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Headstones For Graves | 17+ Best Expert Tips

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Headstones for graves are important purchases.  Families want to choose monuments that honour their loved ones and that will stand the test of time.

Andrew Latyshko, owner of Smith Monument Company Ltd. in Toronto, is an expert on headstones for graves.  He has provided us with 17+ invaluable tips for purchasing (and maintaining) cemetery headstones, monuments and grave markers.

You can also find the tips summarized in a helpful infographic that you can save to Pinterest for later or share on social media.

1. Visit Cemetery Before Ordering Headstones for Graves

Latyshko’s advice is to visit a cemetery and walk around the grounds, observing what you like and dislike about different headstones, monuments and grave markers.  “Then, you can bring those thoughts with you to us and we can work with you to modify or expand upon them to make sure that we create something that works for you,” says Latyshko.

2. Don’t Order a Cemetery Headstone Immediately

Immediately following a funeral, families are usually not in the right frame of mind to make big decisions. Therefore, Latyshko advises his clients to wait at least 3 to 6 months before purchasing headstones for graves, monuments and grave markers.  However, each case will be different because everyone experiences the grieving process differently.  Choose your words carefully – there isn’t much space to sum up your loved one’s life.  You can also use meaningful quotes, bible verses, or song lyrics.

For practical tips on writing epitaphs and quotes that you can directly use, please click here.

3.  Don’t be Worried that the Foundation that Goes Under the Headstone Will Interfere with the Burial

There is room at the head of the grave for the headstones’ foundation.  The cement will go down four feet below the frost line. Therefore, the headstone foundation will not affect current and future burials.

4.  Ensure that the Headstone has a Concrete Foundation

Cemeteries require a concrete foundation for the very same reason that you put a foundation under your house.  A foundation will help stabilize the headstone or monument, which is made of heavy material like granite, and prevent it from moving because of changing soil conditions.

5.  Know the Cemetery By-Laws

   Every single cemetery has different rules and regulations pertaining to the size of the monuments. 

You MUST know the cemetery by-laws (i.e. their rules and regulations) before you purchase headstones for graves.

“Some only allow very minimal monuments, such as a simple flat, bronze marker.  Others only allow larger monuments, and some have no rules at all pertaining to the size,” explains Latyshko.

6.  Know if the Cemetery Only Allows Flat Bronze Grave Markers

Some cemeteries prefer flat bronze grave markers to be installed because it is easier to cut the grass.  So you may be disappointed if you had your heart set on an upright headstone or monument for your loved one’s grave.

But every cemetery is different, so you should refer to the cemetery’s by-laws.

7.  Consider the Many Shape and Colour Choices Available

When it comes to granite headstones for graves, you can have a wide range of shapes and colours to choose from. 

There are at least a dozen different colours of granite that you can choose from when selecting a monument,” says Latyshko.  “The shape and the style are also entirely up to you.”

8.  Know the Most Popular Shape of Monuments Sold

Smith Monument Company Ltd. sells a lot of monuments with a serpentine or an oval top.  But there are many other shapes of headstones for graves, so you will be able to find one that fits your taste and budget.

9.  Know that You Might Not be Able to Letter All Sides of the Headstone or Monument

Some families wish to put wording on the sides or on the backs of cemetery headstones or monuments. 

As with all matters pertaining to headstones for graves, whether or not you can do so is dictated by cemetery by-laws.

“Some cemeteries do allow it and others do not,” states Latyshko. “It is entirely based on the different rules and regulations of cemeteries.”

10.  Expect the Lettering to Fade Over Time

While the granite (the material the headstone is made from) will not fade over the passing years, you should expect that lettering to fade. 

Damp conditions will cause the lettering to fade more rapidly.  Headstones for graves that are located under trees are more susceptible to damp conditions.

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11.  Consider Buying a Polished Headstone for Ease of Maintenance

In Latyshko’s expert opinion: “Polishing of a monument gives greater ease to the cleansing of the monument if it needs to be cleaned using just soap and water. 

“If a monument has a rock finish or a steal finish where the polish is removed, this becomes a home for things to grow on such as moss and lichen.”

12.  Expect to Wait Up to 5 Months for a New Headstone

Smith Monument Company Ltd. finds that it usually takes approximately 3 to 5 months to complete a memorial.  “[This is] because there is a lot of labour and detail involved in creating a monument,” says Latyshko. 

   The granite has to be ordered and imported for different quarries around the world. Different colours come from different areas of the world and therefore, it takes time to import.

“In addition to this,” explains Latyshko, “there is the lettering process where the lettering has to be proofed by the family.  Then, we have to wait for the cemetery to pour the concrete foundation before the monument can be placed in the cemetery.

“The weather can impact a cemetery’s ability to pour the foundation, which can cause further delays. All of these factors come into play.”

13.  Don’t Be Surprised if the Cemetery Can’t Pour the Headstone’s Foundation in Winter

If the ground is frozen, the cemetery won’t be able to pour the concrete foundation that headstones and monuments need for support. The cemetery will have to wait for warmer weather.

14.  Expect Moss to Grow on the Headstone

Moss can grow anywhere on the headstone or monument depending on weather conditions. Increased levels of dampness, and decreased air circulation, will both increase the likelihood of this happening.

15.  Make a Decision on Whether to Include a Wife’s Maiden Name on the Headstone

Latyshko advises: “You don’t have to add a wife’s maiden name. It is actually done less and less these days. It has been done for historical purposes so that people walking through a cemetery looking for someone can identify them more easily.”

In other words, the wording on headstones for graves are less dictated by tradition than it was in the past.

16:  Understand that the Material the Headstone is Made From Affects the Price

Granite headstones for graves are probably about half the price of bronze memorials.  The average price range for a headstone is $1,700 to $4,000.

17.  Don’t Pre-Order a Headstone Until You Know the Cemetery By-Laws

There are a lot of cemeteries that allow you to install blank headstones for graves in anticipation that they will be inscribed at a later date.

However, there are cemeteries that do not allow this.  So be sure to check with the specific cemetery to see if they have any by-laws governing pre-made headstones, monuments and grave markers.

18:  Don’t Forget to Maintain the Headstone, Monument or Grave Marker

When it comes to granite headstones and monuments, as well as marble ones, simply wash them with a soap and water mixture on a regular basis. “You never want to use any oils or waxes on granite or marble headstones as they can bleed into the stone and stain it,” says Latyshko.

Bronze grave markers that have badly deteriorated could be refurbished.  But this can be costly, so sometimes you are better off purchasing a new grave marker.

(Check out our super practical post on cleaning and maintaining headstones.  It covers granite, marble and bronze headstones for graves.)


We realize that’s a lot of information to remember so we’ve created a helpful infographic summarizing these tips that you can save and share on social media.

(Click infographic for highest resolution)

Infographic: Tips for Buying Cemetery Headstones

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