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Funerals/Parent's cemetery plots/ownership


My Dad's wife is the sole beneficiary of his assets per his will. (this is currently being contested). All of his assets are in one state with the exception of my parent's cemetery plots which are in another state.
My mother is buried at the cemetery plot that I am questioning. There is
a joint headstone for my Dad and for my Mom, only separated with two plaques that give her name, birth and death date, and my dad's plaque has his name and birth date. However, he is not buried here. He is buried where his second wife chose. Therefore, his plaque only had his name and birth date. My family added his death date, and she removed the plaque.(Also for information purposes, my Mother died without a will. Therefore, we have been told that all of Mom's assets went to Dad upon Mom's death, and then to her, his second wife upon my Dad's death making her 100% owner of both parent's cemetery plots. I do have the receipt where my parents originally purchased the cemetery plots. My question is can I have my mother's remains removed without her permission?

Hi Cindy,

Boy, that's a complicated setup!I feel for you.

Cemetery laws vary from state to state, and the issue of who can arrange for a disinterment is ALWAYS a sticky one if it's in dispute since, technically, a human body can't be an asset (unlike cremated remains) and so the possession of a body does not travel with a will.

The laws are not always very specific, and thorny situations can require a judge to disentangle them for a family that's at odds like yours is.

The first place I'd talk to is the cemetery where your mother is currently buried. They're the folks who can tell you who has the right to disinter, because they can only perform the disinterment and release the body to a legally authorized person. If you think they're wrong, you can then get other opinions, but it will probably require a lawyer to make the case for you and get a court order (from a judge) to release the body to your custody.

Before you go too much further, however, you'll want to have the new place to rebury your mother lined up, and if it requires a judge's order to make this happen you'll have to show that you've got the money to rebury her before anyone will let you take her out. Legal paperwork for disinterment always includes reinterment information, and the disinterment won't even take place until they have authorization from the receiving cemetery (not from you) saying there's a plot ready to accept her body.

Disinterment can be very expensive. Another option for memorialization might be to start up a "new" family plot at another cemetery (your use of the word "we" implies that there are some siblings involved.) You could choose to leave your mother's body where it is, and take the CONSIDERABLE money that would take to remove her and rebury her and buy a wonderful headstone with all sorts of stories about her on it, and use it as a centerpiece for a set of family graves someplace else more convenient to you all. In many ways, this would be the most peaceful option and I urge you to consider it.

RE: the marker -- typically, the marker belongs to (and is the responsibility of) the purchaser. If the second wife bought the original marker and you added something to it, she probably had the right to remove it. If you (or your family before your Dad married the second wife) bought the marker when your mother died, she may not have had that right because it's unlikely that ownership of the headstone - and the right to do something with it - passed to her.

Again, the cemetery that is hosting the marker should be able to give you an answer. If it's not an answer you like or agree with, you can consult the lawyer about this, as well.

It does seem like there's something a little bit screwy about the asset distribution, especially if somone's so bitter that they would interfere in such a personal family matter, so good luck with contesting it.

BTW -I want to remind you: I am not a lawyer, just a person with reasoned opinions, so don't take this as gospel.

Hope this helped! (and do consider natural burial for yourself when it's your time to go down under...)




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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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