Robin Williams' Ashes Scattered in SF Bay. Can You Do the Same?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on August 25, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

After his death by suicide shocked his legions of fans, the late actor and comedian Robin Williams' ashes have been scattered in San Francisco Bay.

According to his death certificate, Williams' ashes were scattered in the bay near his home in Tiburon, California, following his cremation, reports Reuters.

Were Williams' remains afforded special treatment, or is it legal for anyone to scatter a deceased person's ashes at sea or over a body of water?

Rules for Scattering Ashes at Sea

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has rules in place for the practice of scattering ashes at sea. Under EPA regulations, scattering a deceased person's ashes at sea is permitted as long as:

  • It is done at least 3 nautical miles from land;
  • Material scattered is decomposable (meaning flowers are OK, urns are probably not); and
  • It is reported to a EPA regional office within 30 days.

However, California law allows scattering of ashes as close as 500 yards from the shoreline, although it prohibits scattering of cremated remains from bridges or piers. Before scattering ashes in California, a permit must first be obtained from the local registrar of births and deaths, which describes the place where the remains will be scattered.

Scattering Ashes Elsewhere

In addition to scattering ashes at sea, it's also possible to scatter ashes on land, both public and private.

When it comes to private land, getting the permission of the landowner is typically needed. Although scattering ashes itself is not a crime, if you are doing it on another's land without obtaining permission you may be committing a different crime -- the crime of trespassing.

On public land, scattering of ashes is also generally allowed, although in some cases you may first need to acquire a permit. Individual parks may also have their own rules for scattering created remains. For example, Yosemite National Park requires those wishing to scatter ashes to write a letter in order to obtain a permit, and observe several rules regarding the ashes, such as scattering them out of sight, at least 100 yards from water, and leaving no marker behind.

If you have questions about the legality of your final wishes or the burial instructions left by a loved one, an experienced estate planning lawyer can help answer your questions.

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