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Funerals/Can a non-family member place a marker on grave site?


My brother died a couple of years ago and was cremated and buried on my parents grave site.  My sister and I, the only remaining direct family members, were not yet ready to place a marker on my brother's grave site. However, the wife of my mother's deceased cousin arranged to have placed a rather large stone on the grave.
My sister and I would like for this large stone to be removed and a smaller, more simple stone be placed there instead. Do we have the right to have the stone removed and a new one placed? Must the stone be returned to purchasers or may it be disposed of in any manner that we can arrange?

Hi Phyllis,

Cemeteries are very familiar with working out desires like this, as it's common for family members to both change, and change their minds.

I answered a similar question about who controls grave recently here:

and here:

The answers to both those questions should be useful in your case, as well.


Cemeteries sell a couple of kinds of rights; one is the right to inter the casket and the body, and the other is the right to place a memorial. In your specific case, the cemetery owner should be able to identify who currently owns the stone, and who currently owns the right of monument stone.

You need to work with the cemetery directly on this, as any laws governing property and contracts - the laws that underpin the rights we're talking about - are State-based. If the cemetery doesn't give you an answer you agree with, you may then consider verifying their statements with the State Cemetery Board that oversees cemeteries in your State.

Speaking with the cemetery to understand how they interpret the contract is first. When you talk to the cemetery operator, be sure to ask for suggestions on how you can best handle the existing stone.

One possibility, if it's agreed that it's to be moved (and it's large) could be to offer it to the cemetery to relocate in another section and dedicate it as a cenotaph for some local group- - perhaps a group your brother had an affinity with, and perhaps for persons who've been cremated but don't have the advantage of a place of remembrance in a cemetery (not all are able to afford it). With most large stones it's possible to remove the first inscription by going deeper into the stone, and adding a new inscription - it could include your family name and be recognized as an additional memorial in your brother's honor.

This is one way to address a situation like this; I'm sure there are more. The point is to keep family tensions low, and perhaps even create a win/win for everyone.

Hope this helps,



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Cynthia Beal


Typical questions include 1) Where can I go for a natural burial? 2) What types of coffins, urns and other "packaging" are best for natural decomposition? 3)How do I plan for a natural funeral? 4) Do I have to be embalmed? and other questions in this vein. I'm available to answer general consumer questions about natural burial, home and natural funerals, and sustainable cemetery management. I answer questions about general cemetery matters, and offer suggestions about how to deal with remains, cremated or buried, interment rights, rules for cemeteries and plot owners, covering conventional as well as alternative options. I also answer questions from professionals, home funeral guides, and family members about how to manage a natural funeral either in the mortuary or at the home, how to best use natural coffins and urns, and how to convert cemeteries to natural, sustainable practices. I will answer questions from volunteer cemetery managers about how to offer natural burial in their rural, Pioneer, or non-profit cemeteries. If I don't know an answer I'll refer the questioner to someone who does. DISCLAIMER -- I am a certified pre-need sales person in the State of Oregon. I am not a licensed attorney, tax adviser, estate planner, funeral director, embalmer, accountant, public official, or any other professional that may be associated with issues the question brings up and any answers I provide should not be relied upon if such expertise is required by the asker (as per the All Expert suggestion). I provide my own personal opinions, based on my experience in business, Nature and its systems, and with human beings after 55 years of life on the planet.


Natural burial and sustainable cemetery management experience: I'm the founder of the Natural Burial Company and a member of the Cemetery Association of Oregon. Over 25 years in the natural products industry, and over a decade of running the Natural Burial Company, founded in 2004. I've done some consulting for existing and start-up natural cemetery operations. I'm currently an instructor at Oregon State University, facilitating the creation of a program in sustainable cemetery management and stimulating research in cemetery-oriented processes and functions, and I own two historic cemeteries the feature natural burial, based in Oregon.

ICCFA - International Cemetery, Crematory and Funeral Association Green Business Network Funeral Consumers Alliance

American Cemetery Magazine; Funeral Business Advisor; Real Goods Source Book; American Funeral Director Magazine, etc.

There is no degree in natural burials or funerals, and no accredited education provided for sustainable cemetery management. We're developing a program at Oregon State University but it hasn't fully launched yet.

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