7 Things You Need to Know Before Scattering Ashes

For many people, the act of scattering a loved one’s ashes brings peace and closure. It can symbolize the return of the individual to nature, or the release of their spirit to heaven. Before you head to your loved one’s favorite park to hold the ceremony, however, make sure that you understand the laws and regulations in your area. While there’s no specific national “scattering ashes law” in the United States, there are a number of rules and regulations that you may need to be aware of at the national, state, and local level.

1. Most National Parks Allow Ashes To Be Scattered.It is legal to scatter ashes in Grand Canyon National Park, if you get permission first.

If you plan to scatter the ashes of your loved on in a national park in the United States, most parks do allow this. You cannot simply scatter ashes anywhere, however – there are specific regulations.

  • You should request permission from the chief park ranger first.
  • A permit is usually required.
  • Cremains should only be scattered away from trails or other developed areas.
  • Environmentally or archeologically sensitive areas may be off limits.

Realistically, as long as you stay away from sensitive or populated areas, it’s unlikely that you’d be prosecuted for breaking “spreading ashes laws,” even if you don’t ask permission. It’s still illegal, however, and you could get into trouble.

2. Ask Permission Before Scattering Ashes on Private Property.

You are free to scatter ashes anywhere on your own private property, but if someone else owns the land, you need to ask permission first. Either written or verbal permission is fine, but it may be a good idea to have a record of the agreement. If the property owner says no, find another location. Don’t try to secretly spread the ashes anyway. While there may be no specific cremation ashes laws that directly address this issue in your state, it’s trespassing and it’s illegal. You could face fines and even jail time.

3. Sports Stadiums and Amusement Parks Are Private Property.

There is often a lot of confusion about the difference between public and private property. The local NFL stadium, for example, is private property, even though it may have been paid for, in part, by your tax dollars. There are many areas, including other sports stadiums, golf courses, amusement parks, and some museums, that have many visitors each year, but that does not make them public property.

This distinction is important, because you need to get permission before scattering ashes on private property. And if the location is a stadium or amusement park, your request is likely to be declined. In many cases, if you’re caught spreading ashes, the police will be called. Some individuals have been fined and sentenced to community service. In addition, many property owners will have the ashes removed and respectfully disposed of in another location – so while you may have spread your friend’s ashes at Disney World, chances are good that they won’t remain there.

4. Spreading Ashes at Sea Is Allowed.

It is legal to spread ashes at sea, but anything put in the water must decompose easily.According to the EPA, burial at sea of human remains – cremated or not – is permitted, but there are several scattering ashes laws and regulations that you need to follow:

  1. Any type of remains, including ashes, can only be placed in the ocean 3 nautical miles from land or more.
  2. Ashes can be scattered from a boat or airplane.
  3. Only biodegradable urns may be used. Anything placed in the water must easily decompose in a marine environment.
  4. You can release flowers or wreaths into the water, but they must decompose easily.
  5. While a permit is not required, you must report the burial to the EPA within 30 days.
  6. Pet cremains may not be spread at sea without a special permit.

It’s important to note that most rivers, ponds, and lakes are not subject to federal regulation, and therefore these scattering ashes laws do not apply. You need to contact the mortuary board, environmental agency, or health agency in the state where you want to spread the ashes to learn more about the relevant laws. Scattering ashes in inland waters is illegal in some states.

Many states also have spreading ashes laws that prohibit cremains from being scattered on beaches or shorelines. Some states, such as California, do permit it as long as you’re 500 yards from shore. If you’re in a relatively private area and don’t scatter the ashes in a place where they are likely to wash ashore and disturb other people, it’s unlikely that you would be arrested or charged for breaking this law – but it’s still illegal.

5. You May Be Allowed to Scatter Ashes on Uninhabited Public Land.

This is another one of those spreading ashes laws that depends on the state where you live, so always check with the appropriate authorities first. Forests and other wilderness areas can be a lovely place to scatter ashes, but do so away from commonly used trails or other locations where you know people frequently visit or travel.

6. It May Be OK to Scatter Ashes in a Graveyard – But Maybe Not.Find out who owns the cemetery before scattering ashes there.

First, you need to know if the graveyard is public or private property. If the cemetery is on private property, you need to ask permission. For public graveyards, ask the city or town that manages the property if there are any scattering ashes laws or regulations that forbid spreading ashes; some towns have banned the practice. An increasing number of private cemeteries actually offer “scattering gardens,” and may only allow ashes to be scattered there and only for a fee.

If you’re planning to spread the ashes on a grave or in a crypt, make sure that you speak to the individual’s immediate family (if possible) before doing so.

7. Be Considerate of Others.

This is perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when scattering ashes: Think about other people. You’ll notice that many of the scattering ashes laws above specifically mention staying away from trails and other publically used areas. Unless they are very finely pulverized, cremains can be distinctive. No one wants to find a pile of cremains when they’re hiking with their kids or playing at the beach.

Many people struggle with loss and the act of spreading a loved one’s ashes can give closure and release. But scatter those ashes in a place and in a form where they will be undisturbed and won’t offend others. If you try to secretly leave ashes in a sports stadium or amusement park, chances are high that they will be discovered and removed (even if you don’t get caught). If they aren’t removed, you still risk people walking through them, spreading them around, or otherwise not treating them with the respect they deserve.

Find a peaceful, quiet, out of the way place where the cremains are more likely to rest in peace. Often, people like to spread the ashes directly onto the ground and gently rake them into the soil. If you’re releasing rather than burying the ashes, take note of the wind direction. When you release the ashes, make sure that everyone (including you) is upwind and won’t get hit. It’s a good idea to allow a professional to scatter the ashes if you’re releasing them from an airplane, since it can be difficult to prevent them from blowing back inside.

Bonus Tip! All Urns Can Be Used For Scattering Cremains.

There is a misconception that a special urn must be used to scatter the remains of your loved one. This is simply not true. Any urn that can be re-opened can be used for the scattering ceremony in the location you may choose. Oftentimes, after a formal memorial service is completed a family will arrange a more private scattering with close family and friends. To save money and for convenience, a family may instead use the urn they used for the formal service for both purposes.

Knowing this information, families will many times invest more into an urn that may suit their loved ones interests or preferences. Some families will use a traditional metal or wood urn. Other families will use lifestyle urns with themes like golf, motorcycles or angels. Whichever urn you choose just know, as long as it opens, it can be used for scattering too.

Discuss: 7 Things You Need to Know Before Scattering Ashes

24 People Discussing
  • Hello, I have a curious question. I am doing a research paper and I am wondering if there’s any information as to why scattering pet ashes requires a permit? Might anyone be able to help me out on this? Can’t seem to find any reasons. Thanks!

    Comment by Satch — April 20, 2017 @ 3:24 pm

  • What are the negative problems that could occur with disposing of cremains in not allowed places. Such as lakes, ponds,trails, yards,etc. Can it make humans ill?

    Comment by Donna Lenea Tuton — April 3, 2018 @ 7:48 pm

  • I understand that a person’s cremated ashes are scattered from a private airplane over the city of Galax, Va.;and that it is “done all the time”. Isn’t there a law against this?? Please let me know. Thank you.
    Loretta Wilson
    .

    Comment by loretta wilson — May 1, 2018 @ 1:52 pm

  • Are people allowed to keep the remnants of the deceased parents?

    Comment by jonny — May 21, 2018 @ 6:07 am

  • Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, we do not have information on the specific laws in that area. We would suggest that you contact the local enforcement agency to find out more details. Thank you.

    Comment by admin — June 12, 2018 @ 11:13 am

  • Thank you for your comment. Each family and/or religion have their own ideas in regards to keeping a portion of cremains. Keepsake urns or cremation jewelry are great ways to keep a portion of cremains. If you should have any questions or would like assistance finding a memorial of this type please visit our website at http://www.perfectmemorials.com.

    Comment by admin — June 12, 2018 @ 11:18 am

  • My husband’s last wishes included having his cremated ashes being released into running water, i.e. a big river. I know his favorite waterway was the Current River in Missouri. Is there an agency I must apply to, for permission to do this? Is it even permissible to put ashes in this river? If not, what are my options?

    Comment by Athan Chilton — June 13, 2018 @ 11:40 am

  • Thank you for your comment. It is always best to contact the local government or nature reserve that oversees the river. They will be able to provide you specific information on the process of dispersing ashes in the waterway.

    Comment by admin — June 19, 2018 @ 11:39 am

  • My dad’s only wish was to have his ashes spread on or near his mother’s grave. The little Minnesota town has a cemetery run by an association, so probably is on private land. To bury the ashes, crypt, and care for is 2250.00! Can we place the ashes on the ground?

    Comment by Tamela Ireland — July 17, 2018 @ 11:30 pm

  • Thank you for your message. We would suggest contacting the association to see if they have any options for spreading ashes on their grounds. Many times, the rules will vary significantly!

    Comment by admin — July 20, 2018 @ 10:46 am

  • My children and grandchildren enjoy visiting ancestor graves at the cemetery. On one occasion, my granddaughter asked me how people will find my grave site since I am going to have my ashes scattered in the mountains. I did not have an answer. Now I do. I created http://www.AncestorDirectory.com to provide a permanent easy –to-find record of my ashes’ exact location including google navigation. My hope is that the website will give comfort to others with similar concerns. https://www.ancestordirectory.com/scattered-cremated-remains

    Comment by Tom — September 26, 2018 @ 1:25 pm

  • Can ypu spread or pass ashes on the Brooklyn Bridge?

    Comment by Krissy — October 12, 2018 @ 3:54 am

  • Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, we do not have any information on the rules or laws that relate to ash scattering at the Brooklyn Bridge. It would be our recommendation for you to contact local city officials for more information.

    Comment by admin — October 15, 2018 @ 12:46 pm

  • I would like to have my ashes spread in nature, but as a genealogist I would like there to be at least a record of my birth and death dates where people might look for it. My idea is to try to buy a marker to place on the grave of my parents–but my remains would not be there. The term for such a situation is a “centotaph”. The cemetery would charge for the marker (bronze plaque) and purchase of “second right” of burial on an existing grave, but there would be no urn to buy or fee for “opening” the grave to bury the urn. There may be a few other lesser charges, like a “deed fee” too. Overall my compromise solution would save around $1000 and serve 2 goals…if the cemetery goes along with it..

    Comment by Martha — December 6, 2018 @ 10:32 pm

  • I want to be cremated and ashes spread in lakes on both the east and west coast as well as skme saved to create a diamond or other jewelry for my daughter have and wear if she wants. I figure if she has children and wants to do the same, if we make stones from both ours, my stone can be re-set with hers together and so on… Anyhow, I am not sure if my loved ones will be better off just privately going out on boat into the middle of both lakes to drop parts of my ashes. I have also thought of my maternal family plot, havung a small marker/gravestone with a few ashes or even my ring or something buried there where they can go and see basically a monument as well, to have a stone engraved w my name etc to carry on my family tree basically for those who come later…
    I would like to say, as I have put much thought into it, regardless of where ashes are spread, they are going to move (such as in water), decompose more (if placed in areas away from public traffic) but if anyone wants to be left somewhere like Disneyworld or such, even if you don’t get caught spreading or dropping the ashes, they will eventually be raked, swept up, they may replace the soil in garden beds…. So you have to understand they might not stay where you leave them, at the same time, there’s nothing wrong in my view with knowing that and while they may be moved in whatever way, part of them has absorbed into that place, that place is where you left them, I think it’s ok to know that while they might move somehow, you did place them in whatever spot. For me, with the large lakes, I feel my body will become part of the lake they can swim in any area and know that I am there with them. I am also interested in why it’s so bad to scatter remains in places such as lakes or flower beds, but esp w lakes and rivers, how can cremated eemains hurt anything or anyone by being there? Fish, insects etc die and decompose in them. These are burned remains that I don’t see would be an issue or even reason to ask permission (unless on private land) but with places such as Disney, would seem they could accommodate people with a memorial bed/garden and allow people a place, knowing they make so much money already! And with firsts and waters, gore are you hurting anything and why need to ask? People litter all the time and that stuff doesn’t decompose. They don’t pay fines as long as they don’t get caught. But with all the polution you know already on waters you swim in, I’d much rather be swimming in burned ashes than trash! Just my thoughts on the matter. You shouldn’t need a permit or have to pay for nonprivate places, nor denied for spreading ashes in forests and rivers and lakes! How does it hurt anything? It seems that there’s always someone offended by everything. And speaking of paying, if my family paid for my grandparents’ graves, then I shouldn’t have to ask permission or pay more to spread my ashes over them either. Just pay for a gravestone type memorial if wanted! But if just spreading over your own loved ones then you shouldn’t need permission. Their site has been paid for already. So it’s supposed to be for loved ones to visit and left with if wanted!

    Comment by Rose — December 26, 2018 @ 5:59 pm

  • i have a question my husband passed away 03/08/2019 he was cremated i have his ashes now my question can i take his ashes and spread them in different spot’s if so can i take some ashes and put them in a plastic bag to take them to the spot to spread them i don’t want to get rid of all the ashes he loved the mountain’s

    Comment by sarah m beahn — March 26, 2019 @ 5:33 pm

  • “Any type of remains, including ashes, can only be placed in the ocean 3 nautical miles from land or more.”
    This concerns me, does this mean if someone passes away someone can drop their remains as a whole body into the water, if that’s what they wish instead of a casket? It will decompose.

    Comment by Chrissy — March 26, 2019 @ 5:53 pm

  • My husband wanted his ashes scattered off Nassau in the beautiful blue water. Will I be able to fly with his urn?

    Comment by Helena — May 28, 2019 @ 12:10 pm

  • I work for a repossession lot in Metro Detroit. We have ashes regularly come in from repossessed cars and many times (sadly) never picked back up. When property storage expires we dispose of it via dumpster but we can’t bring ourselves to toss out cremains and thus have quite a collection forming. What to do with them? Don’t even have names for some. I feel as if we have to do something because NO ONES Final resting place should be a repo lot. Any ideas?

    Comment by Chuck — June 5, 2019 @ 7:47 pm

  • I still have my mother’s ashes in a wooden box urn we haven’t let her go but I think it’s time but I just wasn’t sure what to do what the ashes she never said where she wanted to be let go so I’m not sure what to do I see suddenly died back in in 2015 some suggestions would be helpful

    Comment by Laura — June 6, 2019 @ 6:49 pm

  • I would like to spread my son’s ashes in the Albemarle Sound off the coast of the North Carolina outer banks. This is where he did his fishing and crabbing and loved the water so much. What are the rules and regulations. Thank you.

    Comment by Lyn — July 24, 2019 @ 8:35 pm

  • Tom and Martha, I am a volunteer with Find A Grave, FindAGrave.com, whose website captures final resting places or whatever happened to the body or cremains. It’s free. There’s also Billion Graves, same setup. It really helps to get your info in there because 40 years from now someone will want to know. You can also link parents, spouse, and children’s graves. Take a look at that and see if it suits you. Rose, when you buy a cemetery plot, you’re not buying the land. It’s still private property if it’s a private cemetery. You’re buying what they’re selling, the place to put your loved one, and in most cases, the maintenance of that area. Plus most if not all cemeteries are supposed to keep a record of who they have there. So it helps that out quite a bit (!) if you let them know. I think it’s great that y’all are thinking all this through. So many people don’t and that’s hard on those you leave behind.

    Comment by Betty Burgess — August 20, 2019 @ 11:02 am

  • Chuck & Laura,

    The same but different problem. I always tell people who are considering cremation to plan for the ashes. (Because you don’t want them to end up in a repo lot!)

    Chuck, I think your problem is a little simpler- any location nearby where you are legally allowed will suffice. I’d look for a place that wouldn’t cost me a lot and wouldn’t require a special permit. Something under a tree would be nice. I’d get a shovel and bury the ashes so there isn’t a huge pile, and throw away the urns. They might even be pet ashes, which could account for why they weren’t claimed. (But it’s still weird, isn’t it?? It’s awesome that you have so much respect for the dead.)

    Laura, I feel your dilemma- it’s different from Chuck’s because this is someone you know and love. People often feel that the location should be something memorable or something that reflects the person or a place that is accessible that can be visited. Or do you hold onto them and buy a nice urn? Bury them and put up a stone or something? There are companies that can make jewelry or paperweights or beautiful art glass, but it usually only takes about a tablespoon, so it still leaves you with the dilemma of what to do with the rest. Honestly, I don’t have a good answer for you. It’s been 10 years and I still have the ashes of my baby daughter in my closet. I can tell you that you probably don’t want to end up like me. I can tell you, the longer you hold onto them, the weirder it is and the harder it is to make a decision. I think we tend to give it much more importance than it actually has. My daughter is not in a box; she’s in heaven. Where I put her remains has no impact on her location or my access to her. (My personal beliefs.) Sorry I’m not more help, but those are my thoughts.

    Comment by Carol — September 13, 2019 @ 1:21 am

  • My father wanted to laid to rest after cremation at the foot of his mother. His sibling one of them was so sure of that idea and wanted to fight me on it. So know what i did., i had other family members dig the hole and we put him where hed be at peace. At the foot of his mother. A dying mans last wish no matter what should be done and he should be whole nobody takes half a corpse its creepy that someone would want half the remains. Noone has a right to remains they should be laid to rest or buried at sea not in the back of someones closet and the deceased shouldnt be split in halves thirds or quarters you creepy people.

    Comment by Heather — September 19, 2019 @ 1:09 am

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