Guidelines on where it is and isn't okay to scatter cremated remains and whether you need permission
By: Linnea Crowther
3 months ago
If your loved one was cremated, you may be planning to scatter his or her ashes, or at least a portion of them. Scattering ashes in a favorite place can provide beautiful and meaningful closure, and it can offer you the peace of mind in knowing that a part of your loved one will always be in a place they loved. But before you head to their football team's stadium or their favorite beach, it's important to make sure it's okay to scatter the ashes in the place you're planning on.
If you haven't thought about the legality of the location where you want to scatter ashes, don't worry: We've spelled it out for you here. Take a look through our list for guidelines on where it's always okay to scatter ashes, where it's never okay, and where you need to obtain permission or be aware of the rules.
Your own property. It's always okay to scatter ashes on property that you own. Keep in mind that if you sell the property later, you will end up leaving behind your loved one's remains, and you may need to disclose the presence of human remains to any potential buyers.
Private property. It may be acceptable for you to scatter ashes on someone else's private property, but you always need to ask and receive permission before you do so. This includes locations like sports stadiums, amusement parks, college campuses, and so on. If you can't obtain permission, it's absolutely not okay for you to scatter the ashes anyway. Get permission — preferably written or recorded, so you can prove it — or find another place to scatter your loved one's ashes.
Public land owned by city, county, or state. There's a wide range of public land, from city parks to municipal golf courses to large swaths of forests to public beaches. And though it's public land that's typically open to use by anyone, that use might not extend to scattering ashes. Especially for busy locations like public parks, you should contact the city, county, or state that owns the land to determine if a permit or other permission is required. As far as rural, undeveloped land like forests, there are typically no laws preventing scattering ashes, though you should make sure you're on public property and not someone's private land.
National parks. Most national parks do allow you to scatter ashes, though you may need to obtain a permit first. Check with a park ranger before scattering ashes. However, there are some locations of the National Park System where it's expressly prohibited to scatter ashes. If the park you're considering turns out to be one of those places, respect the rules and think of another meaningful place to scatter.
The ocean. It's always legal to scatter ashes in the ocean, but there are regulations that apply that you'll need to follow. A general rule of thumb is that you should be at least three nautical miles from any shoreline when you scatter. You should also be sure not to put any non-biodegradable materials in the ocean when you scatter there, so most urns should be kept with you, and any flowers or garlands you scatter with the ashes should be all-natural without any additional materials. It's also okay to scatter ashes in the ocean from a plane, as long as you follow the other rules. Scattering ashes in the ocean is considered burial at sea, and you can learn more about it at this link.
Lakes, rivers, and streams. It's not quite as simple to scatter ashes in an inland waterway as it is in the ocean. It may be allowed in some and forbidden in others, or a permit may be required. If you're planning on scattering in a lake, pond, river, or stream, be sure to check with the local government and/or the state environmental protection agency to learn their laws and obtain any permission you may need. You should also follow the same guidelines for biodegradability as above for oceans.
Cemeteries. Some people prefer to scatter ashes in a cemetery rather than bury them there, but before you do this, you'll need to obtain permission just like you would for any other private or municipal land. Some cemeteries are privately owned and others are owned by cities, so find out and inquire about permission before you scatter. Some cemeteries have specific areas designated as scattering gardens, which they may direct you to use. And you should probably avoid scattering ashes directly on another person's gravesite. That's because of one really important consideration that you should keep in mind no matter where you're scattering:
Wherever you scatter, be considerate and think of others as you decide where to place the ashes. Ashes are pretty recognizable to anyone who's ever seen them. They're not a fine powder; they include bone fragments that are not going to immediately return to the elements. So when you scatter, find a private place that's not where others will be walking, sitting, or doing other activities. It might feel upsetting to you to think of others walking on your loved one's remains, and it might be unsettling to another person to come across cremated remains while hiking a favorite trail or golfing at their local course. Finding a spot off the trail or in a quiet, less-traveled corner will help you avoid this.
A few other things to keep in mind: If you're scattering ashes in the wind rather than placing them on the ground, carefully assess the wind direction before releasing the ashes, so you avoid having them blow back into your face or on other people. If you're scattering from a plane, you may want to have someone experienced with this process release the ashes, as it can be easy for the ashes to blow back into the plane. If you'll be handling the ashes with your bare hands, you may want to bring a damp cloth for cleanup when you're done. And before you scatter ashes, make sure everyone who might have an interest in them is on board with your plan, or is able to have a portion of the ashes for a keepsake if they choose.