Honoring the life of a recently deceased loved one involves more than planning a funeral service. If your family member will be buried in a cemetery, you must also purchase a suitable headstone. Selecting an appropriate grave marker involves making important design decisions. The following guide provides you with information on what you need to know to select an appropriate headstone that meets your family's wishes and will help you care for the headstone in the future.

Cemetery Regulations

Before you begin exploring options for headstones, you should contact the cemetery where your loved one will be buried to obtain details about their headstone rules. Common regulations for headstones determine:

  • What type of headstones you can use
  • Maximum and minimum size
  • Color restrictions
  • Religious symbol limitations
  • Vase sizes

Depending on the cemetery, you may also need to fill out paperwork for a permit that includes the headstone specifications and the name of the headstone supplier. In addition, some cemetery's also charge headstone installation fees.

Headstone Materials & Designs

After you review the cemetery headstone regulations, you can begin designing the perfect grave marker. Common headstone styles include:

  • Low raised bevel
  • Slanted front face
  • Upright with a flat front face
  • Flat and flush to the ground

Depending on the rules of the cemetery, you may also be able to order custom shapes such as hearts, crosses and semicircles. You can also purchase wide companion headstones for couples that want to be remembered together.

Bench headstones are also available. A low granite bench on pedestals provides a place to sit and reflect when visitors pay their respects.

If you do not like the headstones offered by the cemetery, you can purchase one from a third-party supplier. Some funeral homes that also own cemeteries may offer you all-in-one packages. You are under no obligation to purchase the products and packages from funeral homes and cemeteries according to the Federal Trade Commission's "Funeral Rule."

Special Features

Depending on the wishes of the departed and your budget, you can add special features to headstones. Some people like to add built-in vases for placing flowers at the gravesite.

Headstone artists can also carve and sculpt custom designs that reflect the interests of the deceased.

You can also include a drawing or photo of a loved one on a headstone. The image will be laminated on ceramic tile and embedded in the headstone. Images can also be etched into porcelain and mounted to the headstone with enameled metal.

Options for Veterans

If your loved one was a veteran, you can order a grave marker, at no cost, from the National Cemetery Administration as a standalone headstone or to supplement one you purchased privately. The federal government has very specific guidelines for grave markers. However, you can order flat or upright grave markers in bronze, granite or marble.

If you are burying a loved one in a federal, military or state Veteran's cemetery, the management of the cemetery will order the veteran's headstone for you. Otherwise, you will have to arrange for placing and setting the grave marker on your own.


Regular maintenance of your headstone helps to prevent the development of hard to remove stains from water, air pollution, bird droppings, tree sap, mold and soil. Headstones may also suffer damage from salty air and the freeze-thaw cycle of the seasons.

When you clean the headstone, use mild cleansers that do not contain harsh chemicals that will damage the granite. Avoid using bleach or liquids with strong acids. Do not use harsh brushes or scrubbers on smooth, polished surfaces of headstones to prevent erosion of inscriptions and carved images.

When you finish cleaning the headstone, make sure to rinse it thoroughly with water to remove any residue of the cleansing solution.

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