Cemetery FAQ

What is a Cemetery?

While many people think of a cemetery as a place for the burial of the deceased, a cemetery technically encompasses the grounds, facilities and personnel involved in the interment and memorialization of the dead. Cemeteries may vary in size, operational complexity and the number of people they serve. They may require large staffs including landscape architects, accountants and grounds maintenance crews. Or they may perform their responsibilities as volunteers. But every one of them performs the same basic services in support of their customers.

Those services, which can be time consuming, include:

  • scheduling burial services
  • grave opening
  • directing interment services
  • record-keeping and accounting
  • maintenance of buildings, equipment, tools and material groundskeeping including road and sidewalk maintenance, sweeping, trash and snow removal cutting grass; planting trees and flowers

The fact is there are many expenses and responsibilities inherent in maintaining a cemetery for the peace of mind and satisfaction of its customers, families and the community.

Why is Visiting a Cemetery So Important?

To remember, and be remembered, are natural human needs. Throughout history, memorialization has been a key component of almost every culture. From an individual marker on a grave to a large community monument, we have always honored our deceased. The Washington Monument, Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, the Vietnam Wall and the Korean War Monument are examples of memorialization. Every local community monument demonstrates that we wish to commemorate the lives of those who are important to us individually and nationally. Remembrance practices serve an important emotional function for survivors by helping to bring closure and allowing the healing process to begin. By providing a permanent resting place for the deceased, cemeteries throughout New Jersey become the focal point for the dignified treatment of a loved one’s remains.

What are the Differences between Traditional and Memorial Park Cemeteries?

Cemeteries are generally divided into two broad categories: traditional and memorial parks or gardens. Some cemeteries have both traditional upright monument sections and garden sections. A traditional cemetery has upright monuments, usually made of granite, and may also have private mausoleums for above-ground entombment. These cemeteries have served their communities for generations and contain the heritage of the persons interred there, as well as a great deal of local history, period architecture, statuary and art. Memorial parks and gardens are a newer type of cemetery introduced about 75 years ago. These are cemeteries without upright monuments, where bronze or granite memorials are placed level with the ground to blend with the beauty of the landscape. Both types of cemeteries may offer above-ground entombment in community mausoleums and may have chapels, crematories, or columbarium. They often feature expansive lawns with a variety of trees, flowering beds and gardens, as well as fountains, sculpture or memorial architecture.

What are Certificate of Authority Cemeteries?

It is estimated there are 2,000 cemeteries in the state of New Jersey, including religious, veterans, municipal, private family and non-sectarian cemeteries. Approximately 400 cemeteries are “certificate of authority” cemeteries that serve various faiths and denominations. These cemeteries are neither municipally (governmentally) funded nor religiously (church) owned and supported. In 1971, the New Jersey State Legislature began regulating only these types of cemeteries. In order to operate, these cemeteries are required to be approved for a certificate of authority by the State of New Jersey. As a result, New Jersey’s certificate of authority cemeteries are strongly monitored and meet some of the toughest standards for cemetery operation in the nation. Each certificate of authority cemetery is required to:

  • Set aside specific amounts of money to be deposited into Maintenance and Preservation funds
  • Prepare and submit an annual report on the above contributions
  • Provide and post their current price lists for all services offered
  • Provide and make available their rules and regulations
  • License their professional sales personnel
  • Obtain approval on group sales (more than 17 graves)
  • Obtain approval on the sale or lease of any parcel of land belonging to the cemetery
  • Only certificate of authority cemeteries are required to abide by the rules and regulations of the New Jersey State Legislature as promulgated and enforced through the New Jersey Cemetery Board.

These items are reported to and kept on file with the New Jersey Cemetery Board in the Division of Consumer Affairs.

Who Operates Certificate of Authority Cemeteries?

The majority of certificate of authority cemeteries are operated as lot owner associations governed by a board of trustees or a board of directors. Trustees and directors provide a level of objectivity, accountability and integrity of operation for each cemetery. Lot owner associations are required to hold an annual meeting at which the board of trustees is elected. Any certificate of authority cemetery organized after 1971 is required by law to operate as a not-for-profit corporation under New Jersey Statute. In some cases, however, certificate of authority cemeteries incorporated prior to 1971 are still legally organized as for-profit corporations with private shareholders. Creating a cemetery in the business climate today proves to be a difficult and daunting task both financially as well as managerially. As a matter of interest, there have been less than a half dozen applications since 1971 and of these applications, less than half of that number have established cemeteries.

What is the Maintenance and Preservation Fund?

Under New Jersey state law, each certificate of authority cemetery is required to establish its own Maintenance and Preservation Fund. This irrevocable trust is funded through contributions based on cemetery operations. Only the income, not the principal, generated by the Maintenance and Preservation Fund can be used for the general maintenance of the public areas of the cemetery. The statute does not require these funds be used for the care of individual graves; however, individual grave care may be purchased directly from the cemetery.

The premise behind the Fund is to ensure the continued operation and maintenance of the cemetery after its revenue-generating years are over in the same manner a retirement fund supports an individual. However, unlike an individual retirement account, the cemetery dependence on the Maintenance and Preservation Fund will never end.

It is a primary responsibility of the board of trustees or directors of a cemetery to ensure that the Maintenance and Preservation Fund is invested according to the Uniform Prudent Investor Act. As with any other investment, these funds are impacted positively or negatively by general market conditions. Contributions based on today’s pricing of products and services protect the integrity of the Fund tomorrow. Monthly deposits are based on a percentage of grave and mausoleum sales, interment and memorial (monument) foundation installations. What complicates the matter is that a cemetery is constantly selling off its non-renewable land resource. Once all the land is sold, the only revenues available to the cemetery are from the interment openings and closings, monument foundations, and crematory services. Even when a cemetery has no more land for sale, it continues to operate and serve the community.

It is interesting to note that unlike nearly every other state, New Jersey certificate of authority cemeteries can not sell the variety of products commonly associated with cemeteries including monuments, vaults and crematory urns. The result is a limit on the ability to generate revenue which funds the mandatory maintenance and preservation funds. Ironically, the public expects the cemetery to maintain and care for monuments and memorials even though they are not allowed to sell them. Additional trust funds have been mandated specific to public mausoleum buildings. The state requires that for every public mausoleum constructed, an individual trust fund be established for the sole purpose of maintaining that building. The amount of the fund is derived from a percent of the entire cost of construction, including features, furnishings, landscaping and roadways. As is the case with the Maintenance and Preservation Fund, only the income generated can be used; the principal can not be used.

Can the Maintenance and Preservation Fund Take Care of the Cemetery?

In some cases, no. Prior to 1971, cemeteries were not mandated to establish Maintenance and Preservation Funds. Therefore, cemeteries that had reached capacity before 1971 may not have sufficient funding to assure proper maintenance of the grounds. Maintenance and Preservation Funds are regulated by New Jersey law for consumer protection, however, only certificate of authority cemeteries are required to have them.

Since a cemetery may only use the income generated by its Maintenance and Preservation Fund, the Fund may be enhanced through private donations and contributions. Some cemeteries charge for annual care or offer an endowment program to cover routine care for each grave. Others, however, do not and maintain the public areas and the individual graves as part of their commitment to the families.

What Other Trust Funds Are Required?

Additional trust funds have been mandated specific to public mausoleum buildings. The state requires that for every public mausoleum constructed, an individual trust fund be established for the sole purpose of maintaining that building. The amount of the fund is derived from a percent of the entire cost of construction, including features, furnishings, landscaping and roadways. As is the case with the Maintenance and Preservation Fund, only the income generated can be used; the principal can not be used.

What is Pre-arrangement?

Pre-arrangement is the purchase of a grave, crypt or niche in advance of need. No one wants to think about needing the services of a cemetery. However, reality dictates that at some point someone will have to make such an arrangement. The only question is will those decisions be made in a non-emotional environment or under stress during a crisis with the loss of a loved one? In keeping with national trends, cemeteries in New Jersey have been offering prearrangement for grave and mausoleum purchases. When families select on a prearrangement basis, they have the opportunity to comparison shop and possibly to make payments over time. In other words, they have the time to make a fiscally responsible and informed decision. Furthermore, they are making their purchase at today’s prices.

Conversely, at the time a family suffers a loss, they are more likely to make decisions that place a greater strain on their financial resources. In addition, a stressful situation is only made worse by having to make so many decisions in a short amount of time when unprepared and in emotional pain. Experience has shown us that the more prearranged sales of cemetery products a cemetery does, the more rapidly its Maintenance and Preservation Fund grows, resulting in greater solvency during its inactive years.

What Information Can a Cemetery Provide You?

Certificate of authority cemeteries keep records of every individual interred, entombed or cremated. Information kept on record generally includes the date of interment, age of deceased, next of kin, and the funeral director. Because many of these records were written by hand, in some cases over a century ago, they are too fragile and not available for personal perusal. Consequently, cemetery personnel must make the searches. It is for this reason that cemeteries often charge for researching and providing genealogical information. Additional information may be available through the Bureau of Vital Statistics or on the World Wide Web.

Cemeteries will be able to provide you with information on grave availability, and the status of legal ownership of family gravesites. In rare circumstances where a cemetery has been relocated, the records are kept by the municipality or local historical society in which the cemetery was originally located.

If you are planning a cemetery visit, and you are uncertain of the grave’s location, contact the cemetery office prior to a visit so the staff may assist you.

When you contact the cemetery, have the (approximate) date of death as well as the proper spelling of the name. Please be aware that cemetery office hours vary and not every cemetery has personnel available during the weekends.

Cemeteries may also provide information on grief counseling.

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