What You Should Consider Before Scattering a Loved One’s Ashes

Man in monk robe scattering ashes and flower petals into water at funeral ceremony.Saying goodbye to a loved one is heartbreaking. Making final arrangements can be overwhelming, and knowing what you are allowed to do to fulfill your loved one's wishes is important, but it can also be confusing. If the person you lost wanted to be cremated and have their ashes spread, you should know where you can scatter their ashes to make sure that putting your loved one to rest is done appropriately. If you are considering giving direction to your loved ones concerning your ashes, you can help the process by doing this research ahead of time.

Where Do You Want to Scatter the Ashes?  

The place you choose to spread your loved one’s ashes is very important. The rules for spreading someone’s ashes are different depending on the type of location. 

Is the Area Private or Public Property?

The first question about location is whether the property is public or private. If the location is public, you may be able to scatter your loved one’s ashes there so long as you do not spread their remains in a place where others would use the space. (For example, do not scatter your family member’s ashes in the sandbox at the park). Always be considerate of others in public places. National and state parks may have parameters such as scattering ashes a certain number of feet from a trail or body of water, or similar requirement. In other words, just because you are permitted to walk onto the property does not automatically mean you are permitted to scatter ashes wherever you decide.

Also, always make sure you have the appropriate permission. During the 2022 NHL Playoffs, a hockey fan who lost his best friend, another big fan of the sport, spread some of his friend’s ashes on the ice rink. He quickly learned that he could not pay tribute to his friend that way after being banned from attending games for the rest of the season. If you get the property owner’s permission, you can scatter the ashes on their property. Keep in mind that it is unlikely that you will get your favorite amusement park or stadium’s permission to spread your loved one’s ashes.

Note that if you are allowed to spread ashes on a piece private property, the specific location may have certain requirements you must follow.

Scattering Ashes at the Beach

Another popular scattering desitation is at the beach. You will need permission to spread your loved one’s ashes on the beach. Many states do not allow you to spread ashes along the shoreline, but in states like California, you can scatter ashes 500 yards or more from shore. Do the research ahead of time for the desired location.

Scattering Ashes at Sea

It may have been your loved one’s last wish to have their ashes scattered at sea. Keep in mind that “at sea” usually refers to a certain distance off shore, so check the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) website for current guidelines. (Currently, the minimum distance requirement is 3 nautical miles off shore). The EPA regulates how surviving loved ones can scatter the ashes of the person they lost. Usually, the EPA requires that anything you put into the ocean decomposes easily. So, live flowers are OK, but you probably can’t place the urn into the sea. Again, check the regulations as they relate to the specific request. (Please also note that at this time, non-human remains are not permitted to be buried at sea). 

Knowing what’s allowed as you lay your loved one to rest will make a hard situation just a little easier. Any way that you choose to honor your loved one is valuable. Spreading their ashes will help you heal and keep their memory alive. Again, it never hurts to plan, and you don't have to leave this on  your loved ones. If you are in the process of estate planning, use this as a time to check whether your wishes are feasible. Clearing up this unknown is its own gift to leave your loved ones. At Linville Law Office, PLLC, we are available to help you with your estate planning wishes, as well as assist with any research around the desired disposition of your remains. We are conveniently located in south Charlotte for in-person or on-line visits.

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