urns showing cremains scattered

Last revised: March 21, 2019

Scattering Ashes: A Guide to Spreading Your Loved One’s Remains

In some ways, a traditional funeral and burial is straightforward. The body is placed in the ground, usually with an accompanying ceremony, and a headstone marks the place where friends and family can come and remember the loved one.

Cremations, however, are more complex. Once the ashes are returned to them, many families wonder, what to do with the cremains? There are numerous cremains ideas, from burying them to turning them into a memorial diamond.

One of the most common choices made is to scatter them. However, the choice to sprinkle the ashes someplace comes with its own set of complexities. Here is a list of steps to help you navigate the world of scattering ashes with greater confidence.  

Select a location for the scattering ashes ceremony.

The first step is to decide where you will scatter the ashes. From rivers to oceans, from mountaintops to backyards, almost anyplace will work. The key is to select a spot that holds special significance.

For example, one woman spread her husband’s ashes throughout the world, each time at a location she felt that he would have enjoyed but never had a chance to visit. Others select favorite hiking trails, parks, beaches, or boating locations.

Find out if any regulations affect the location you choose.

Once you know where you want to scatter your loved one’s cremated remains, you will need to determine whether any regulations will affect your plans. Often, the rule “don’t ask, don’t tell” applies, wherein as long as you do not publicly spread ashes or disrupt others, you can carry out the scattering. However, in other instances, certain rules apply.

Scattering Ashes at Sea

In general, you will need to go out at least 3 nautical miles and a depth of at least 600 feet to scatter ashes at sea. In some cases (such as in Florida) you may need to go out further or scatter ashes over deeper water. In addition, you will often need to notify the EPA within 30 days of the scattering, and use a biodegradable scattering urn if you put the urn itself into the water.

Scattering Ashes on Controlled Lands

Spreading cremains on controlled land (such as scattering ashes in national parks) will require you to follow the regulations governing that land. For example, scattering ashes in a state park might require you to look up the state’s laws. In addition, you should hold your ceremony about 100 feet away from any trails or public spaces.

Scattering Ashes on Private Property

You are generally free to spread ashes on your own property, and on other private property as long as you get the owner’s consent.

Decide how to scatter the ashes.

You will also need to decide how to scatter the ashes of your loved one. There are a number of ideas for scattering ashes that you can follow. For example, you can hold a ceremony with friends and family, scatter the ashes by yourself, or hire a professional to do them for you (e.g.If you choose an aerial scattering). There are also a number of scattering methods you can employ.

Casting Ashes

Casting ashes involves sprinkling the ashes by hand over the desired location. You can do this alone or have everyone at the ceremony scatter a handful. Just make sure to stand upwind to avoid having the ashes blow back onto you.

Aerial Scattering

If you or your loved one are a little more adventurous, or if the location you choose is inaccessible by foot, you can choose an aerial scattering. This involves hiring a professional to spread the ashes by air (typically by a helicopter). Sometimes, you can ride along, and at other times, you will be provided with a video of the event.

Fireworks or Gunshot

You can also have your loved one’s ashes encased in fireworks or bullets and then set off (or shot). In this way, the ashes are scattered in an unmistakable manner that can suit the desires and personalities of some families.

Save some of the ashes for other memorials

If you wonder what to do with the cremains of your loved one, scattering is a popular option. One of its biggest downsides, however, is that it often does not provide a place to visit regularly. In addition, other family members may want to honor the deceased in different ways.

If there are other things you want to do with your cremated ashes when you die (or with the ashes of a loved one), you may want to save some of the ashes to create other memorials. For example, you can reserve a small amount (about a half a cup) to be made into a memorial diamond. These diamonds allow you to keep your loved one and their memory close in a beautiful form.

If you wonder what to do with ashes, consider scattering. Just be sure to choose a meaningful location, follow applicable laws, and reserve some for use in other tributes (such as memorial diamonds) to ensure that your loved one is honored in a way that is fitting and satisfactory for the whole family.

What to do with cremains

Our consultants understand the emotional weight of making this important decision. To guide you through the process and help you create your never ending bond, please talk to us.
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