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How Do Cemeteries Make Money Even When They are Full?

Cemetery Business

Cemeteries are clearly different from other enterprises. To start one involves a huge deal of investment. To maintain one involves eternal commitment.

All the while, you as the owner must manage the expectations of grieving/sober friends and family members. According to reports, the cemetery industry generated about $4 billion in annual revenue and witnessed a 2.2-percent growth in 2017 alone.

While the grave world of cemeteries is not for everyone, those who venture into it will find an industry that is expected to continually witness growth in sales in the coming years. Cemeteries are also subject to government regulations and standards relating to upkeep and maintenance.

When looking to start a cemetery, one of your first points of duty would be to acquire a space to house your grave site. Municipal corporations can own public cemeteries and offer burial spaces to the general public rather than a specific family or religion, as would be the case with a private cemetery.

The government is also in the business of cemeteries by offering burial grounds to members of the military, as well as other government and federal employees. Once you’ve decided on a cemetery location, and secured the property and necessary requirements to run your cemetery, it is time to establish a business model.

Your business model will determine things like how many cemeterians you will need to manage landscaping and general maintenance to keep the place in pristine condition. You will also need to comply with local regulations and zoning requirements and ensure you have enough money to cover your start-up costs.

Cemeteries are a rock-solid, supply and demand business because everyone dies and families must decide on a final resting place for their loved one’s remains. Families also have more options than ever these days, including green cemeteries that allow the deceased to be buried in the ground in biodegradable caskets, or incorporating the cremated remains into a coral reef in the ocean.

One potential threat to cemeteries is the advent of alternative interment methods such as cremation. Nonetheless, many cemeteries offer the interment of cremated remains in burial plots. So far, traditional burials remain the most popular method of caring for the deceased and statistics report a 2-percent annualized growth for the next decade.

So while the need for cemeteries may not put a smile on everyone’s face, if you are a cemetery owner or considering starting a cemetery business in the future, you can be assured, at least for now, that business is expected to be brisk.

6 Smart Ways Cemeteries Make Money and Turn Profit

It is an honest question, especially when you consider that a good portion of their customers are dead. When your main commodity is space for graves and your land is limited, that means your income will eventually have limitations. Nonetheless, here are some of the ways cemeteries make money.

  1. Opening and closing services

Have it in mind that one of the main services a cemetery renders is the opening and closing of gravesites—i.e., grave digging.

This is where the cemetery digs a grave before burial and fills the grave afterward. Indeed the service of opening and closing the grave often comes paired with—but still separate from—the grave itself. Most cemeteries charge an additional fee for digging the grave and filling it back in so that it can pay its professional staff to complete the task.

Opening and closing services can also involve the opening and closing of mausoleums or columbarium’s if the cemetery has those on offer.

  1. Gravestone instalment

Note that cemeteries also make money by offering gravestone and headstone instalment. Gravestones and headstones can be simple or more elaborate. But no matter the size or level of detail, a headstone is expected to be securely placed to last as long as possible.

Cemeteries also capitalize on that necessity by specializing in placing headstones perfectly. Then they sell the service of headstone instalment to families that choose their cemetery.

  1. Funeral home services

Also note that some cemeteries generate revenue by maximizing the number of services they can offer. By pairing a cemetery with a funeral home, the business can sell numerous additional services. A funeral home offers services like funeral planning and hosting, as well as body preparation.

Having a funeral home onsite can also make a cemetery more desirable to families who want to keep the funeral and burial as simple as possible.

  1. Partnering with other businesses

Agreeably, not every cemetery has its own funeral home. But many graveyard businesses partner up with their local funeral homes and earn a percentage from referrals. Some Cemeteries also partner with related businesses like flower shops to create a funeral network.

Note that by partnering with businesses in this way, a cemetery can earn a small percentage of those other businesses’ profits based on how many paying customers the cemetery sends their way.

  1. Added maintenance

Normally, cemeteries are tasked with maintaining their grounds in perpetuity. For that reason, many states require cemetery operators to invest in a Perpetual Care Fund during their prime operating years.

However, a cemetery might also generate income from additional maintenance services to customers who want something more. For instance, you could pay the cemetery a monthly or yearly fee to maintain flowers planted on the grave of your loved one.

Or, you might pay a small amount to have the staff polish your loved one’s headstone on a regular basis to keep it in good condition. Paying for this type of maintenance service is typically optional, as it is something anyone could perform themselves.

Do Cemeteries Still Make Money When They are Full?

Once a cemetery is filled to the brim, that revenue source ends, but yes cemeteries still make money when they are full. Note that one unique challenge with operating a cemetery is that once the graveyard is full, you can’t sell any more of your central product: gravesites.

Although cemeteries can still monetize some of their services, like specialized gravesite and headstone maintenance, after the cemetery stops accepting new clients, but there are also additional methods through which they make money, and they include;

  1. Perpetual care trust

The primary way cemeteries remain open when they’re full is by withdrawing funds from their perpetual care trusts. A “Perpetual Care Trust” as defined by the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA) are:

“Funds, to be held in perpetual trust, the income of which is to be expended in keeping up forever the necessary care of the individual lots and graves, and maintenance, repair and future renewal of the borders, drives, water and sewer systems, enclosures and necessary buildings.”

Cemeteries generally take out 5 to 15 percent or more of sales for their perpetual care fund. These funds are used for cemetery maintenance as a whole, not just for one grave or a plot. Guidelines and regulations for cemeteries are made on the state level (therefore, the regulations for those in Maine may be different than those in Illinois).

  1. Exhumations and reinterment

Normally, a cemetery plot is a permanent and final resting place. But sometimes, exhumations happen. Although it might be for law enforcement or another reason, the cemetery can charge a fee for completing an exhumation and reinterment of a grave.

If, for any reason, you need to reverse the grave of a loved one and re-bury them, you will likely pay the cemetery a fee to do so.

  1. Individual perpetual care trusts

Agreeably, cemeteries are tasked with maintaining their own perpetual care trusts. But in states where that isn’t the case, you might be able to pay into an individual perpetual care trust for you or your loved one’s gravesite. Note that even cemeteries who have general perpetual care trusts might allow customers to purchase individual trusts.

An individual perpetual care trust, however, could cover additional maintenance and ensure that your gravesite receives the best care possible.

  1. Expansion

Also note that cemeteries can stay open once all their grave plots are taken by expanding their property. Even though it isn’t always possible, a cemetery might be able to purchase a neighbouring lot and create even more land for gravesites. In this way, cemeteries can prolong their prime operating years and continue making money from grave plots and primary services like grave-opening and -closing.

  1. Municipal management

If the business behind the cemetery closes down after it is full, the cemetery itself typically remains. In this instance, the local government might take over the cemetery’s maintenance. Since there’s no more usable land, the government doesn’t have to worry about selling additional gravesites.

  1. Volunteerism

Additionally, the local community can take personal responsibility for managing and maintaining a cemetery if the business goes under, or if it business can no longer afford the cost of maintenance. Neighbours might volunteer their time for lawn-mowing, headstone-cleaning, and other maintenance tasks.


Generally speaking, the burial and interment industry is very slow to change. For now, a traditional burial is still the most popular option in sending off those who have passed away. However, the demand for cremation services has made literal leaps and bounds.

Researchers believe that by 2035, nearly 79% of people will choose cremation rather than traditional burial. And with full cemeteries relying mostly on their perpetual care trusts to care for their grounds into eternity, cremation may become even more popular than that.