How to Transfer Ownership of a Cemetery Plot

Thoughts of your eternal resting place might seem needlessly ghoulish, and transferring ownership of a cemetery plot to a family member might feel downright cruel. But death awaits us all, like it or not, and a population explosion coupled with inadequate space means we’re facing an international cemetery plot shortage. Cemetery plots are big business, and transferring ownership can be a significant gift, ensuring that the recipient has a secure eternal resting place.

How to Transfer Ownership of a Cemetery Plot

The process of buying a cemetery plot is usually fairly straightforward, since cemetery plots are essentially pieces of real estate. Transferring the plot, though, can require a bit of finesse, since failing to properly transfer the plot might mean that the recipient has no place to be buried when the time comes.

Why Buying and Transferring Cemetery Plots is Different

Everyone who plans to be buried will eventually need a cemetery plot. For this reason, most states treat cemetery plots a bit differently from other forms of real estate, limiting the circumstances under which they can be bought or sold, controlling who can buy or sell the plots, or establishing protocols to ensure people have equal access to particularly desirable plots. For example, it’s common to purchase a plot in a specific row, rather than being able to seek out the specific individual plot of your choice.

Indeed, most states require that some portion of the cemetery plot’s price go to the maintenance and perpetual care of the cemetery and the plots contained therein. For this reason, the process of transferring ownership can be cumbersome. It’s a good idea to begin the process well before the person to whom you are transferring the plot needs it. And don’t forget to explore your own burial options, since the cemetery plot shortage means that transferring your plot to someone else could leave you without a plot of your own!

The Basic Transfer Process

One of the greatest challenges of buying, selling, and transferring cemetery plot ownership is that state and local laws vary so greatly. At some cemeteries, transferring ownership is a simple matter of finding a buyer and filing the right paperwork. At others, cemetery plot transfer is a government matter that requires approval of a government agency. For this reason, before you transfer your plot, you’ll need to review the following documents:

  • The contract with the cemetery itself, which may outline the specific situations when you can transfer ownership of the plot.
  • State and local ordinances governing cemetery plot transfers.
  • Any contracts you have with another party, including contracts to sell or transfer the plot in return for services or other valuable goods.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve already accepted money for the plot, promised it to a family member, or even begun the process of transferring ownership. Without following the contract with the cemetery and your local and state laws, you may not be able to complete the sale.

Even something as seemingly trivial as buying a cemetery plot in a specific county or city can affect the sale process. In Newnan, Georgia, for instance, you can transfer a cemetery in a will. But outside of a legally valid will, you cannot sell or transfer ownership to another party without the permission of the City Manager. Additionally, would-be sellers must seek permission via a Cemetery Lot Transfer Form completed and submitted along with the deed transfer. Because the process varies so much and can be quite cumbersome, consider talking to a lawyer before transferring your plot.

The Role of Cemetery Management

Owning the deed to a cemetery plot does not make you the owner. Instead, it simply gives you a right to use the plot. In most cases, the cemetery management company remains the owner of the plot itself, so reviewing the company’s rules and regulations is critically important.

In most states, you can transfer ownership of a cemetery plot to a family member in your will. But if you intend to sell the plot, that may be another matter entirely. For instance, in New York, cemetery plot transfers are overseen by the Division of Cemeteries. The Division requires that owners offer the plot to the cemetery corporation first, at the price originally paid plus four percent simple interest from the date first purchased. Only if the cemetery corporation declines to buy the plot can you then transfer ownership to another party. And even then, you’ll need to seek the permission and approval of the Division of Cemeteries prior to commencing with the transfer.

When you opt to sell your cemetery plot, talk to the management of the cemetery first. A handful of cemeteries, particularly those owned by religious organizations, fall outside of state and local laws, and may establish their own procedures for buying, selling, and transferring land. Your contract may further stipulate that you must consult with the management company prior to transferring the plot. And, of course, notifying the management company of the transfer helps you iron out any problems before they become so severe they delay a burial.

Using the Right Deed

Because cemetery management companies are the rightful owners of cemetery plots, you’ll need to verify both that the ownership paperwork is legally valid, and that the cemetery management company will allow ownership to be transferred. This usually requires nothing more than a simple phone call, but your county clerk can verify for you whether or not the deed has been filed.

After you verify the deed and the right to transfer ownership, you will need to file paperwork in your county clerk’s office changing the owner’s name on the cemetery plot deed. This is a simple matter of altering the current ownership papers, and is often the least cumbersome part of the ownership transfer process. The transfer will not be complete until the paperwork is filed with the county clerk, and you have received permission from any regulatory body overseeing the plot.