Legally Scattering Ashes: Keep These Six Important Facts in Mind

By: VGFS
Saturday, March 18, 2023

Legally scattering ashes isn’t complicated but it does require some research and planning.

The scattering of a loved one’s ashes can bring peace and closure to surviving family members. For many, it symbolizes freedom from suffering and a return to nature. Before you head to your loved one’s favorite park or beach for a scattering ceremony, make sure you are legally scattering ashes and not unintentionally breaking the rules. There is no Federal ash scattering law in the U.S. but each state and locality may have specific regulations that must be followed.

Here are six important things to know about legally scattering cremated ashes.

1. Scattering ashes on private property requires permission.

You may scatter ashes anywhere on your property, but if someone else owns the land, you must ask for and receive permission first. It’s wise to get a written record of the agreement. If the property owner says no, find another location. Don't try to spread the ashes secretly; this is considered trespassing, and it is illegal.

2. Many public venues and locations are actually on private property.

Sports stadiums, golf courses, and amusement parks have many visitors, but that doesn’t mean they are public property, which can be confusing. It’s an important distinction because, as noted above, you must get permission before scattering ashes on private property. If the location is a stadium or amusement park, your request will likely be declined.

3. Most national parks allow ashes to be scattered.

Maryland is home to 18 amazing national parks, so they are a popular choice for ash scattering ceremonies. There are specific regulations that govern each park and a permit is usually required. Check the National Park Service’s website for the particular national park that you’re considering to get up-to-date information on the rules for scattering ashes. Once you’re familiar with the regulations, request permission from the park’s Chief Ranger.

4. Spreading ashes at sea is legal but there are some requirements.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees burials and ash scatterings on the water. Here is an overview of the regulations that must be followed:

  • Any type of remains, including ashes, must be placed in the ocean at least three nautical miles from land.
  • Anything placed in the water must easily decompose in a marine environment; therefore, only biodegradable urns may be used.
  • You may release flowers or wreaths into the water, but they must decompose easily. Therefore, plastic and metal components are not permitted.
  • A special permit is required to spread pet remains at sea.
  • While a permit is not required for the scattering of human ashes, you must report the burial to the EPA within 30 days.

Most rivers, ponds, and lakes are not subject to federal regulation, so these laws do not apply. In addition, many states have laws related to spreading ashes that prohibit cremains from being scattered on beaches or shorelines.

5. Scattering gardens are a good option.

With the growing number of people in Maryland electing to be cremated, many memorial parks, cemeteries, and churches throughout the state have designed scattering gardens on their properties where families can scatter their loved ones’ ashes. If this is of interest to you, your funeral director can assist you in finding a scattering garden in your area.

6. Above all, demonstrate courtesy to others.

Wherever you decide to scatter the ashes of your loved one, be considerate. Many laws relative to scattering ashes specifically mention staying away from trails and other heavily-used public areas. Pay attention to who may be in proximity and make every effort not to interfere with their activities.

Ash scattering has become an increasingly popular way to remember departed loved ones. It provides a unique opportunity to honor their memory in a place that held special meaning. As part of your planning process, be sure to check local and state laws and familiarize yourself with any federal laws that may apply.

If you plan to spread your loved one's ashes in a location other than your own property, ask your funeral director for guidance. Our caring professionals are here with the information and resources you need. Please contact us anytime.

About Vaughn Greene Funeral Services: For more than 25 years, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services has been providing a ministry of care to Baltimore’s African American community. As a leading local, minority- and family-owned provider, we promise to provide our highest level of service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved ones. For more information about our funeral, cremation, memorial, repast, and grief counseling services, please call us at 410.655.0015 or visit us online at https://vaughncgreene.com/.

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