How to Transfer Ownership of Cemetery Plot

When you buy a cemetery plot, you do not own the land (it still belongs to the cemetery). You buy the rights to use the land for burials, placing headstones, and so on. This too is stipulated for a specific period. It is usually about 50-75 years for a coffin grave or about 25-40 years for a cremation grave.

Further rights and allowances depend on the state (there is no federal law, meaning state laws govern cemeteries) and the cemetery's own policies.

For multiple reasons, such as relocation, divorce, family disputes, and more, you may no longer want that cemetery spot reserved for you. In that case, you are allowed to transfer ownership. 

Transferring Ownership of a Burial Plot

Transferring ownership, however, can be a bit confusing. First, as mentioned previously, having “rights” and not ownership is complicated. Second, the price of the burial spot also includes a portion that goes toward the upkeep of the cemetery and the area. However, transferring ownership is still a common approach and is very much feasible. This is what Burial Link specializes in.

If you are planning on transferring your ownership, then this guide will help you understand what that means and entails.

Why Do People Transfer Cemetery Ownership? 

Before we move on to understanding how to transfer, let’s look at some scenarios where transferring ownership makes sense. 

1. If you are a registered owner and you want to give the burial plot to another person.

For instance, some cemeteries today allow both spouses to be buried in the same plot (think one casket and one urn arrangement). You could transfer one of the two plots you bought for your partner to another family member and be buried with your spouse, never to be separated even after death. 

2. When the registered owner is dead, so there is an application made for the owner's plot.

For instance, if your burial plans have changed, someone from the family could apply for that plot if they want it to stay in the family.

3. When there is a request to install a memorial or an inscription, but the owner of the plot is dead.

For instance, it was already stated in the will that the executor will transfer the burial plot to the family so they can install a memorial.

4. When the registered owner wants to transfer the rights of burial (the grave has not yet been used for burial).

For example, you can likely make a great profit selling the plot you bought several years ago. Cemeteries located in certain areas or regions have seen great appreciation in cemetery property due to the limited number of new cemeteries being developed. A plot that cost a couple of hundred dollars just two decades ago can fetch you thousands of dollars today. 

If you find yourself in one of these situations, then transferring ownership is an option for you. Outside of these mentioned points, you should check with the local state policies and with your cemetery of choice. Here at Burial Link, we make that easy by linking to their website and providing an updated telephone number.

What About Transferring When the Owner Is Deceased?

When the owner is alive, they can either transfer or surrender the rights to another owner or add an owner to the rights. But when the owner is deceased, there are three situations that arise.

1. The Deceased Owner Has a Legitimate Will

In this case, the process is pretty easy and the ownership is transferred to the executor. The executor then transfers the ownership and oversees the whole process. 

2. The Deceased Owner Has a Letter of Administration

If there is no will, a letter of administration is the next best case. The letter allows a representative of the owner to oversee the transfer. 

Without a will or administration letter, things can get a bit tricky. The person who applies for the transfer can sign a statutory declaration with all the details of the owner, facts and history of the purchase, relationship with the owner, etc. An example of a suitable "applicant" would be a spouse or a child. 

What Could the Process of Transferring Cemetery Ownership Look Like?

We have already learned that cemeteries are under the governance of state laws. As a result, there is no one single process to transfer a plot. If you are lucky, you may be able to do it without state involvement, meaning you find a buyer and exchange sale documents and the related money to purchase the cemetery plot. But in some states, the process could involve several steps.

For instance, some cities require you to get the permission of the city manager, while some states will require you to transfer it first to the cemetery and then to the applicant. When the plot is part of a religious organization, they usually do not fall under the state governance in this matter and the process will likely involve dealing with the church cemetery staff directly. 

To Generalize, the Transfer Process Could Look Something Like This:

1. Get in touch with the management of your cemetery. They will guide you regarding the parties that need to be involved for the transfer (remember, they do this fairly regularly). Also, collect information on all the forms you need, applicable fees that are due, and supporting documents you will need to provide.

2. Go through the paperwork once you have clarity on the process (usually this is only a few forms, so don’t dread it).

3. Sign the cemetery transfer paperwork, pay the fees, and submit it to the cemetery, township representative, or religious association. Sometimes, you need a witness at a notary or county clerk office, so you might need to confirm whether this is a requirement for your transaction.

Here Are Some Tips on Transferring Cemetery Property: 

1. Having documents such as the original contract with the cemetery, any contract with other parties, a legal will stating the terms of transfers, and the deed in addition to the transfer forms is very important. Missing any of these documents could stall or prolong the process of transferring ownership. 

2. You usually need to prove that your ownership papers are legally valid and also that your cemetery has permitted the transfer. You can reach out to your county office to get help on this along with your cemetery. We recommend that you get everything in writing since individuals in these offices change over time.

3. If you do not have a copy of the burial plot deed, you can ask the cemetery management to assist you with this. Many state laws require cemeteries to maintain records of all purchases and transfers, so you should be able to get the historic data from the cemetery along with all the information you need.

4. Sometimes, only the residents of the region are allowed to obtain ownership of burial plots or cemetery plots. This is a rare occurrence, but you might want to check on this before committing an intent to buy to the seller.

5. Some documents, like death certificates and probates, can be found at national archives, probate offices, and registry offices. They keep historic records from which you can obtain your papers in case you lose them.

What Can the Transfer Look Like?

1. Letters of Administration: This is related to the applicant’s side when the owner of the plot is deceased. When the applicant appeals to the court, they have the right to obtain the same powers as the executor or the owner.

2. Probate Grant: This is granted to the executor of the legal will. The executor then gets the rights to the plot and can transfer it to a buyer.

3. Assignment of Rights: When the owner is alive, they can add or change the owner of the plot.

4. Legal Will: When the owner is alive and has a plot that will not be used by them, they can decide who it should be transferred to.

5. Statutory Declaration: This is used for deceased owners who do not have a will or administration letter. It has to be supported by certificates, renunciation forms, and similar documents. 

What Important Details Should Be Included in Your Documents and Letters? 

Finally, as a checklist, these are some of the details that should be covered in any or all of your documents when you go through the process of transferring ownership:

  • Legal name and registered information of the owner and the purchaser
  • The agreed upon transfer date and amount paid by the buyer 
  • Declaration that ALL rights are being transferred to the new owner
  • Description of the plot and the rules governing it
  • Declaration that the transfer is approved and within the rules of the state and the cemetery or religious organization

Finalizing the Transfer of Cemetery Plot Ownership

The process of cemetery plot transfers has a lot of moving parts. Don’t get overwhelmed; once you find the right cemetery and plot on Burial Link, the process is relatively quick and smooth. In addition to our informational pieces throughout the website, this guide should serve as a great roadmap to helping you transfer ownership of cemetery property. Having a good overview, as we provided above, can help you know who to contact and what information to ask in order to proceed ahead.

Please Note: Burial Link and its affiliates have compiled this information to the best of their ability, but this is not considered legal representation. We advise all clients to research their legal rights and requirements prior to entering into any transaction to buy, sell, or transfer cemetery property.