To avoid cemetery negligence, older cemeteries have a burial space probing policy to confirm a burial container will fit. This should be done at least twice, to make sure that your grave can be used when its time. First, the cemetery should probe when you purchase a burial space, sometimes in your presence. Later, the cemetery should probe when scheduling a burial and preparing the grave, to avoid last-minute surprises.
Unless a cemetery is wide open, with lots of room between burial spaces, probing a burial space is a good practice. Probing helps a cemetery make sure that the grave is available before it is sold and used.
When you buy a burial space, the paperwork from the cemetery should include a form that looks like the image on the left. There should be rectangles that represent burial spaces. The middle rectangle is your burial space. The remaining rectangles are surrounding burial spaces. In the center rectangle, there should be five (or more) ovals.
A probing verification form should also have a space for cemetery employee signatures. One employee probes the burial space and another employee–usually a supervisor–signs to confirm.
Check your cemetery paperwork. If the paperwork doesn’t include a similar looking form, ask the cemetery whether your burial space was probed before you bought it. If it hasn’t, and your burial space is in a crowded cemetery, you might want to ask the cemetery probe the burial space to make sure that a burial container will fit.
If your burial space is in a crowded cemetery, check out our blog about burial container dimensions and making sure that a burial container will fit.
Burial space probing involves taking a long rod (usually 6 feet) and inserting it into the ground on the edges and center of a gravesite. If the rod goes into the ground to a depth of 6 feet, without obstruction, the burial container should fit. If the rod hits something before it gets to a depth of 6 feet, that means there is some sort of obstruction.
The obstruction could be one of many things: a rock, a root, or another burial container. Modern probing rods have a slide-action hammer that helps the probe go through hard ground and roots. The cemetery will probe and then place flags at the outside perimeter of a burial space. Then, an employee will measure the space between the flags. If the cemetery is unable to probe a rectangular burial space big enough for a burial vault, the burial space may be unusable.
The cemetery worker that performs the probing will initial in the ovals where the probe went into the ground without obstruction. If they probe the grave and there is an obstruction, they will typically mark an X (or other indicator) in the spot where they had trouble probing. This shows that there may be an obstruction preventing a proper burial. Here are two sample forms, the one on the left indicates that there is no obstruction. The one on the right shows two X markings indicating that there is something blocking the right side of the grave space.
The burial space probing form should have room for multiple signatures. Each person that participated in the probing will sign. Then a supervisor will sign, to document that the probing was supervised. If your form only is unsigned, or only has the signature of the cemetery employee that performed the probing, the probing may have never been verified.
The form should also be dated, to document the date when the burial space probing happened. On most forms, there is a space to date when the probing was done and a space to date when it was checked by a supervisor. Make sure your form has both signatures and dates.
If the documents for your burial space don’t have a probing form, it might be a good idea to ask whether the grave has ever been probed.
Unfortunately, at Kaminsky Law, we have seen many instances where a family gets a call from the cemetery or funeral director on the morning of a burial with horrible news. The person on the other line says something like:
Your loved one can’t be buried in the grave space that you have owned for years. When we opened the burial space, we discovered that there was not enough room. If you want to have a burial today, we will either have to bury your loved one somewhere else, or perform a “mock” burial and figure the burial out later.
This may come as a shock, but such occurrences are not uncommon. In fact, in congested cemeteries, burial spaces are not always probed before being sold. As a result, families–who sometimes buy pre-need graves years in advance to be next to their loved ones–find out on the morning of the burial.
If your cemetery didn’t probe your burial space, and you are worried that there is no room to bury a loved one, don’t wait to act. Try to reach out to the cemetery directly to see if they will work with you.
If you get a call on the morning of the funeral, don’t feel pressured to agree to the cemetery’s proposal just to get your loved one buried. Avoid signing any new documents, and don’t hesitate to contact a lawyer. The lawyers at Kaminsky Law have many years of experience dealing with cemeteries, cemetery negligence, and burial issues. You can either fill out a form on our Contact Us page or call our hotline at (215) 876-0800 for a free consultation.
We are available to review your situation, answer questions, and help you resolve your cemetery dispute!
Kaminsky Law is a small business-oriented litigation Law firm licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey with cost-effective approach to lawsuits, settlements, and dispute resolution.