Ashes - Know Your Rights

Ashes - Know Your Rights

When a loved one passes away the whirlwind of activity that comes after can be overwhelming.  There are many pieces of information given by professionals, friends and family that might be incorrect with regards to your rights and the requirements for handling the body and then the ashes of your loved one. On top of that, scattering ashes may really help you have a more economical memorial service for your loved one, which may keep some professionals from recommending it, but we know that traditional funerals are expensive whether they include cremation or not.

What is true is that you have many options on what actions to take so that you can best grieve your loss and celebrate a life.

Step One - Know Your State's Laws:

The vast majority of regulation that exists for the bodies of the deceased, especially for embalming requirements and timelines, is determined at the state level with only a few exceptions.  For example, in Iowa you could reference the following information to know that once your loved ones ashes are in your hands, what is done with those ashes is largely up to you.  This is especially true when it comes to your actions on private property.  Research and experience on the Green Meadow Memorials staff shows this general situation to be true for all states.  You might be tempted to use other memorial sites but discretion is very important in these cases, as these sites should be respected.

An excellent resource on a state-by-state basis can be found at where they break down laws (or lack of them) into more understandable language.

Step Two - Know the rules for Federal Lands, Sea and Air:

On Federal ground, it is typically the rule that so long as your actions with ashes are respectful of everyone's use of the space and that your actions occur in low traffic areas you will not be stopped when spreading your loved one's ashes.  On a site by site basis, there may be rules to follow like these for Yosemite National Park.  Searching the Internet for "spreading ashes" and the park or forest name will let you know if you should follow certain rules or rely on your best judgement.

In general, using the ocean as a place to spread the ashes is allowed and straight forward.   The EPA website details that human ashes can be spread so long as you are more than three miles from shore.  What should be avoided is placing in the water anything that will not readily decompose.  Among the materials that should not be placed into the ocean are wood cremation urns, which are in a sense biodegradable but will likely end up on shore long before that process takes place.  Our experience indicates that you would be best served spreading the ashes directly into the water over a couple of minutes so that they have time to more gracefully spread out.

Spreading the cremains into the air is subject to even less regulation that ocean ceremonies, with the only restriction being the guidance on "the dropping of objects."  As simple as it may sound, there are some well documented challenges with this process given the relative difficulty of the environment when flying.  Carefully consider these challenges when planning this type of ceremony.

It does remain up to you get enough information so that you can feel your actions are safe and legal.

Step Three - Make a Plan:

It's important to make a plan for the remains so that you can make your decisions on what is needed, who will be present and how the ashes will spread of divided.  Green Meadow Memorials suggests these steps:

  1. Select a cremation urn that is appropriate to your loved one with their name and identifying information on it for a long-term memorial.
  2. If there are other family members who would desire a personalized and individual keepsake, split a small amount of the ashes into keepsake urns.
  3. In a meaningful place spread some of the loved one's ashes so that they might become a part of a place or activity that they loved.

Step Four - Put the Plan into Action:

While there does not need to be a rush to get through all steps of the plan, a lot of comfort can be found in making sure the loved one is in their lasting resting place.  Green Meadow Memorials is committed to helping you find the right memorial to finish your plans.

We can be reached by email at and also by filling out our form on our Contact Us page.

Nat Juchems
About Nat Juchems

Nat Juchems is a Co-Founder at Green Meadow Memorials and helps those grieving the loss of a loved one find the right memorial to cherish. Over the past seven years, Nat has worked in the online memorial industry and has helped thousands of families find and purchase the right cremation urn for their needs and budgets.

Outside of work, you can find Nat with his family enjoying being active outdoors, playing games indoors or training for Triathlons. Read more details on Nat's years of experience on LinkedIn.