us have the option of a family cemetery, but we do have options, and we need to talk to our loved ones about what we want.  Talking about it, or at least putting your wishes on paper, is really important.

Today I attended the funeral of an incredible woman who died suddenly of cardiac arrest. She was more than ten years younger than me and leaves behind a husband with three daughters to raise. I’m fairly certain that the week between her death and her burial has been a nightmare for her husband, in particular, as he did his best to make decisions without her.

This information is provided from the Texas Cemeteries Association website:

Many people in the State of Texas are interested in establishing a family cemetery on their private property. The opportunity to be buried on their own land is very appealing to many Texans. This is certainly possible, but there are several guidelines that must be followed:

1. Local regulations and restrictions: Check with your local county or city government officials to determine if there are any rules or regulations that apply to your property. These could include restrictions such as flood plains, drainage, underground cabling or pipelines, deed restrictions or subdividing and platting requirements.

2.    Location of Cemetery:  Texas law requires that cemeteries be a certain distance outside of the local municipality based upon population.  [Texas Health & Safety Code §711.008]

a.    5,000 to 25,000 people – must be located one (1) mile outside the municipal boundaries.

b.    25,000 to 50,000 people – must be located two (2) miles outside the municipal boundaries.

c.    50,000 to 100,000 people – must be located three (3) miles outside the municipal boundaries.

d.    100,000 to 200,000 people – must be located four (4) miles outside the municipal boundaries.

e.    200,000 + people – must be located five (5) miles outside the municipal boundaries.

3.    Dedication of Land:  Texas law requires that your survey and subdivide your acreage in to gardens or sections and make a map or plat that specifies where the plots are to be located on the property.  You should file the map or plat along with a written certificate or declaration of dedication of the land dedicating the property exclusively for cemetery purposes with the office of the county clerk in which your land is located.  The filing of the certificate of dedication makes other individuals aware of the location of the cemetery on the land.  You can accomplish this requirement yourself and need not hire someone to do it. [Texas Health & Safety Code §711.034]

4.    Depth of Graves:  Texas law states that a body of a decedent may not be buried in a manner such that the outside top surface of the container of the body is: (i) Less than two (2) feet below the surface of the ground if the container is not made of an impermeable material; or (ii) less than 1- ½ feet below the surface of the ground if the container is made of an impermeable material.  Follow this guideline carefully as violation of this law is a misdemeanor.  [Texas Health & Safety Code §714.001]

5.    Records of Interment:  Keep records of all burials in the cemetery.  Each record should reflect at least the following: (i)  the date the remains are received and interred, (ii)  the name and age of the person interred, if known; and (iii)  identity of the plot in which the remains are interred.  It is suggested that the burial records be filed in the county deed records with the office of the county clerk in which your land is located.  [Texas Health & Safety Code §711.003]

6.   Access to Cemetery:  Texas law requires that any person who wishes to visit a cemetery or private burial grounds where there is no public access shall have the right to reasonable ingress and egress over your property to visit the cemetery during reasonable hours.  [Texas Health & Safety Code §711.041].  The law also provides a process for negotiating a written agreement between the property owner(s) and those wishing access to a cemetery without public access that would be filed with and enforced by the Texas Funeral Service Commission.  [Texas Administrative Code §205.2]

7.   Other Considerations:

a.    Future Sale – remember, you are changing forever the character of the property you are dedicating as a cemetery.  This may very well affect your ability or the ability of your descendants to sell this property in the future.  Future owners will also be required to give reasonable public access to the cemetery.

b.   If you have neighbors, the presence of a cemetery may very well affect their property.  The cemetery may affect the valuation of adjacent property, and the requirement that the public have reasonable access to the property might also affect adjacent property owners.

c.    If your property has a mortgage, make sure you consider any effects that establishing a cemetery may have on the mortgage holder.


All They’ll Need To Know

All They'll Need To Know