Headstone Etiquette: Yes, Grave Markers Come with Some Important Rules

By: VGFS
Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Most people are familiar with headstones to some degree. While you may not have purchased one, you have probably seen these grave markers in cemeteries and other burial places.

However, you may be surprised to know that there is etiquette surrounding them, too. Whether you’re planning your own end-of-life arrangements or choosing a headstone for a loved one, it’s important to know and follow the proper protocols.

We invite you to read on for an overview of headstone etiquette and manners.

Who is responsible for buying the headstone?

The cost of this monument comes from the estate of the departed unless indicated otherwise. Some families choose to pay for the headstone themselves. While this is perfectly acceptable, be advised that the cost of a headstone can be quite high. In this case, whoever orders the headstone is the one who pays for it. If the funds in the estate are not sufficient, then it is left to the surviving immediate family members to agree on how to pay for these expenses.

How is the headstone chosen?

There are many things to consider when selecting a headstone. If the departed outlined specific headstone requests in their will or other end-of-life plans, then those instructions should be adhered to. This may indicate the type of grave marker to be used as well as any preferences for headstone inscriptions, quotes, etc.  More often than not, however, people fail to make their end-of-life wishes clear to their loved ones before they pass. In this situation, the responsibility falls to the spouse or children. If these individuals are no longer living or are unable to fulfill the selection obligation, the responsibility then goes to the next-of-kin.

Do rules of etiquette exist for headstone inscriptions?

If you have ever walked through a graveyard, you may have noticed that there are similarities in the way the information is presented on the headstones. It follows a certain logical order that provides much-needed structure and makes it easy to locate individual markers. A great deal of detailed record-keeping goes into maintaining accurate accounts of burial plots, so it’s wise to adhere to the correct order as much as possible. In general, the lines follow this order:

  1. Name
  2. Dates
  3. Epitaph

Prior to these lines, there might be a short opening phrase such as “In Loving Memory”. If you plan to include the names of any pre-deceased family, they should follow the name of the buried individual. For example, “In Loving Memory of Patricia Nolan, daughter of Florence and Anthony Nolan”.

Are headstone decorations acceptable?

There exists a wide range of appropriate decorations to choose from that will enhance your loved one’s final resting place. They offer a smart alternative to a long headstone inscription and are something you can update on a regular basis. Most memorial parks have a list of approved decorations so be sure to check with the cemetery office before placing any embellishments on the grave. The rules vary but most cemeteries allow the following:

  • Flowers (artificial and real)
  • Wreaths
  • Small flags
  • Crosses or religious statues
  • Notes
  • Photos

What decorations are not allowed?

Again, the rules differ for each cemetery and usually depend upon factors such as the available space and the climate. Some examples of decorations that are generally not permitted on gravestones include:

  • Free-standing vases or other breakable glass items
  • Light-up decorations
  • Large flags
  • Candles
  • Fencing or borders
  • Stuffed animals

Items like these are difficult to maintain and/or they may interfere with the cemetery’s lawn care. Some might also prove to be a safety hazard.

In a perfect world, you will know your loved one’s wishes regarding their headstone before they pass. That’s not always possible, so use your best judgment and consider the rules outlined above. Most importantly, remember that there are endless ways you can honor a departed loved one and create a lasting tribute to their legacy.

We hope you find these headstone etiquette guidelines helpful. If you have questions or need additional information, please reach out to us anytime. It is always our pleasure to assist you.

About Vaughn Greene Funeral Services: For more than 20 years, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services has been providing a ministry of care to Baltimore’s African American community. As a leading local, minority- and family-owned provider, we promise to provide our highest level of service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved ones. For more information, please call us at 410.655.0015 or visit us online at https://vaughncgreene.com/.

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