Just as you would want to be sure that the issuer of a life insurance policy would be there to make payment, or that the manufacturer of your car can stand behind its warranty, you want to be sure that the cemetery you select will be there for the long term, and will take proper care of its grounds. We recommend you ask the following questions as you consider this important decision:
1. Who owns and operates the cemetery?
Cemeteries may be family-owned, part of a for-profit chain, church-owned, or a nonprofit. It is important to be comfortable with the owner, the mission, and the way the property is operated and cared for. Bellefontaine is a nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and protect the cemetery, its history, and its landscape.
2. Does the cemetery have an endowment? If so, how large is it? Is there an annual audit or annual report that I can examine? Who makes endowment spending decisions?
Cemeteries incur significant expenses over time for continuous upkeep and repairs. When the cemetery reaches capacity, the endowment becomes its sole source of funds. Similar to a large park with many roads and monuments, basic upkeep for a cemetery can run into hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars annually. If a cemetery does not have a sizable endowment, be sure to ask how it plans to care for the cemetery in perpetuity.
A cemetery may maintain two types of endowments. First, cemeteries can choose to be “Endowed Care” (also called “Perpetual Care”) cemeteries. This means they have agreed to set aside a minimum amount of the purchase price (15% of graves and 10% of niche and mausoleum prices, for example) to be used for care of the cemetery. These funds go into a trust whose uses are regulated and periodically audited by the state.
Less than 10% of all Missouri cemeteries are “Endowed Care.” Secondly, whether or not they are “Endowed Care,” cemeteries may choose to maintain an independent endowment that will support the cemetery. Bellefontaine does both.
3. What am I “buying?”
You don’t actually own the lot, crypt, or niche. Instead, think of a perpetual lease with rights of use – the common term is “right of interment or inurnment.” This should be spelled out in the purchase contract. What you do own is any marker or monument you purchase and place on a lot.
4. What are the cemetery’s and my obligations for maintenance?
Unless a cemetery has elected to become an “Endowed” or “Perpetual Care” cemetery, or makes commitments within its sales contracts, it has no obligation to take care of the grounds. In general, “Endowed” or “Perpetual Care” refers to basic care, such as keeping the grass mowed and roads cleared. It does not cover monument cleaning or repair, or grave landscaping. The pristine maintenance of the cemetery grounds, gardens, and buildings, in perpetuity, depends on the cemetery’s mission and its endowment.
You do not have any obligations, per se. However, because you own the marker or monument, if you wish to have it periodically cleaned or repaired, it will be at your expense. Some cemeteries offer “special” or “enhanced” care contracts, which may provide for regular cleaning or special landscaping. Bellefontaine offers these services and encourages families to plan for future care.
5. What kind of record-keeping system does the cemetery maintain?
With many thousands of interments, the ability to keep meticulous records over many decades is very important. Select cemeteries have sophisticated software systems that may also allow for digital storage of photos and family records. Bellefontaine has these capabilities.