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Arranging the Interment of Ashes

Getty Images / Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery

Where should the urn be placed as a memorial after cremation?

Interment of ashes is when cremated remains are buried in the ground or placed in a building designed to hold ashes, known as a columbarium. Typically, ashes will be in an urn when they're interred.

This is an option for ashes if you prefer not to scatter them or display them in your home. It may also be required by your religion if you choose cremation — for example, the Catholic Church forbids ashes to be scattered, kept at home, or made into cremation jewelry or other keepsakes. Interment of ashes is the only acceptable option under current Catholic guidelines.

Where ashes can be interred

There are several places you can choose to inter a loved one's ashes:

At a Cemetery

You can bury ashes in a cemetery just like you would bury a body in a casket. Since an urn is typically much smaller than a casket, you may be able to bury the ashes of multiple people in one burial plot. You should check with the cemetery before making plans to do this, in case they have guidelines you need to follow. When you inter ashes in a cemetery, you can add a standard headstone, just like you would when burying a body.

In an Urn Garden

Some cemeteries set aside space for urn gardens, special areas designed just for burying ashes. You can buy a small plot just the right size for the urn. The cemetery may have guidelines for smaller grave markers in an urn garden.

In a Columbarium

A columbarium is a building, often on cemetery property, that holds the ashes of multiple bodies. It's the equivalent of a mausoleum for cremated remains. Each urn is placed in a niche, a small space that holds one urn. Each niche might be covered, with a small marker for the deceased engraved or placed on the front, though sometimes the niches are left open to display the urns.

On Private Property

It's legal to bury ashes on property you own. Keep in mind that if you decide to sell that property later, you'll either need to dig up the ashes to take with you, or disclose the presence of human remains on your property. If you want to inter ashes on someone else's private property, you'll need to seek permission first and make sure you've got that permission in writing before you begin to dig.

On Public Property

If you want to inter ashes on public property, like a city park or national forest, you may be able to do so — but just like with someone else's property, you'll need to ask for permission first. You might need to apply for a permit and have that permit in hand when you do the burial. The rules of thumb for burying ashes on public property are similar to those for scattering ashes there.

Choosing an urn

There are many different types of urns, and what you choose may depend on where you're going to inter it. Here are some options to consider:

Decorative Urns

A decorative urn is ideal if you'll be placing the ashes in a columbarium where the niches are left open. The urn will be on display and choosing a decorative urn is a great way to pay tribute to the deceased's personal style. The urn can be made of any material you like — whatever fits the deceased's personality best.

Metal, granite, or marble urns

These durable materials are a good choice if you're burying the ashes and want them to be protected from the elements. These materials won't last forever, but they'll come close.

Biodegradable Urns

A biodegradable option will appeal to anyone who wants to be environmentally conscious in death and have the ashes return to the earth quickly. This includes urns made of materials like cardboard, untreated wood, bamboo, and so on.

Planning an interment ceremony

It's common to have a ceremony accompany the interment of ashes. Just like a graveside service when a body is buried, this ceremony helps bring closure and offers friends and family a final moment to say goodbye to their loved one. 

Your funeral director can help you plan the ceremony and arrange the actual interment, including finding the right location and purchasing a plot or niche if necessary. They will have relationships with local cemeteries that can help as you choose and purchase the space.

The cost to bury the ashes can vary quite a bit depending on where you're doing it. A burial on your own land won't cost any more than the price of the urn. If you're burying ashes on public land, it could be free, or you might have to pay a small amount for a permit. To purchase a plot for ashes at a cemetery, you could pay anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. The cost of a niche in a columbarium also varies quite a bit depending on the location, but it is likely to be at least $500.

You might inter the ashes after having a separate memorial service in another location, or you might have only one service, the interment of the ashes. The ceremony will probably be pretty short — less than half an hour, typically — if you've already had another service, but it may be longer if it's your only service. 

It's a good idea to plan in advance how the service will go. You may want a religious leader to conduct the ceremony, or perhaps a friend or family member will take that job. One or more people might give a eulogy or even just say a few words about the deceased. Readings from scripture or poetry are a good addition to an interment ceremony.

Finally, the urn will be lowered into the ground, or placed in the niche. If you're burying the urn in a cemetery, this will be taken care of by cemetery staff, but if you're burying it at home or on public land, you'll need to make a plan for who digs and refills the grave. Close loved ones may want to drop a bit of dirt or a flower on top of the urn once it's in the ground. There may be a few parting words from the religious leader or family members before the service is complete.


Read More:

A Step-By-Step Guide to the Cremation Process
How the Embalming Process Works
The Pros and Cons of a Mausoleum
What is a Green Burial?