How to Plan an Eco Backyard Burial

Prepare for the legal and practical considerations of a backyard burial with these tips from a green-burial expert.

  • The peaceful atmosphere of a backyard burial appeals to many people.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Stuart Monk
  • Digging a grave by hand is hard work; be prepared for the process to take several hours.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Alexander
  • Provide stable footing and one rope per assistant for the interment.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Eugen Thome
  • Natural burial grounds are once again gaining popularity in the United States.
    Photo by Getty Images/Daniel Mendler

As with so many elements of environmentally friendly lifestyles, green burials hark back to practices that were simpler and gentler on the earth. Green burial is all about developing funeral methods that support and heal nature, rather than disrupting and harming it. Town churchyards and family plots once held bodies buried in shrouds or biodegradable boxes. Nowadays, cremation and green burials are increasingly popular alternatives to conventional embalming and large, non-degradable caskets. Green cemeteries are becoming more common, and many folks are interested in returning to family plots on private land as well. The practice enjoys a long tradition in America; entire generations of families are buried on the properties where they lived.

What Is a Backyard Burial?

A “backyard burial” involves burying a person on residential property, or on land that’s privately owned and hasn’t been endorsed as an official cemetery. Laws regulating backyard burials vary not only state to state, but also county to county. Laws permitting burial on private property, rather than in an established cemetery, tend to be more common in rural areas.

If you’re considering a backyard burial, think carefully about what it may mean for the property itself and the owner. Burying someone on private land does affect the future sale of that property. In addition, however remote the concern may be, you should consider how you’d feel, and what you’d do, if you sold the land and your deceased loved one’s resting place were on property you no longer owned. Depending on the type of property, the land could become fundamentally unmarketable to buyers if an interred body isn’t relocated, and even then, a stigma might remain that makes selling the tract difficult. Not only that; exhuming and transferring a body is expensive. Say the property is sold without a requirement for the body to be moved: Family members and friends won’t necessarily have access to the gravesite anymore. Sold property could also be developed for a different use, which might affect the character of the site.

Don’t let these cautions discourage you if you wish to be buried, or bury someone you love, on family property; simply reflect on all the possible outcomes before you decide. Further, don’t make your decision without legal guidance and consultation, and begin the planning process well in advance, because it can involve a lot of paperwork. Careful planning will ensure a smooth interment, and many families I’ve helped through this process wouldn’t have chosen any other way to lay their loved ones to rest.

Legal Considerations

The legality of backyard burials is governed by local laws, so consult with your local health authority prior to planning a home burial. I run every potential client’s address by my county’s zoning and planning department, just to make sure the burial will be permitted. It’s hard to generalize what to check before planning a home burial, because the rules vary by county and town, but in essence, private property burial is often allowed under slightly different requirements in each area.

For example, home burials in Oregon must meet certain environmental standards. Land in which surface water or ground drainage enters other water sources — such as a pond, stream, well, or tributary — cannot be used for burial purposes without written approval from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. I’ve read other regulations that stipulate that private burial sites “should be 150 feet from a water supply, 100 feet from a drilled well, and 25 feet from a power line. ... It’s also a good idea to bury at least 20 feet from the setback on your property.” Finally, you can’t charge money for burial rites on private property. Most people wouldn’t, but such rules are a good demonstration of why checking your local ordinances before planning a backyard burial is important.

11/10/2018 6:38:06 AM

My sister & father were cremated & their ashes currently reside in an underground box in my mother's yard. If something were to occur that we needed to move them, all we would need to do is remove the containers from the box, dig it up & put it in a new place. This is a 'temporary' resting place until we decide where or if we want to disburse their ashes.



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