Losing a loved one is a painful, difficult part of the human experience. At the same time, it can be beautiful. For as long as we can remember, we’ve held rituals and ceremonies to honor the memory of our loved ones. These are cathartic experiences that allow us to grieve and heal at the same time. Today, scattering ashes is a popular alternative to a traditional burial. What does this mean, and is there a proper way to scatter or spread ashes? Keep reading to find out.
What Does “Scattering Ashes” Mean?
Scattering ashes describes the act of scattering or spreading someone’s cremated remains. When someone creates their Will, they typically specify their end-of-life wishes, including what they’d like done to their remains, and how they would like to be memorialized. There are many options, including the traditional burial. Many individuals prefer to be cremated, and then ask that their loved ones scatter their cremation ashes at a location of their choosing. The executor of the Will is responsible for making sure that these final wishes are carried out.
Oftentimes, family members of the deceased will scatter the ashes as a part of the memorial service. The act of scattering ashes can symbolize “letting go,” and sending their loved one off on their next journey. The location of the ash scattering can also represent the deceased in some way, such as their favorite location or activity. That brings us to our next question, which is “where can you scatter ashes?”
Where Can You Scatter Ashes?
It’s always a good idea to check with your local legislation and guidelines before picking a place to scatter ashes. Although there are no federal scattering ashes laws, you might find some policies in your city or state. If you feel unsure, obtaining permission from the property owner or city hall for public spaces is your best bet.
Assuming that you’ve been given the green light, here are some popular places for scattering ashes:
In a lake or river
In a park
At the cemetery
Into the wind
Can Human Ashes be Scattered Anywhere?
Although in theory you can scatter ashes anywhere, the safest answer is “no.” As mentioned above, there may be some state or local ordinances that will prevent you from spreading ashes in particular areas. This is especially true for any private properties.
First, check to see if there are any state guidelines regarding the scattering of ashes. For example, California state law states that you are permitted to scatter ashes anywhere, as long as no local prohibition exists. In addition, you must have written permission from any governing agency or property owner, unless it’s on property you own. This means that you must also check with your city or county government to make sure that you are permitted to scatter ashes in the location you had in mind. It’s well-advised to obtain written permission.
Do You Need Permission to Scatter Someone's Ashes?
Again, there are no explicit laws stating that you need permission to scatter ashes. However, you should always double-check with your local and state laws and guidelines. Policies vary from state to state. If you’re not scattering ashes on property you own, or in a designated ash scattering location, it’s best to obtain written permission from your local government or owner of any private property.
Is It Illegal to Spread Ashes?
There are few scattering ashes laws & regulations in place, but there may be applicable policies based on your desired location. As we mentioned before, the first step is to check with your local government. Then, you might want to check if there are any applicable policies put into place by local and federal agencies.
For example, the Clean Water Act designates some rules regarding a burial at sea. When scattering ashes in the ocean, you must be three miles from land, and in water that is at least 600 feet deep. In addition, only decomposable items may be added, such as flowers. This specific policy can be found through the Environmental Protection Agency.
This was just one example of a scatter ashes law. We recommend picking your desired ash scattering location first, and then find out if there are any laws, policies or guidelines pertaining to that specific location. It’s always to play it on the safe side and obtain written permission. Otherwise, you could risk getting slapped with a hefty fine.
How to Scatter Ashes
Scattering ashes is a symbolic ceremony that helps family members say goodbye to a loved one who passed away, and send them off on their next journey. Due to the symbolic significance, location is of utmost importance. It could be at your loved one’s favorite beach or garden. However, it’s best to check with your local government to obtain written permission and ensure that there aren’t any guidelines or policies that would prevent you from executing your plan.
Now that we’ve addressed some key questions about scattering ashes, we wanted to provide some suggestions on how to make the most of your ash scattering ceremony:
Consult with the deceased’s executor and estate planning documents for any end-of-life specifications. The executor is ultimately responsible for ensuring that final wishes are carried out, so collaborate with them to help implement your loved one’s wishes. Make sure that the deceased did, in fact, wish to be cremated and have their ashes spread.
Research the location that the deceased wanted their ashes scattering, and obtain written permission from either the land owner or local government as applicable. Find out if there are any applicable rules or guidelines and plan on adhering to them.
Arrange cremation services and obtain the ashes. You can opt to receive the ashes in an urn. Otherwise, the cremation service will return the ashes to you in a simple bag or box.
Per the deceased’s wishes, make arrangements for an ash scattering ceremony. This may be part of the memorial service or funeral. Send invitations out to friends and family, and inform them of the ceremony so that they can prepare a statement if applicable.
Bring the ashes to the location of the scattering. There are tubes and urns designed specifically for scattering ashes, making it easier for one or more individuals to participate. You can prepare the tubes in advance using scoops and gloves. Otherwise, you’ll want to prepare tools for use during the ceremony. Also be sure to think about how to safely transport the ashes to your designated location.
Guide your participants through the scattering ceremony. You might ask them to stand in a circle and make a short statement, such as their favorite memory of the deceased, or a send-off message.
Once each participant is done, facilitate the scattering of the ashes. Make sure to check the direction of the wind to make sure none of the ashes blow back in an unfavorable direction.
Remember to thank everyone for participating, and collect any tools and receptacles used. Dispose or recycle them responsibly.
What is the Proper Way to Spread Someone's Ashes?
The best way to honor a loved one’s memory is to spread their ashes in the way they would have wanted. Make sure to check and see if they’ve left any instructions or final wishes. You might find these in their Last Will and Testament. If they had an estate plan, then it would ultimately fall on their executor to ensure that their final wishes are carried out according to plan. If you yourself are not the executor, make sure to collaborate with the person who is. Otherwise, feel free to get creative in how you think will best honor your loved one. For inspiration, check out 10 Creative Things to do with Loved Ones Ashes.
Specify Your Wishes for Cremation Ashes
You may have gathered from this reading that having an estate plan with clear instructions is extremely helpful. Scattering ashes is just one of many options, so providing your personal wishes in writing will help take out any guesswork for those tasked with arranging your funeral or memorial.
As the person creating the estate plan, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your end-of-life wishes will be granted. As the person executing the plan, you’ll appreciate that there’s little to no guesswork. You’ll breathe easy knowing that you are honoring your loved one’s memory in the way they would have wanted.
You can record your own end-of-life wishes in your estate plan today! If you’re interested in getting started, know that our estate planning services offer an option to create a Will in less than 15 minutes. Even better, it’s super affordable.
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