August 12, 2011
REGULATING CEMETERY MANAGEMENT PRACTICES
By: Susan Price, Senior Attorney
You asked if (1) the state regulates a cemetery's management, (2) state statutes or regulations allow management to remove a decedent's remains without contacting the plot's owner, (3) probate courts usually order that burial plots become the property of a family's last living relative, and (4) any procedures govern the sale of unused burial plots.
The Office of Legislative Research is not authorized to give legal opinions and this report should not be construed as such.
State statutes, town ordinances, cemetery bylaws and regulations, and wills all regulate cemetery practices. The statutes permit cemetery associations or ecclesiastical societies to enact bylaws governing various aspects of burial plot use. The bylaws may permit a superintendent or sexton to be appointed with exclusive authority to direct that graves be opened or plots moved (CGS § 19a-297). It is unclear if this person must notify the plot's owner before taking such actions.
Plot dispositions are governed by will or Probate Court order and statute. Burial plots are considered property. When a person who owns one or more plots dies, the Probate Court becomes involved in overseeing the property's distribution. If the decedent left a will naming someone as the plot's beneficiary, the judge will enforce its terms. If the decedent died without a will (intestate), the judge will apply Connecticut's law of descent and distribution. In your constituent's case, if the closest living relative is a sister (i.e., the decedent had no surviving spouse, child, or parent) the burial plot would pass to her (CGS §45a-437).
State statute also authorizes cemeteries to sell the unused portions of burial plots, other than space for a surviving spouse, when charges have not been paid for 10 years. They must first send notice, by registered or certified mail, to the titleholder and any known beneficiary. The notice must be sent to that person's last known address, or if he or she cannot be located, by publishing a notice in a local newspaper. The notice must run at least once a week for three consecutive weeks.
The sale's proceeds go first toward the unpaid charges; the remainder is deposited in a perpetual care fund for uncared-for plots as designated by the cemetery association or legislative body of the town in which the cemetery is located (CGS § 19a-307).