Minnesota law provides several different sources of authority for Minnesota cemetery property tax exemptions:

  1. one constitutional source;

and

  1. three statutory sources.

Minnesota Cemetery Property Tax Exemptions

Minnesota Cemetery Property Tax Exemptions

Minnesota Cemetery Property Tax Exemptions – Constitutional

Article X Section 1 of the Minnesota Constitution provides an exemption from real property taxes for public burying grounds, by providing in part as follows:

Taxes shall be uniform upon the same class of subjects and shall be levied and collected for public purposes, but . . . public burying grounds, . . . , shall be exempt from taxation except as provided in this section.

However, Article X Section 1 of the Minnesota Constitution also provides the legislature with authority to allow local governments to levy and collect special assessments on all property which is not otherwise excluded from special assessments, by providing in part as follows:

. . . The legislature may authorize municipal corporations to levy and collect assessments for local improvements upon property benefited thereby without regard to cash valuation.

Therefore, while Article X Section 1 of the Minnesota Constitution provides Minnesota Cemetery Property Tax Exemptions from general real property taxes – to the extent that they are used for public burying grounds – the scope of such constitutional Minnesota Cemetery Property Tax Exemptions does not extend to special assessments.

Minnesota Cemetery Property Tax Exemptions General Rule – All Property is Taxable

M.S. Section 272.01, Subd. 1 identifies the general rule for Minnesota cemetery property tax exemptions that:

All real and personal property in this state, is taxable, except

  • Indian lands and
  • such other property as is by law exempt from taxation.

The Minnesota Supreme Court has repeatedly held that:

All property is presumed taxable, and the taxpayer has the burden of proving entitlement to a specific exemption.

Living Word Bible Camp v. County of Itasca, 829 N.W.2d 404 [2], [3] (Minn. 2013), citing Under the Rainbow Child Care Center, Inc. v. City of Goodhue, 741 N.W.2d 880, 884 (Minn. 2007), and Camping and Educational Foundation v. State, 282 Minn. 245, 250, 164 N.W.2d 369, 372 (1969).

Minnesota Cemetery Property Tax Exemptions – Statutory

(i)   Statutory Exemption – Public Burying Grounds

M.S. Section 272.02, Subd. 2 identifies that public burying grounds qualify for Minnesota Cemetery Property Tax Exemptions.

(ii)   Statutory Exemption – Public Cemeteries

M.S. Chapter 306 is applicable to public cemeteries, which are defined by M.S. Section 306.87, Subd. 3 as follows:

All cemeteries started or established as public cemeteries and

all cemeteries hereafter started or established,

except cemeteries established by religious corporations,

are public cemeteries within the provisions of this chapter.

M.S. Section 306.14, Subd. 1 identifies that the lands and property of any public cemetery association are exempt from taxation and special assessments, by providing in part:

The lands and property of any such cemetery association are exempt from all public taxes and assessments,

and shall not be sold on execution against the association or any lot owner.

The owners of cemetery lots, their heirs or legal representatives, may hold the lots exempt from taxation so long as the lots are used for a cemetery.

However, M.S. Section 306.14, Subd. 2 identifies certain conditions which must be satisfied in order for cemetery property to be exempt from special assessments – which are charges of a different nature than general real property taxes – by providing as follows:

Subdivision 1 does not exempt cemetery property owned or leased by a corporation, association, partnership, proprietorship, or other organization from any special assessment unless

the corporation, association, partnership, proprietorship or other organization:

(1)     was formed for a purpose not involving pecuniary gain to its shareholders or members; and

(2)     pays no dividends or other pecuniary remuneration directly or indirectly to its shareholders or members as such.

Therefore, the articles of incorporation of the organization owning or operating the cemetery must contain provisions typically found in the governing documents of nonprofit organizations which are exempt from federal income taxation.

A similar limitation applicable to private cemeteries is found in M.S. Section 307.09.

a.  Exemption for General Real Estate Taxes

In 1977, the Minnesota Supreme Court addressed the real property tax exemption of land owned by a public cemetery association, by providing in part as follows:

The Minnesota Constitution, Minn. Const. art. 10, s 1, and statutes enacted pursuant thereto,

  • Minn. St. 306.14, subd. 1, and
  • 272.02, subd. 1,

exempt “public burying grounds” from taxation.

A mere dedication or appropriation on paper is not enough to qualify for such exemption.

The land of a cemetery association must either be

  • presently used for burial of the dead, or
  • in the process of being sold for gravesites,

or must embrace an area in size that would be reasonably anticipated as needed in the near future for such purposes.

Grand View Park Cemetery Ass’n to Register Title to Certain Land v. City of Edina, 257 N.W.2d 329, Minn. 1977 (Syllabus by the Court).

Tax exemption

  • under art. 10 and s 272.02 therefore requires that the property constitute “public burying grounds,” while
  • under s 306.14 the property must be “cemetery lots * * * appropriated to the use of a cemetery.”

Grand View Park Cemetery Ass’n to Register Title to Certain Land v. City of Edina, 257 N.W.2d 329, 331 Minn. 1977

These cases establish that cemetery land is tax exempt only if

  • it is actually being used for burials, or
  • is in the process of being sold for gravesites, or
  • is being held for sale within a relatively fixed span of time.

Further, the land

  • must be suitable for use as a cemetery, and
  • cannot exceed in extent the reasonable expectation of public needs.

If cemetery lands

  • were such that the cemetery association itself could not develop them for public use, or
  • were being used for commercial purposes, or
  • were being held for use at some undetermined future time,

tax exemption would not be appropriate.

Grand View Park Cemetery Ass’n to Register Title to Certain Land v. City of Edina, 257 N.W.2d 329, 333 Minn. 1977

b. Exemption for Special Assessments

In 1961, the Minnesota Supreme Court discussed the propriety of allowing Minnesota Cemetery Property Tax Exemptions with respect to special assessments on land owned by a public cemetery, by providing in part as follows:

Exemption from special assessments for local improvements

  • is not granted by the constitution and
  • must be found, if at all, in statutory enactments.

Minn. St. 306.14 does exempt public cemetery associations from public taxes and assessments.

State v. Roselawn Cemetery Ass’n, 259 Minn. 479, 108 N.W.2d 305, MINN 1961 (Syllabus by the Court).

[1]     1.       With regard to the first issue, Minn. Const. art. 9, s 1, exempts public cemeteries only ‘from taxation.’

It, therefore, becomes a question of determining whether an assessment is properly included within the term ‘taxation.’

We do not believe that it is.

Exemption from special assessments for local improvements

  • is not granted by the constitution and
  • must be found, if at all, in statutory enactments.

State v. Crystal Lake Cemetery Ass’n., 155 Minn. 187, 193 N.W. 170 (1923).

[2]     It is, therefore, our opinion that,

  • although appellant is not exempt from the assessment under the provisions of Const. art. 9, s 1,
  • it is exempt by reason of s 306.14.

State v. Roselawn Cemetery Ass’n, 259 Minn. 479, 108 N.W.2d 305, 307 MINN 1961

While M.S. Chapter 306 is applicable to public cemetery associations, M.S. Chapter 307 is applicable to private cemeteries.

c.   Minnesota Cemetery Property Tax Exemptions – Private Cemeteries

With respect to private cemeteries, M.S. Section 307.09, Subd. 1 identifies that up to 300 acres of any private cemetery qualifies for Minnesota Cemetery Property Tax Exemptions from general real property taxes and special assessments, by providing in part:

All lands,

  • not exceeding 100 acres in extent, and
  • in the case of cemeteries owned and managed by religious corporations, or corporations solely owned and controlled by and in the interest of any religious denomination, 300 acres in extent, so laid out and dedicated as a private cemetery,

shall be exempt from public taxes and assessments, and shall not be liable to levy and sale on execution, or to be applied in payment of the debts of any owner thereofso long as the same remains appropriated to the use of a cemetery;

However, M.S. Section 307.09, Subd. 2 identifies the following additional requirements in order for cemetery property to be exempt from special assessments:

Nothing contained in subdivision 1 shall be construed to exempt cemetery property owned or leased by any corporation, association, partnership, proprietorship or any other organization from any special assessment unless such corporation, association, partnership, proprietorship or other organization

(a)     was formed for a purpose not involving pecuniary gain to its shareholders or members; and

(b)     pays no dividends or other pecuniary remuneration directly or indirectly to its shareholders or members as such.

Therefore, the articles of incorporation of organizations owning or operating cemeteries must contain provisions typically found in the governing documents of nonprofit organizations which are exempt from federal income taxation in order to qualify for Minnesota Cemetery Property Tax Exemptions.

A similar limitation applicable to public cemetery associations is found in M.S. Section 306.14.

A.   Minnesota Court of Appeals – 1991

In 1991 – in City of New Hope v. Catholic Cemeteries, 467 N.W.2d 336 – the Minnesota Court of Appeals addressed the rights of a private cemetery to be exempt from general real property taxes and special assessments, by providing in part as follows:

While there are no reported cases discussing Minn. Stat. 307.09, there are pertinent cases interpreting the virtually identical statute, Minn. Stat. 306.14 (which applies to public cemeteries).

See e.g., Grand View Park Cemetery v. City of Edina, 257 N.W.2d 329 (Minn. 1977);

 State v. Ritschel, 220 Minn. 578, 20 N.W.2d 673 (1945).

Minn. Stat. 306.14 provided the following from 1941 to 1986:

Subd. 1. The lands and property of any such cemetery association shall be exempt from all public taxes and assessments, and shall not be sold on execution against such association or any lot owner.

The owners of cemetery lots, their heirs or legal representatives, may hold the same so exempt so long as they remain appropriated to the use of a cemetery; * * * (Emphasis added).

In 1988, Minn. Stat. 306.14 was amended to read:

Subd. 1. The lands and property of any such cemetery association are exempt from all public taxes and assessments, and shall not be sold on execution *339 against the association or any lot owner.

The owners of cemetery lots, their heirs or legal representatives, may hold the lots exempt from taxation so long as the lots are used for a cemetery. * * *

Since the public purposes and effects of Minn. Stat. 306.14 and Minn. Stat. 307.09 are the same, Grand View Park and Ritschel have instructional value for this review.

Appellant relies on State v. Ritschel, 220 Minn. 578, 20 N.W.2d 673 (1945) for the proposition that burials must presently be taking place on a parcel of land to be exempt from assessments.

Presently” is too broad, and the holding in Ritschel

  • does not state present “burials” are essential
  • but rather states that present “burial purposes” are the issue.

Ritschel does contain the following language:

The purpose of granting exemption from taxation to cemeteries is the attainment of [the statutory] purposes.

These can be accomplished only by actual, present use of the property for burial purposes.

Mere ownership or holding of property without such use does not accomplish the objects which it is the purpose to accomplish by granting the tax exemption. * * * * * *

Intention to use land for burial purpose at some future time * * * is not sufficient to satisfy the requirement of an actual and present use for such purpose.

Id., 220 Minn. at 585, 589, 20 N.W.2d at 676, 678.

However, appellant applies these statements outside the factual context of Ritschel.

In Ritschel only 1/6 of the entire parcel of land which was asserted by the cemetery association as being platted for use as a cemetery had been registered as burial lots; from the time of purchase until the time of trial, all the land had been used exclusively as a homestead, truck gardening, and as part of a pasturenot a single body had ever been buried on the land; and a city ordinance prohibited the possibility of any burials ever taking place on the land.

Id., 220 Minn. at 580-81, 20 N.W.2d at 674-75.

The only basis for the claimed exemption was the association’s assertion that it intended to use the land for cemetery purposes at some time in the future.

Because of the city ordinance, the time of this future use was indeterminate, and therefore the land was not used as a cemetery and was not exempt from taxation.

Id., 220 Minn. at 590, 20 N.W.2d at 679.

Ritschel is distinguishable from the present case on its facts.

The land of Gethsemane Cemetery has all been platted as cemetery, the parties agree

  • that the subject 45 acres have never been used for anything inconsistent with its use as a cemetery, and
  • that the land is honestly being held by the Diocese for use in the future as a cemetery.

Appellant’s only contention here is that the 45 acres in question should not be exempt until it is actually used for burials at some future date.

However, Ritschel explicitly recognizes that land can be exempt even if it is not presently being used for burials when it states:

As a practical matter, a cemetery association must have on hand for sale to the public lots laid out for burial purposes but not actually occupied as graves.

The word cemetery comprehends a place where burials have been made and will continue to be made in the future.

Owning and holding land for such future needs, if reasonable in amount and not beyond reasonable anticipation, are incidental to operating a cemetery.

Id., 220 Minn. at 589, 20 N.W.2d at 678-79 (emphasis added).

Also, we note that while other types of public and religious property are not generally exempt from special assessment taxes, as public and private cemeteries are, they are uniformly exempt from property taxes.

 See Minn. Const., Art. X,  1; Minn.Stat.  272.02 (1990).

City of New Hope v. Catholic Cemeteries, 467 N.W.2d 336, Minn.App.,1991.

Minnesota Cemetery Property Tax Exemptions – The Minnesota Department of Revenue

The Minnesota Department of Revenue to some extent supervises and directs local County assessors, and provides administrative guidance directing their work, with respect to Minnesota cemetery property tax exemptions.

One of the primary references available to local County assessors is the Minnesota Property Tax Administrator’s Manual – with Module #5 thereof addressing the subject of exempt property generally, and special assessments particularly – by providing in part as follows:

Unless specifically stated in statute, if a property is exempt from property tax, it is still subject to special assessments.

Special assessments are a fee for a service, they are not a traditional “tax”.

Therefore, they are levied in a different manner and exempt property must pay them unless specifically exempted from them by law.

This was confirmed in a 1956 Attorney General opinion which stated that though churches, church property, and houses of worship are exempt from general taxation, they are not exempt from special assessment.

          Op.Atty.Gen., 408C, Aug. 22, 1956.

Addressing the subject of private cemeteries with respect to Minnesota cemetery property tax exemptions, the Minnesota Property Tax Administrator’s Manual – as of July, 2015 – provided as follows:

Private Cemeteries

All property owned by private cemeteries owned and managed

  • by religious corporations, or
  • corporations solely owned and controlled by and in the interest of any religious denomination

is exempt.

The parameters for exemption are:

  • private cemeteriesup to 100 acres for individuals; or
  • up to 300 acres for cemeteries owned and managed by religious corporations.

Cemeteries may not be exempted if they are owned by a corporation, association, partnership, proprietorship or other organization unless

  • no pecuniary gain is available to its shareholders and
  • no dividends or pecuniary remuneration are paid directly or indirectly to its shareholders or members.

Private cemeteries, along with any entity requesting property tax exemption, must be used for the purposes which would grant it exemption.

In other words, private cemeteries must be used for burial or plots, and not other commercial enterprises, to be granted exemption.

Conclusion;

Minnesota Cemetery Property Tax Exemptions

Minnesota law provides several different sources of authority for Minnesota Cemetery Property Tax Exemptions from real property taxes and special assessments:

  1. one constitutional source;

and

  1. three statutory sources.

If your cemetery association or private cemetery requires the assistance of a Minnesota Cemetery Law attorney, please contact attorney Gary C. Dahle, at 763-780-8390, or gary@dahlelaw.com.

For a discussion of Minnesota probate law, see https://dahlelawprobate.com/

For a discussion of Minnesota probate law, see also  https://www.dahlelawminnesota.com/

For a discussion of Minnesota probate law, see also https://dahlelaw.com/minnesota-probate/

For information on Minnesota Church Corporation law, see Minnesota Church Law.

For information on Minnesota Transfer on Death Deeds, see http://www.dahlelawminnesota.com/minnesota-transfer-death-deed/

For information on Minnesota Real Estate Law, see http://www.dahlelawminnesota.com/minnesota-title-evidence-ownership/

For information on Minnesota Guardianships, see http://dahlelawguardianships.com/

Topics of Interest:

Copyright 2018 – All Rights Reserved

No claim to the text of statutory provisions, administrative documents, or judicial decisions.

Gary C. Dahle – Attorney at Law

Minnesota Probate and Cemetery Law Attorney

2704 Mounds View Blvd., Mounds View, MN 55112

Phone:  763-780-8390  Fax: 763-780-1735

gary@dahlelaw.com

Legal Disclaimer

Information provided herein is only for general informational and educational purposes. The laws relating to Minnesota cemeteries involve many complex legal issues. If you have a specific legal problem about which you are seeking advice, consult with legal counsel.

Gary C. Dahle, Attorney at Law, is licensed to practice law only in the State of Minnesota, and in the State of North Dakota, in the United States of America. Therefore, only those persons interested in matters governed by the laws of the State of Minnesota, or North Dakota, should consult with, or provide information to, Gary C. Dahle, Attorney at Law, or take note of information provided herein.

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Minnesota Cemetery Links

Minnesota Association of Cemeteries: https://www.mncemeteries.org/

Find a Minnesota Cemetery: https://www.mncemeteries.org/find-a-cemetery

Minnesota Private Cemetery Statutes: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=307

Minnesota Public Cemetery Statutes: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=306

Links to Minnesota Probate Records

Minnesota Department of Health – Death Records Index – 1997 to Present:  http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/chs/osr/DecdIndex/dthSearch.cfm

Minnesota Historical Society – Death Records; 1904 – 2001: http://www.mnhs.org/people/deathrecords

Minnesota Department of Health – Birth Certificateshttp://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/chs/osr/birth.html

Minnesota Historical Society – Birth Records: http://www.mnhs.org/people/birthrecords

Minnesota Marriage Recordshttps://moms.mn.gov/