Losing a pet can be hard for owners.  However, it can be even harder for those owners to know that they will be separated from their beloved pets in their final resting place.  In the U.S., households own about 89.7 million dogs and 94.2 million cats.[1]  When looking at total pet ownership, including horses, fish and other animals, that number is at almost 400 million “pets.”[2]  As sad as it may be, both these pets and their owners are destined to pass on eventually.  Owners may worry about what will happen to their pre-deceased pet’s remains when the inevitable happens and the owners themselves pass on.  They may also be concerned about where a pet that outlives them will be buried.

The solution to these concerns will ultimately depend upon the state of burial for the owner.  As of 2016, New Yorkers are allowed to be buried in certain cemeteries alongside the cremated remains of their pets.[3]  However, this requires that the human be buried in a not-for-profit cemetery that has consented to the pet burial on its grounds.[4]  This law also only allows the burial of cremated pets on cemetery grounds.[5]  While these requirements may be slight inconveniences, New York is far more permissive of owner-pet burials than many other states.

In New Jersey, while it is technically possible for pet owners to have their remains disposed of in their pet’s cemetery, as described below, it is much harder for a human to share their final resting place with their pet, since New Jersey does not allow pets to be buried in human cemeteries.[6]  For those pet owners who take the time to plan, the following options are available.

A person who elects to be cremated can have their ashes scattered in a pet cemetery containing their pet’s remains,[7] since human cremation is considered a final disposition.[8]  Alternatively, a person can be buried in a pet cemetery as long as the pet cemetery permits human remains to be buried in their plots.[9]  This takes a considerable amount of planning for the owner prior to their death, something that not all people either think about or are able to do.

Additionally, these alternatives are subject to other practical considerations that owners have to account for.  First, they need to consider the impact this decision may have on their surviving family members and the owner’s beliefs regarding an appropriate final resting place for themselves.  For example, some of the Jewish faith consider cremation, at the least, frowned upon, and most consider it prohibited.[10]  Second, there are different rules governing the maintenance and future uses of pet cemeteries, as opposed to strictly human cemeteries.[11]  Thus, those considering burial in a pet cemetery may have to consider whether they are comfortable with the knowledge their resting place may not remain final.

While there may be some solutions for New Jersey residents that wish to be buried with their pets, there is a considerable amount of planning and contemplation that must go into this decision, as compared to New York residents in the same position.

All pet owners concerned about these issues should consider including their desired options in their wills and/or trusts so that their wishes are followed to the extent they are legally valid.

[1] American Pet Products Association Inc.’s 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey & Demographic Sourcebook; AVMA 2016.  U.S. Pet Industry Spending Figures & Future Outlook.

[2] Id.

[3] N.Y. Not-for-Profit Corp. Law § 1510(n) (McKinney 2016).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] N.J.S.A. 45:27-2 (defining a cemetery as “land or place used or dedicated for use for burial of human remains, cremation of human remains, or disposition of cremated human remains”) (emphasis added).  Additionally, The New Jersey Cemetery Board, which is in charge of licensing and regulating non-religious corporation cemeteries, has stated that, based on this definition, “A cemetery, by definition may not accept pets, unless it is exclusively a pet cemetery.”

[7] Alex Nepoliello, Want to Be Buried With Your Pet?  In N.J., It’s Complicated, NJ.com (June 26, 2019), https://www.nj.com/news/2016/09/can_nj_residents_be_buried_with_their_pets.html.

[8] See N.J.S.A. 26:6-4.2 (including cremation among discussion of final disposition).

[9] There is no state prohibition on burying human remains on private property.  However, if it is deemed dangerous to public health, such a burial may be disallowed.  See N.J.S.A. 26:6-5.  Also, before burring a body on private property, local laws and rules should be consulted and a burial permit should be obtained.  N.J.S.A. 26:6-5.1.  See also Nepoliello, supra note 7.

[10] MJL, Jewish Views on Cremation, My Jewish Learning, https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/judaism-on-cremation/ (last visited June 27, 2019).

[11] Compare N.J.S.A. 4:22A-5 (which can allow for the removal of a dedication of a pet cemetery by the pet cemetery owner if there is relocation of the remains and permission from heirs or assigns to relocate the remains) with N.J.S.A. 45:27 (making no provision for the removal of a dedication on a cemetery).

Carmella Campisano is a summer associate in the firm’s Princeton office.