Bench in bluebell fieldA huge fan of the Hill Country, Skare D. Katz buys a large piece of undeveloped land from the Solable Family outside of Austin.  Skare D. plans to build a ranch for retirement. One Saturday while Skare D. is visiting the property to visualize his plans, a woman shows up and stands underneath a large oak tree, staring at the ground.  Skare D. approaches the woman and asks her for her name.  The woman responds, “Inka Solable.”  When Scare D. asks Inka what she’s doing there, Inka responds, “This is where my great-grandfather is buried.  I come pay my respects every Saturday.”  Dumbfounded, Skare D. responds, “Ma’am, I appreciate that, but I own this property now.  I don’t want you coming by every Saturday.”  Inka replies, “I have a right under the law to access this property when I want.  I’ll see you in Court!”  Is Inka right?

Can you bury someone on private property in Texas?

Most likely yes.  The state defines a “cemetery” as a place used for interment that contains “one or more graves” and has specific references to “private family cemeteries.”  In order to be able to bury family members on your land, the family plot must comply with the location requirements in the Texas Health and Safety Code, as well as any municipal or county ordinance.   The Texas Cemeteries Association maintains a handout for establishing a family cemetery.

Can anyone access my private property to visit a family cemetery? 

Yes.  If there is no public access to the cemetery, Texas law provides that any person wishing to visit the cemetery must have reasonable access to visit during reasonable hours.  To control access, the property owner may designate in writing the route to access the family cemetery and the reasonable hours for visitation.

If the property owner has designated the reasonable hours for visiting the property, a person wishing to visit the property at other hours may submit written notice to the owner at least 14 days before the visit identifying the hour(s) when the person wants to visit.  If those hours are reasonable the property owner must give the visitor access to the cemetery.

What if I didn’t know that my property contains a family cemetery?

You’re still required to comply with the law, but you may have a claim against the person who sold you the property if the family cemetery is not recorded in the county deed records and the seller failed to mention it in the seller’s disclosure form.

Tilting the Scales in Your Favor

There are two morals to this story: (1) do your due diligence before buying any property; and (2) if you buy property that contains a family cemetery and someone wants to visit, react reasonably to the situation.

  • J. Dwight Tom

    After being chased off at gunpoint when trying to let the property owner know that I was there to visit a family cemetery in Uvalde County – I wrote this article: J. Dwight Tom, Comment, Easement Come, Easement Go—The Cemetery Access Easement: The Exception to the Right to Exclude Whose Time Has Come to Facilitate the Preservation of Nineteenth-Century Texas Family Cemeteries, 39 ENVIRONS: ENVTL. L. & POL’Y J. 173 (Spring 2016).