Can You Be Buried With Your Pet?

Pets are often regarded as a part of the family and increasingly their needs are accounted for in planning decisions.  There is health insurance for pets- and most states- including Virginia- allow for “pet trusts” to ensure that a cherished animal will be cared for after the owner’s demise.  But can you and your pet spend eternity with each other as well? The answer depends on what state you are in and on the meaning of “with.”

Most states either have laws specifically prohibiting pets and humans to be buried together or are silent on the issue.  But at least four states have laws allowing some form of combined burial- and the list will undoubtedly grow as demand increases.

New York and New Jersey allow cremated human remains to be buried with a pet- but only in a pet cemetery.  New York’s pet cemeteries cannot charge a fee for the service and are barred from advertising that they offer it.

In a law that has been on the books since about 2006- Pennsylvania allows cemeteries to have three sections – one for humans- one for pets and an area for both.  The fourth state- Virginia- passed a law in 2014 permitting cemeteries to have clearly marked sections where pets and humans may be buried alongside one another.  However- the pet must have been a companion animal under Virginia law and must have its own casket.

These laws are responding to growing interest.  About 62 percent of U.S. households own pets- and although the laws of most states prohibit burying pets in human cemeteries- funeral directors exercise discretion when it comes to placing personal objects – such as the cremated remains of a much-loved pet — in people’s coffins.

“They will tell you ‘not a day goes by when I don’t put an urn of an animal into the casket of a human being secretly for a family-‘ ” Coleen Ellis- co-chair of the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance (PLPA)- told “So- while it’s been going on for a very long time- the trend is becoming more recognized where people are getting permission to do it.”

For more information, see these resources on pet-human burials, providing for your pet with a trust, and estate planning and pets.