Choosing a headstone that fits your family’s budget
Headstones are one of the more costly parts of funeral and burial plans.
The average family pays between $1,000 and $3,000 for the headstone, which includes installation costs.
The cost varies depending on several factors, including the size, material, style, and level of detail in the engraving.
You’ll need to factor in maintenance as well, since headstone cleaning is recommended every 7-10 years.
After the casket, a headstone is generally the second most expensive item you need to pay for when planning a funeral.
Knowing how to choose a headstone can help you make sure you’re getting a fair deal, especially if you’re in the midst of grief, which can make decision-making difficult and create some vulnerability to high-pressure sales tactics.
Understanding headstone options
From the size and stone color to the type of material—and even the amount of lettering you choose—headstone details can cause prices to range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.
Keep in mind that the term headstone is often used interchangeably with tombstones, gravestones, and grave markers—but there are some differences.
Generally grave markers are understood to be plaques that lay horizontally on a stone base, whereas a headstone typically stands vertically at the head of the grave.
Headstones are most often made of granite or marble and inscribed with your loved one’s name, birth date (or just the year), and death date (or just the year). They may also include a short epitaph or decorative touches, such as floral designs, religious images, or a photo portrait.
It can take one to six months to complete a headstone once you choose what you want. But the time of the year, the headstone size, and the customization required can result in a longer wait time.
The price range for headstones
The first step when planning for a headstone is to contact the cemetery where your burial plot is. The staff can provide you with a list of requirements for the various kinds of grave markers allowed, including permitted sizes, materials, and installation requirements.
Then you’ll need to set a budget. The average cost of a headstone is currently about $1,000-$3,000. The price varies depending on the style, materials, and optional features selected.
The average cost of a headstone is currently about $1,000-$3,000.
For example, the cost of a simple flat grave marker in gray granite with your loved one is name and dates of birth and death starts at about $200, while a bench or kerbed marker (a traditional style, with a line of stone forming a rectangular edge covering the whole grave) can cost upwards of $15,000. The cost of installation is generally about $100 to $500.
Choosing a headstone style
Headstone styles you can choose from include:
Flat: Lying flush with the grass, at the head of the grave, these headstones are sometimes called “grass markers.”
Bevel: A raised headstone that is flat on the ground and shaped like a wedge, angling down toward the grave.
Slanted: Set to stand upright, and installed at the "top" of the gravesite, these are the most common gravestones.
Upright: These tablet-style gravestones sit on a granite base, and are set on a foundation at the gravesite.
Bench: An alternative to a traditional moment, headstone benches are particularly popular in cases of cremation, to create a place to sit and reflect.
Kerbed: Made from a high-quality stone like marble or limestone, a kerbed memorial frames the grave, along all four sides.
Factors that affect the cost of a headstone
Several criteria make up the total cost of creating a grave marker that your family will visit for years. They include:
Type of finish
Delivery and shipping fees
Cemetery permit fees
How to buy a headstone
One of the simplest ways to purchase a headstone is through the funeral home or cemetery. They can guide you through the process and make recommendations.
Be sure to check if your loved one had burial insurance or pre-paid for any services with a particular vendor before you commit to any expenses.
But if your time and energy permit, you can generally find better values online or directly from a monument maker. (Be sure to check shipping costs, as those can cause the price to escalate and not be such a good deal after all.)
If your time and energy permit, you can generally find better values online or directly from a monument maker.
In times of grief, the last thing you should have to worry about is whether you are being taken advantage of. You may want to get recommendations before you decide.
It’s important to beware of in-person or online sales people who may be preying on those making end-of-life decisions. Watch out for anyone who pressures you to decide before you’re ready, badgers you about comparing prices, won’t work with your budget, or doesn’t answer your questions.
Once you do decide on what you want, make sure you get a rendering of your design (also called a mockup). Every reputable company will show you how the headstone will look before they etch it into stone.
Getting a free headstone
If your loved one was a member of the armed forces, you can apply for a free government headstone or marker. (Spouses and dependents are ineligible for a free marker or headstone unless they are buried in a national cemetery, a state’s veteran’s cemetery, or a military base cemetery.)
If the person is buried in a national cemetery or a base cemetery, the setting and installation of the headstone is generally provided for free.
After the headstone is installed
There can be ongoing costs for the headstone, depending on the cemetery’s requirements and how you want to maintain the marker, including regular maintenance, flower planting, and grass watering.
Headstone cleaning is recommended every 7-10 years, and can cost anywhere from $40-$150. Headstone restoration can involve resurfacing or even reinstalling the concrete foundation to keep the headstone upright. It can also include detailing the headstone’s engraving and restoring the surface of the stone.
Headstone restoration costs vary widely based on the state of the headstone, so you can check prices with local monument companies when the time comes.
Whatever you choose, and however you decide to honor this important person in your life, know that a headstone does not represent your relationship or sum up their value as a human being. A headstone is merely an external representation of the love you shared—not the real thing. And the most indelible memories will live on in you.
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