Have you ever wondered what happens to a cemetery after it is filled up? Who is going to pay to cut the grass, pull the weeds and repair the roads if no funds are coming in from selling grave plots? The answer, for many cemeteries, is an endowment care fund.
Q: What is an endowment care fund, and how does it work?
A: For cemeteries that opened after July 1, 1970, Ohio law requires that they initially deposit $50,000 into a permanent endowment fund. After the initial deposit, ten percent of all grave plot and mausoleum sales made by the cemetery must be placed into the endowment fund. The interest income from the endowment fund is then used to pay operating and maintenance expenses for the cemetery in perpetuity.
Q: I’m thinking about buying a grave plot. What should I know about the cemetery’s endowment fund?
A: It is important for consumers who are considering the purchase of grave plots to inquire whether the cemetery has an endowment fund and how long it has been in existence. Cemeteries operating before 1970 and religious cemeteries, which are not covered by the endowment trust law, may have voluntarily formed their own endowment funds. Since a cemetery will eventually fill up, it is important that it has an adequate endowment fund.
Q: What happens if, for example, a church that owns a cemetery decides to quit using the property for that purpose?
A: If the organization owning a cemetery chooses to stop using it as a cemetery, Ohio law says the organization can disinter all bodies buried there and re-inter them, with gravestones and monuments, to a nearby cemetery that is open for public use. At least 30 days before removing any bodies, however, the cemetery owner must give notice to the next of kin or family of the decedents and allow them to move the remains to other cemeteries.
Q: Who pays for moving and re-burying people when a cemetery closes?
A: If the organization is still in existence, it must pay for the costs of the disinterment and reburial. If that organization is insolvent or defunct, then the municipality or township where the cemetery is located must pay those costs. However, the municipality or township would then collect the proceeds of any sale of the former cemetery lands once all of the bodies have been removed.
Q: What happens when a cemetery’s founding organization simply abandons it?
A: Generally, when a cemetery is abandoned by the organization that founded it, responsibility for its upkeep falls to the municipality or township where the cemetery is located. According to Ohio law, a municipality or township must keep cemetery fences in good repair and remove the undergrowth and weeds from an abandoned cemetery at least once a year. Unfortunately, in these tight economic times, municipalities and townships often do not have funds in the budget to cover this responsibility. Therefore, consumers should be cautious in selecting cemetery properties by asking the right questions regarding endowment care funds.
Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. This article was prepared by attorney T. Scott Gilligan of Gilligan Law Offices in Cincinnati.