When the owners of a graveyard, or the trustees of a graveyard left in trust, by reason of the infancy or the disability of any of them or by reason of their being numerous or partly unknown, or of the residence of any of them being unknown, cannot or cannot conveniently unite in making disposition of the same, any one or more of such owners or trustees, or, in any event, any county, city or town of this Commonwealth, if a private graveyard or pauper's graveyard (potter's field), which has been dedicated for such use either by written instrument, or by use by the public for such purpose, be within the boundaries thereof and the private graveyards be not connected with any church or church property and said graveyards be in a condition of neglect or disuse, or in the case of a pauper's graveyard is in a condition of neglect, or disuse, or is located in a location which is inappropriate for its continued use as a burial ground, may file a bill in equity in the circuit court of the county or in the circuit or corporation court of the corporation wherein the graveyard is located for the purpose of having the remains interred in such graveyard removed to some more suitable repository, and the land thus vacated sold and the costs of removal and interment and the costs of suit including reasonable attorney's fees paid out of the proceeds of the sale. To such bill all owners of the graveyard or any person having a right therein, and in the case of a pauper's graveyard the dedicator thereof, his heirs or successors in interest, if known, and if not known, such unknown parties shall be made defendants by the name of "person or persons unknown who may be the owners, heirs, or successors in interest of the unknown dedicator of the pauper's graveyard which is the subject of this suit," other than the plaintiffs shall be duly made defendants.
The bill shall show the title of the land, the interest of all parties, so far as known, and the reasons why relief is sought and that it is practicable. And upon the case being properly matured for hearing, and proofs being adduced of the propriety of the removal, the court shall have power to have the removal made and the remains properly deposited in another place, and to make sale of the grounds vacated by the removal and to have the costs of removal and reinterment, including the costs of the new place of interment, and of putting it in all respects in suitable condition and erecting upon it suitable memorials and the costs of the suit paid out of the proceeds of the sale.
Such removal and reinterment shall be done with due care and decency. But, unless the bill be filed by a city, town or county, the court shall not order such removal and reinterment until due and sufficient guaranty be given it that the proceeds of sale of the grounds proposed to be sold will be sufficient to meet all costs that may be incurred unless some party to the cause or other person gives due security to make good any deficit.
In determining the question of removal or sale the court shall consider as well the wishes of the parties concerned so far as they are brought to its knowledge as the proofs, and so considering shall exercise a sound discretion in granting or, refusing the relief prayed for, except that in case the bill be filed by a city, town or county, the court shall be guided by considerations of public welfare.
The court may distribute any surplus of the proceeds of sale according to their rights among the owners of the ground sold or the parties entitled thereto, and in the case of the sale of a pauper's graveyard wherein the original owner, his heirs and successors in interest are unknown, or there has been a dedication of said land for pauper's graveyard, the court, after the due consideration, upon application of the county, city or town may permit the proceeds of the sale to be utilized for other public uses of a charitable nature including the purchase of land for parks, public offices and other municipal uses including the construction of buildings thereon.
No graveyard to which there is no right-of-way except over or through some person's land shall be sold hereunder without the consent of such person.
1946, p. 407; Michie Suppl. 1946, § 58a; 1968, c. 83.