What is perpetual care as it applies to cemeteries and burials? Most people have heard of the term, but many do not know what it means. It is a legal term, and it may surprise you to learn it is defined differently depending on the state.
Put simply, perpetual care involves a fund created for the purpose of maintaining cemetery grounds, mausoleums, crypts, or other parts of a cemetery. When somebody chooses a cemetery for their loved ones to be buried, a percentage of the sale price is dedicated toward the perpetual fund. This creates a fund that a cemetery is able to draw upon in future years. The fund essentially ensures that a cemetery remains well maintained. It is up to family members to care for individual graves. Cemetery sextons have the responsibility of maintenance on cemetery facilities and upkeep of landscaping.
What else do perpetual funds pay for? They can be used for various maintenance activities within a cemetery. Funds could be used for things such as mowing the lawn, maintaining pathways and seats, or creating signage. Funds can also be used for security purposes or to mitigate weather damage. Needs are likely to vary between different regions and states. The listed examples are just some possible expenses that may be paid with perpetual care funds (Tetrault).
Not all cemeteries have perpetual care and perpetual care funds. Sometimes, they are required by state law. Older cemeteries and cemeteries with no empty space may not have perpetual care. Perpetual care may not be possible or affordable for cemeteries that are 50+ years old. Religious or nonprofit groups may continue to pay for care for these plots, but it is not guaranteed. Private cemeteries are unlikely to have a perpetual care fund. The responsibility of caring for these cemeteries falls on the owner. Churches, families, and local groups are often owners of private cemeteries. It is their responsibility to maintain these private cemeteries and/or set up their own perpetual care fund.
Does perpetual care last forever? No. One of the biggest misunderstandings is that perpetual care means forever. That isn’t always realistic though. Perpetual care was very inexpensive throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s. The money dedicated during that time can rarely continue to cover the costs of basic services today. This makes it nearly impossible to care for some cemeteries in the long term. When burials discontinue, funds start to dry up. Low-cost cemeteries and cemeteries in low-income areas also face an uphill battle when trying to keep up with rapidly growing costs and demands. Many lack adequate upkeep or rely heavily on volunteer help (Tetrault).
Most fully functional cemeteries today offer some form of perpetual care. Most of the time, it is in the best interest of the cemetery to offer this type of care. Perpetual care funds make it affordable for cemeteries to provide long term upkeep. Today, finding a cemetery that provides perpetual care is not difficult (Guide).
“Guide to Cemetery Purchases.” Funeral Consumers Alliance, 2 Dec. 2020, funerals.org/?consumers=consumers-guide-cemetery-purchases.
Tetrault, Sam. “What Is a Perpetual Care Cemetery? Definition + Faqs.” Cake , 24 June 2021, www.joincake.com/blog/perpetual-care-cemetery/.
Perpetual Care: Kentucky
In Kentucky, most cemeteries are required to establish and maintain a perpetual care fund. If a cemetery contains burials more recent than 1984, they likely fall into this category. This does not apply to every cemetery. Some private and family cemeteries may be exempt. However, it is likely they still have a fund or framework for maintenance in place.
Perpetual care and maintenance — Creation of funds by cemetery companies — Required payments — Local government exemption — Termination, distribution, and use of funds in local government trust fund.
2.(c) Every cemetery company hereinafter established shall create and maintain a perpetual care and maintenance fund, depositing therein an initial deposit as listed below, and shall submit proof thereof to the Attorney General prior to the offering for sale of any burial rights. Any payment required under paragraph (a) of this subsection shall be credited against the initial deposit until the required sum has been reached:
- In Counties fewer than 50,000 persons, $20,000;
- In Counties of 50,000 to 99,999 persons $30,000;
- In Counties of 100,000 or more persons, $50,000.
- Every cemetery in KY except private family cemeteries shall be maintained by legal owner or owners, without respect to the individual owners of burial plots in the cemetery, in such a manner so as to keep the burial grounds or cemetery free of growth of weeds, free from accumulated debris, displaced tombstones, or other signs and indication of vandalism or gross neglect.
* Research Associate, Strause Law Group, PLLC.