Legal How-To: Scattering Ashes After Cremation

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on July 02, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The practice of cremating and scattering the ashes of a loved one who has passed away is becoming increasingly popular in America. In fact, by 2016, the Cremation Association of North America projects that nearly half of all deceased Americans will be cremated.

But what should you be aware of when scattering a loved one's ashes? Are there any potential legal pitfalls that those planning their own final resting place or hoping to scatter a loved one's ashes should watch out for?

Here are some legal considerations to keep in mind if you want to scatter ashes:

  • Scattering ashes at sea. According to EPA regulations, scattering ashes at sea is permitted at least 3 nautical miles from land. Materials that can decompose, such as flower wreaths, are also allowed, but other materials such as urns should not be disposed of into the water. The EPA also requests that any burials at sea be reported to the regional EPA office within 30 days.
  • Scattering ashes on private property. Scattering ashes on private property is allowed, but you'll have to get the property owner's permission first. In one notable case, a Philadelphia man was arrested in 2005 after running onto the field during a Philadelphia Eagles football game to scatter his mother's ashes. An Eagles spokeswoman told The Washington Post that the team typically declines requests to spread ashes on the field.
  • Scattering ashes on public land. The scattering of ashes is generally allowed on public land, though you may need special permission or apply for a permit. The Bureau of Land Management allows scattering of ashes on BLM land as long as the remains are properly processed following cremation, are scattered at least 100 yards from any trail or body of water, and are not accompanied by any marker or memorial. Individual national parks, such as Yosemite National Park, typically have their own guidelines and permitting processes.

Need More Help?

Being proactive, such as by including burial plans in a "final arrangements" document (separate from your will), can help ensure that when the time comes, your remains or those of a loved one can be laid to rest without legal difficulties. If you need more guidance, an experienced estate planning attorney can help to ensure that your specific final wishes are honored.

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