How to Start a Cemetery in 14 Steps (In-Depth Guide)

Updated: February 1, 2024 is reader-supported. When you buy through links on my site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

Opening a cemetery is a rewarding career path, helping those with lost loved ones honor the dead. As of 2028, the cemetery services market in the United States could reach $6.2 billion if it follows the current projection for a 2.8% compound annual growth rate between 2023 and 2028.


Have you considered getting into the end-of-life business? More people are drawn to the prospect as funeral homes fill up across the country. The barrier to entry is lower than you may expect. With some grit and savvy planning, you can launch your cemetery or crematorium.

This comprehensive guide covers how to start a cemetery. You’ll learn insider tips on sourcing equipment, gaining licensure, marketing your services, and much more. Here’s everything to know about becoming a cemetery business owners.

1. Conduct Cemetery Market Research

Market research is an important part of starting a successful cemetery business. Research offers insight into your target market, marketing outlets, pricing guides, and how to manage business expenses. It also helps you determine whether to open traditional burial grounds or family cemeteries with specialty plots.


Some details you’ll learn through market research include:

  • The top 50% of industry players hold over 80% of the market share, so you’ll need to carve out a niche.
  • Areas with large numbers of aging citizens and minimal existing funeral options are prime targets.
  • Illinois is home to nearly 200 cremation facilities versus just 30 spread throughout South Dakota.
  • Annual revenue for a typical funeral home ranges anywhere from $300,000 for independent operations up to $5.6 million for leading corporate consolidators like Service Corporation International.
  • Industry profit margins are attractive, averaging around 19%.
  • While National Funeral Directors Association members charge over $7,500 on average for full-service funerals, new players can come in below market price.
  • Zoning laws, emissions limits, licensure prerequisites, and other red tape vary significantly across jurisdictions.

Arlington National Cemetery receives over 3 million visitors each year, exemplifying the public’s enduring fascination with death. If your research confirms sufficient demand in a given area, initiating a cemetery business could pay off both financially and emotionally as you help families find closure. Solid market research helps build a solid cemetery business plan.

2. Analyze the Competition

Entering the funeral services industry means going head-to-head with other cemeteries of long-standing operations. Carefully scrutinize your competitors to spot potential advantages you can leverage as the new venue in town.


Drive around within a 20-mile radius of where you want to establish your cemetery and document every existing option. Note if the grounds appear outdated, unkempt, small, or lacking in parking or amenities. Also, consider their proximity to expressways and population hubs. These characteristics reveal openings for a conveniently located, modern facility.

Search online directories and review sites to gauge community perceptions of incumbents. Sort funeral homes and cemeteries by rating and number of reviews. Low scores or limited feedback indicate dissatisfied families who may welcome a fresh alternative for memorial services.

Analyze the digital presence of competitors as well. Search their names on Google and browse the first few pages of results along with their websites. Do they appear outdated? How easy is it to navigate and find pricing? Mobile responsiveness and loading speeds also impact user experience.

Additionally, check whether rival venues have embraced virtual tours and online planning tools. For example, 15% of client meetings at NorthStar Memorial Group now take place via video conference. SCI Direct also lets families customize nearly 200 aspects of services through digital catalogs. If local outfits haven’t yet invested in these technologies, you can market your facility as the modern, convenient choice.

Pay attention to the types of products and services competitors provide too. Consider offering specialty options around green burials, cremation jewelry, or veteran memorials as ways to differentiate. This data illuminates exactly how to tailor your venue to both stand apart and give customers what they want but aren’t currently receiving from legacy operators.

3. Costs to Start a Cemetery Business

Getting a cemetery up and running entails extensive upfront investment. You’ll need to secure land, gain licensure, purchase equipment, hire staff, and more. Many items require deep pockets, but costs vary based on state regulations, business size, and other aspects.

Start-up Costs:

Land Acquisition – The largest start-up cost is purchasing a plot of land for the cemetery itself. The price per acre fluctuates tremendously based on location. Rural lots can go for as little as $2,000 per acre, while spaces near metro areas average around $100,000 according to industry professionals. Plan for at least 10 acres to allow room for future expansion.

Licensing & Permits – States have different requirements around owning and operating cemeteries. Processing fees for licenses, permits, insurance, and other paperwork can cost $5,000 or more. You may also need to fund certified public records of interment rights and maps of property plots.

Excavation & Development – After acquiring land, you must prepare it for burying bodies. Costs include clearing trees/debris, installing roads & water systems, landscaping, fencing, and signage. This can range from $20,000 for basics up to $500,000+ for high-end builds. Many states mandate perpetual care funds as well, involving large upfront deposits to cover future maintenance.

Equipment – Backhoes, hearses, lowering devices, cremation chambers, urns, and caskets all require major capital. Even basic gear for a small operation starts around $75,000. Facilities offering cremation services need even more equipment, with top-quality retorts running $150,000+.

Staff – Bring on a licensed funeral director as your legally mandated responsible party. Their median salary is $55,000. You’ll also need groundskeepers, morticians, office help, and potentially cemetery sales reps. Estimate $250,000+ for first-year personnel costs if launching with 5+ employees.

In total, expect over $500,000 in starting capital to open a no-frills cemetery. $1 million or more provides ample operating runway for the first few years.

Ongoing Costs:

Facilities Maintenance: Upkeep of landscaping, roads, buildings, and equipment will run a few thousand dollars per month minimum. Costs scale up for larger grounds.

Labor: Payroll quickly becomes the largest recurring cost. Industry wages range widely from $35k for groundskeepers up past $150k for general managers of big cemeteries. Plan for $200k+ in annual salaries.

Administration: Marketing, advertising, accounting, legal fees, and general overhead like utilities and office supplies tally another $5-10k per month for many operations.

To sustain the business as interment plots sell over decades, contribute consistently to prepaid funeral trust funds and perpetual care reserves amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

Though capital-intensive, death care remains a necessity. If you secure financing and control costs once open, a cemetery can deliver stable long-term profits. Adjust projections based on decisions around size, pricing, and service offerings as you develop your unique business plan.

4. Form a Legal Business Entity

When establishing a cemetery, the legal structure you choose impacts everything from daily operations to taxes and personal liability. Weigh these key considerations for each entity type to make the best decision upfront.

Sole Proprietorship

As the simplest framework, sole proprietorships involve minimal paperwork. You can instantly start transacting as an individual owner. However, you assume full legal and financial risk if sued over issues like mismanaged funds or safety incidents on the premises. For a cemetery with significant liability exposure, protecting personal assets is prudent.


Forming a partnership spreads responsibility across multiple owners through a formal agreement. However, each partner can still be personally liable for collective business actions. Disagreements between even long-term friends commonly dissolve partnerships as well. The shared nature causes complications if one person wants to exit or adapt the vision over time.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

For cemetery entrepreneurs, LLCs offer the best protections with minimal drawbacks. LLCs limit legal and financial liabilities, preventing owners’ assets from being seized if the business faces a lawsuit or bankruptcy. They deliver tax efficiencies too as profit/loss passes through to members’ returns, avoiding corporate double taxation.

LLCs provide flexibility to onboard investors, secure a business credit card, and execute complex cemetery ownership transfers across heirs. Sales of multi-grave plots with varying access rights over decades benefit from an LLC’s sturdy legal standing. Simple member agreements allow refining operations and ownership stakes.


C-corps involve extensive incorporation paperwork and more complex accounting. They better shield owners from legal liability but face double taxation on company earnings and dividends paid to shareholders. For cemeteries, they only suit large consolidators seeking to raise funds via public stock offerings. Stick with an LLC or S-Corp otherwise.

While more work upfront than sole proprietorships, LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANIES enable cemetery founders to protect personal assets if sued or facing bankruptcy – a frequent risk in this industry. They also allow easing into partnerships, raising investment capital, and evolving ownership structures as the business grows. Form your cemetery as an LLC from day one for maximum protection with minimal hurdles.

5. Register Your Business For Taxes

Before accepting any payments or hiring staff, register your budding cemetery venture with federal and state tax authorities. This legitimizes your business and enables you to comply with tax obligations.

Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

Also called a Federal Tax ID Number, EINs uniquely identify business entities. The IRS uses them to track tax returns, payments, and other paperwork.

As a cemetery owner, you need an EIN to open business bank accounts, apply for specific licenses and permits, and hire employees.

The EIN application process takes just a few minutes online. Simply provide basic information about your business structure and ownership details at

Print and retain the EIN confirmation notice for your records. The IRS does not charge an application fee.

Register for State Taxes

While the EIN handles federal taxes, visit your state revenue department’s website to register for a tax ID number for filing returns and remitting sales tax.

For example, if launching a cemetery in California, you would register with the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration for a seller’s permit. Likewise, Texas-based operations obtain a tax ID through their Comptroller’s Office.

Many states let you register for sales tax IDs and other business licenses during a single application session. Follow the steps for your state to ensure full compliance.

Display Tax Certificates

Customers commonly ask to see licenses and tax registrations before purchasing cemetery goods and services. Obtain certificates for your EIN, sales permits, and other registrations. Prominently showcase these around your facility and on your website to reinforce credibility and transparency.

Keeping up with evolving tax codes remains challenging for a new business owner. Consider enlisting an accountant or law firm that specializes in the death care industry to handle filings and stay compliant.

6. Setup Your Accounting

With frequent cash transactions, perpetual care trusts, and complex ownership transfers, a cemetery’s financial tracking must be air-tight. Implement centralized accounting software and enlist a tax professional from the start to stay compliant.

Accounting Software

Accounting software like QuickBooks automatically syncs income and expenses across integrated bank/credit card accounts to simplify balancing the books. QuickBooks even lets you upload scanned receipts and invoices along with transaction records for easy lookup later. Custom charts of accounts and automated reminders for tax payments are both features to look forward to.

Hire an Accountant

While the software does the heavy lifting in recording day-to-day activity, an accountant provides indispensable high-level guidance. Experts well-versed in death care compliance verify your ledgers and filings are accurate across local, state, and federal requirements for taxes, business permits, trust management, and more.

Open a Business Bank Account

Be sure to separate all cemetery finances from your banking and spending. Keeping accounts distinct simplifies reporting at tax time. The best practice is establishing a business checking account and credit card solely for company transactions.

Apply for Business Credit Cards

Apply for company cards just as you did your EIN, providing your business legal name, EIN, and owners’ Social Security Numbers for the application. Business cards often offer bonus point incentives plus higher limits since balances are tied to company earnings rather than your income alone.

7. Obtain Licenses and Permits

Before hosting your first memorial service, secure all required approvals from local and state agencies. Find federal license information through the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBA also offers a local search tool for state and city requirements.

Cemeteries fall under robust oversight by state boards and must obtain operating licenses. For example, the Georgia State Board of Cemeteries enforces codes related to prepaid services, merchandise sales, cemetery manager qualifications, and conduct standards.

Most states also require a certified funeral director to oversee each physical location as the legally accountable manager. These licensed mortuary science practitioners underwent training on burial procedures, embalming, cremation, and other hands-on aspects of memorial events.

Check municipal statutes as well for any special use permits, land grading approvals, fire and safety certificates, or other requirements unique to cemeteries in your area. The zoning board may need to formally approve construction plans based on environmental impact studies.

Common regional requirements also include installing fences or other buffers between grave sites and adjacent properties. Approvals take time so start the permitting process early.

Don’t overlook obligations around Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) rules too. For example, provide personal protective equipment like gloves, masks, and safety glasses for grounds maintenance teams. Document proper training as cemetery work entails hazardous substances for embalming and frequent heavy lifting.

8. Get Business Insurance

Given the nature of death care, prudent cemetery owners secure robust business insurance coverage immediately upon launch. Policies shield your company’s finances while protecting families on your grounds.

Without coverage, a major accident, injury, or lawsuit can instantly upend operations. Imagine a scenario where memorial guests trip on uneven pavement, resulting in broken bones and five-figure hospital bills. The cemetery would bear full responsibility for these crushing medical fees without insurance.

Likewise, picture an employee improperly sealing a crematorium oven, causing an explosive fire that forces a month-long shutdown. The lost revenue and repair costs could permanently shutter the business.

Another example is groundskeepers spilling fertilizer into a pond, breeding toxic algae. This causes a health hazard and a drawn-out legal battle with massive penalties.

In any of these real situations, your unprotected cemetery itself shoulders steep fines and legal fees. Possible bankruptcy creates further turmoil for grieving families who prepaid for burial plots or services.

The right insurance defends against worst-case scenarios. Commonly recommended packages include:

  • General liability – Covers property damage, bodily injuries, and related legal claims from accidents on your premises
  • Commercial property – Repairs/replaces buildings, equipment, and furnishings due to theft, disasters, etc.
  • Workers comp – Handles medical care and lost wages for on-the-job staff injuries
  • Business interruption – Reimburses income lost if unable to operate for a covered reason
  • Directors and officers – Defends against claims alleging misdeeds by decision-makers

Packages range from $500 annually for bare basics to $5,000 for robust protection. Quotes vary based on your location, cemetery size, and coverage limits selected.

9. Create an Office Space

Though much of your time is spent on cemetery grounds, securing office space proves indispensable for admin tasks like contacting suppliers, planning events, and keeping financial records.

Coworking Space

Shared workspaces like WeWork allow renting office capacity by the month rather than signing long-term leases. Coworking desks start around $300 monthly plus variable fees for extras like meeting rooms and printers. These spaces provide turnkey office infrastructure without ownership hassles when launching a venture.

Commercial Office

Leasing modest commercial space near your cemetery begins at around $1,000 monthly for roomy options with parking. While costlier than other routes, dedicated offices reinforce perceptions of reliability for grieving customers. Soundproofed walls prevent background noise from disturbing emotional conversations too.

10. Source Your Equipment

Launching a cemetery requires substantial upfront investment in heavy equipment for excavating, landscaping, and handling caskets. Whether buying new or used, know your financing options.

New Equipment

Purchasing brand-new earth-moving equipment like backhoes, payloaders, and lowering devices provides reliability and warranty protection. New caskets, cremation chambers, and specialty vehicles like hearses also ensure premier condition.

Used Equipment

Savvy entrepreneurs source slightly used models initially through classifieds or auction sites, then upgrade later. Search Craigslist using keywords like “backhoe loader,” and “hearse”, plus your state.

Private sellers on Facebook Marketplace also commonly offload funeral vehicles and tools due to retirement. Expect to pay 40-60% less than new. Search broadly within a few hundred miles to maximize chances of discovery.

Rent Equipment

Short-term rental works nicely for small cemeteries only excavating graves upon need rather than pre-digging hundreds of plots. However, frequent transport and setup prove time-consuming.

Leased Equipment

Leasing commits to year+ agreements requiring monthly payments comparable to financing purchases. While essentially long-term rental, leases enable accessing costly gear otherwise out of reach for startups facing capital constraints.

11. Establish Your Brand Assets

Distinguishing your cemetery amidst a sea of legacy funeral homes requires thoughtful brand-building from the start. From logos to websites, unify visual identity across assets to spark trust and recognition.

Getting a Business Phone Number

RingCentral provides custom 800 numbers and call routing to any employee device for consistent connections with grieving families. Expect around $30 monthly for a dedicated business line to list across marketing materials.

Creating a Logo and Brand Assets

Customizable logo creation services like Looka generate countless refined options incorporating input around imagery, typography, shapes, and themes meaningful to you. Expect around $50 per chosen design.

Purchasing a Domain Name

Secure an easy-to-remember domain that evokes your venue’s essence, like SerenityMemorialCemetery. Domain registrars like Namecheap offer registrations around $15 annually.

Creating Business Cards and Signage

Custom signs marking cemetery driveways and key buildings aid visitors. Craft signage and especially business cards exuding refinement and expertise. Offer cards to grieving families touring the grounds.

Vistaprint provides 500 basic cards for under $50. Send cards when mailing documentation as well to reinforce your brand.

Building a Website

Well-designed websites showcase grounds and memorial options at length while easing online tributes or event coordination. Employ user-friendly site builders like Wix for a quick launch. If you prefer custom coding, specialized cemetery site developers abound on freelancer platforms like Fiverr starting at around $500.

12. Join Associations and Groups

Tapping into networks of fellow cemetery owners and funeral directors accelerates growth through shared knowledge. Both local groups and broader online communities provide camaraderie and counsel.

Local Associations

Area funeral professional associations like the Tri-County Funeral Directors Association and statewide collectives such as the Ohio Cemetery Association and Ohio Funeral Directors Association facilitate meetups and advocacy. Membership fees run a few hundred dollars annually.

Local Meetups

Keep tabs on relevant conferences and tradeshows nearby as well. Event listing services such as Meetup centralize details around statewide cemetery owner forums, death care legal seminars, and conventions like the ICCFA Expo held annually.

Facebook Groups

For broader 24/7 idea exchange from funeral pros worldwide, join selected Facebook Groups like Cemetery. Its members frequently discuss trends, ethical dilemmas, and vendor recommendations threaded by topic.

More niche discussions happen within smaller communities like ROYAL FUNERAL SERVICES. The collective knowledge within these groups provides invaluable perspectives beyond just regional circles.

13. How to Market a Cemetery Business

Gaining visibility within the grief-stricken communities you aim to serve remains an enduring priority when launching a cemetery. Implement multifaceted outreach highlighting your grounds’ accommodating features and dignified service.

Tap into Personal Networks

Early on, your connections provide the most promising lead sources, including friends and family members. Satisfied families who found solace thanks to your memorial events make ideal brand advocates. Consider discounts for each new customer they refer your way.

Word of mouth builds organically but stays accelerated by incentives and gentle encouragement to share positive experiences. These personal endorsements influence locally better than any advertisements could.

Digital Marketing Approaches

  • Search ads on Google spotlight your cemetery and offerings to nearby people already hunting relevant keywords around memorial planning. Tailor copy and landing pages to match their mindset and intent.
  • Facebook looks to expand memorialization features for users to tribute passed relatives digitally right within their existing connections and content. Consider sponsoring related posts to drive awareness.
  • Launch a blog publishing thoughtful advice articles around grief, estate planning, cremation options, and other topics families face when experiencing loss. Quality content earns organic search traffic and positions your guidance as a comfort.
  • Email nurture campaigns guide subscribers through memorial planning decision points via periodic supportive content and event promotions after signup.

Traditional Marketing Techniques

  • Print brochures for an on-site display to capture contact details from visiting families as they tour grounds and facilities. Follow up after to build relationships.
  • Place ads in regional newspapers and funeral trade publications to reach older demographics still paging through print rather than purely digital content.
  • Seek partnerships with hospices, churches, and other community groups that counsel grieving members. Offer venue discounts in exchange for formal recommendations when appropriate.
  • Local radio spots could supplement digital efforts, but measure response rates closely before committing extensive ad spending.
  • Billboards stand as high-visibility options but evaluate their distraction factor and fleeting impression time compared to digital channels.

14. Focus on the Customer

When families entrust your cemetery to memorialize loved ones, unmatched compassion, and care build loyalty that fuels referrals and repeats. In an industry with minimal repeat transactions, reputation becomes the growth engine.


Set expectations with newly grieving patrons that your dedicated staff will handle every detail and question surrounding interment with grace and precision. Then follow through flawlessly.

Customize ceremonies based on religious and cultural traditions important to each family. Send handwritten notes conveying your team’s condolences around anniversaries or relevant dates.

Making these empathetic gestures earns tremendous goodwill that converts relatives and friends into enthusiastic advocates who endorse your cemetery during their difficult times.

While no marketing matches the power of word-of-mouth referrals, earning such endorsements requires genuinely prioritizing customer care over profits. Invest in hospitality training for your team, build transparent processes, and solicit feedback to continually improve.

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