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What to Do with Cremated Remains

Can my ashes be spread anywhere?

When we are completing a client’s Funeral Planning Declaration, this is a common question.  We also occasionally receive questions about scattering ashes from individuals who have cremated remains of family members in their possession.  Federal and Indiana laws dictate how and where cremated remains can be disposed.  However, laws and rules are fairly generous as to how cremated remains can be disposed.

If you choose cremation, your family can choose to keep your cremated remains or dispose of them in a number of ways.  In the past, family members who have kept cremated remains have stored them in a traditional urn or other ornate container.  However, new trends have resulted in almost unlimited options.  For example, many family members are now electing to have their loved one’s cremated remains set into a necklace pendant, bracelet, or other piece of jewelry.

If your family decides to dispose of your cremated remains, they have many options.  First, they can place them in a grave, niche, or crypt.  They can also scatter them in a scattering area such as a garden or other ornate area of a cemetery.  Ashes can be scattered on private land as long as the cremated remains meet statutory size requirements.  It is important to note that your family must have permission of the land owner if the land is not owned by the family.  Unfortunately, many individuals illegally scatter ashes at major league ballparks or theme parks without the park’s permission (for most parks the answer will be “no”).  This is not only unsanitary, but against the law and could lead to criminal prosecution.

Ashes may also be scattered on uninhabited public land.  Family members should check with local rules before scattering ashes.  Federal lands may also have specific requirements before scattering ashes.  For example, Yellowstone National Park requires family members to call the park’s Visitor Services Office and give the exact area where ashes will be scattered and the date and time the scattering will take place.  Ashes may not be scattered near roads, buildings, parking lots, or campgrounds.

Ashes may also be scattered by water.  Ashes scattered by water must meet the requirements of the Federal Clean Water Act.  For example, the Act requires ashes scattered at sea to be scattered at least three nautical miles from shore.  Ashes scattered in inland rivers and lakes must also meet requirements of the Act and other state laws.  In many cases, a permit may be required.

State law does not prohibit scattering ashes by air, but federal aviation laws do prohibit dropping objects that might cause harm to people or property.  Consequently, spreading of ashes by air is probably acceptable as long as the container for the ashes is not dropped with them.

Once family has disposed of ashes, a form documenting the disposition of ashes must be filed with the court recorder within 10 days of disposition.

By using common sense, your family can dispose of your cremated remains in numerous ways.  If you have specific requirements regarding disposition of your remains, you should consider executing a Funeral Planning Declaration and appointing a designee to ensure that those instructions are followed.   To assist you in completing your comprehensive estate plan, including your Funeral Planning Declaration, contact us today to schedule an appointment to review your options.

Jeff is Certified as an Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by the National Elder Law Foundation, a distinction held by only a handful of lawyers in Indiana. For almost 20 years, he has focused on elder law, estate planning, long-term care planning, Medicaid planning, Veterans Affairs benefits planning, special needs planning, guardianships, and estate administration.

Jeffery D. Stinson, Certified Elder Law Attorney
Jeff is Certified as an Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by the National Elder Law Foundation, a distinction held by only a handful of lawyers in Indiana. For almost 20 years, he has focused on elder law, estate planning, long-term care planning, Medicaid planning, Veterans Affairs benefits planning, special needs planning, guardianships, and estate administration.