We all want to memorialize and honor our loved ones when they pass away. This often involves a religious service, burial or cremation. Mortuaries and cemeteries typically handle the disposition details that follow, but when a loved one has requested that his or her ashes be scattered after cremation, that may be a task for you and/or other family members.
The act of scattering the ashes of a loved one brings peace and closure to many families, but there are certain legal guidelines you should know before doing so.
Legal Considerations for Scattering Cremated Remains
Cremation has increased in popularity, surpassing burial as the most common form of disposition. While cremation opens up a world of possibilities for families looking to honor their deceased loved ones in a variety of creative ways, there are different laws to be followed for each situation.
For example, many parks, beaches, and other public areas have certain rules and guidelines that must be followed before scattering your loved one’s ashes. Similarly, some private properties permit the spreading of ashes while others forbid it. In any situation, you’ll need request permission from the owner and check local laws and regulations before planning your loved one’s ash-scattering ceremony.
Private Party Considerations
It’s always a good idea to obtain written permission from the property owner prior to scattering your loved one’s ashes in a particular location. For example, if your grandfather requested his ashes to be scattered at his favorite ballpark, be sure to speak with management and obtain formal, written permission. This will help protect you from any legal issues in the future.
If the property owner denies your request, find another location. Do not attempt to spread the ashes in secret, even if your loved one specifically requested a particular location. Be aware that secretly spreading ashes in certain places may be illegal and can leave you vulnerable to fines and jail time.
Keep in mind that many popular spots, such as sports stadiums, amusement parks and golf courses may have guidelines for the scattering of remains. In some cases, it may be illegal. Check with management prior to your intended date to secure necessary permission and ensure you are in compliance with all guidelines. Attempting to scatter ashes on private property without permission is illegal, and staff may involve law enforcement if you are in violation.
Spreading Ashes at Parks and Public Lands
Controlled public lands, such as city parks, may require a permit to spread ashes. Always inquire with the local park board to find out the regulations. Similarly, most national parks in the United States permit ash-spreading, but again, you will likely need to secure a permit and follow certain regulations.
You can usually spread ashes without permission in uninhabited and uncontrolled public lands, such as woodlands and forest areas. When doing so, stay at least 100 yards away from popular trails or other areas where people frequently travel.
As a general rule of thumb, it is always advisable to contact local authorities to ensure you won’t be breaking any laws.
Cemetery Rules for Scattering Ashes
If you want to scatter your loved one’s ashes in a cemetery, check with the owner or local government first. Some cemeteries actually have special designated scattering areas (and charge for use of it), while others don’t allow it at all, and others have no regulations whatsoever. So find out the particular rules that exist at the desired cemetery ahead of time.
Scattering Ashes at Sea
If you scatter your loved one’s ashes at sea, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that you:
Spread the ashes three nautical miles from land or farther.
Use a biodegradable urn.
Report the burial to the EPA within 30 days.
Put Your Mind At Ease
The thought of potentially breaking the law can be unsettling, especially at an already emotional time of your life. Contacting the appropriate authorities and following their guidance on regulations related to ash scattering will help to settle your concerns and put your mind at ease. That way, you can focus on what’s most important--honoring the memory of your loved one.