Be aware what is included in grave site maintenance agreements

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Thinking of paying for "perpetual care" for a loved one who recently passed away? You may first want to hear from Debbie Stehlin, who is distressed over the condition of her mom's grave site, which she says is in disrepair, with grass and weeds growing tall all around it.

She says the family paid for care for all eternity, or so she thought. But what she learned is a lesson for all of us with aging parents.

Generations of Stehlin family members, including military veterans, are buried on a peaceful hillside cemetery. But Stehlin was heartbroken when she recently found the grass over a foot tall.

"It was pretty upsetting because it was Memorial Day weekend," she said.

What really troubled her, though, was that her family paid for perpetual care of their graves.

"That's why my mom got it," she explained, "because it would take care of her graves for the rest of eternity."

It turns out this is common at many older cemeteries, where parents and grandparents signed up for perpetual care 50 or more years ago. It turns out decades later that perpetual is not the same as eternal.

Cemetery general manager Terese Marshall said "our perpetual care, back in the day, was $68 a year. You can't really hire anyone to do that at that price."

Marshall explains perpetual care was priced so low in the 1960s and 70s, it would be impossible to give individual grave care at that price anymore.

She says her cemetery is maintained, but the heavy rain this past spring on 200 acres have made this year a challenge. "There are several hills here that we can only get in and trim properly by hand with weed whackers," she said.

The International Cemetery, Cremation, and Funeral Directors Association says many cemeteries are no longer able to afford the perpetual care they promised families years ago. It also explains that when a family pays for perpetual care, it typically goes into a fund that then pays for general cemetery upkeep, not just for the upkeep of a specific grave. Otherwise, one grave would be beautifully maintained while the others without care become overgrown.

Perpetual care is regulated differently in individual states, but most states now require families to sign a contract and pay a monthly fee if they want that grave site well maintained in perpetuity.

But it doesn't necessarily mean your grave will be attended eternally like the Eternal Flame at the grave of President John F. Kennedy.

Stehlin just wants to see her mom's resting place kept up. "My grandma always told me she paid for perpetual care," she said.

And foot-tall grass is not the care her mother envisioned.

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