United States: Scattered To The Wind: Cremation Laws And Trends

Jessica M. "Jessie" Brown is an Associate in our Anchorage office and John D. Dadakis is a Partner in our New York office.

While there was sadness with the passing of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, within a day of one another, Carrie's brother, Todd Fisher, and her daughter, Billie Lourd, brought some levity by placing Carrie's cremated ashes into a giant Prozac pill "urn".  As Todd said: it was Carrie's "favorite thing." 

In fact, nearly half of all Americans who died in 2015 were cremated, according to the Cremation Association of North America (CANA). CANA projects that the cremation rate in the U.S. will reach 54.3 percent by 2020.  Whether it's having ashes spread at Fenway Park, Boston (years ago Boston Red Sox officials accommodated such spreading of ashes, but they have stopped doing so because the requests were too numerous), or held in a Prozac urn, there are many rules and regulations which have an impact as to the eventual disposition, posing unique challenges for families desiring to accommodate their loved ones last wishes.

Private Property

When considering the feasibility of scattering human remains, preserving and protecting private property interests is of paramount concern.  Barbara Kemmis, Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America, shares that many individuals feel compelled to fulfill the dying wish of a loved one and neglect to observe possible legal ramifications when scattering remains without permission.  For example, in late October 2016, an individual shut down the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center, New York by appearing to scatter the remains of his mother in the orchestra pit. Apart from alarming musicians and attendees, Ms. Kemmis points out that the individual likely did not realize the ultimate result of this act:  because cremated human remains are pulverized bone with a consistency similar in texture and appearance to coarse sand, where unauthorized placement occurs, the remains are usually swept up and disposed of as waste.  For this and other reasons, many cemeteries across the United States explicitly prohibit the scattering of human remains atop a family plot, instead requiring that the ashes be interred in a niche (columbarium), grave, scatter garden, or mausoleum.


Once cremated, an individual's remains must be transported or stored in a container, commonly referred to an urn. An urn is defined in some jurisdictions as "a receptacle designed to encase cremated remains." In others, the concept is split into "permanent container" and "temporary container" categories, with permanent meaning "a receptacle made of durable material for the long-term placement of cremated remains," and temporary meaning "a receptacle made of cardboard, plastic, or other similar material in which cremated remains are placed prior to the placement of such remains in an urn or other permanent container." 

California, where Fisher was cremated, provides for a "keepsake urn," which the statute defines as "a closed durable container that will accommodate an amount of cremated remains not to exceed one cubic centimeter."  California also provides for the transportation of cremated human remains "in a durable container from the place of cremation or interment . . . by . . . any other person, with the permission of the person with the right to disposition[.]"  But California, like most other jurisdictions, requires that the urn, if buried, be encased in an "urn vault" "covered with at least three-quarters of an inch of concrete, brass, granite, marble, or metal plate, affixed to the urn or urn vault."  It is important to note the statutory and regulatory differences in transporting, storing, and permanently housing human remains.

Federal Regulations

Two federal regulations explicitly provide for, and in turn restrict, the scattering of ashes.  The first concerns national park lands, and the second addresses the requirements of burial at sea.

  • Scattering Ashes in National Park Lands

36 C.F.R. § 2.62 provides that "[t]he scattering of human ashes from cremation is prohibited, except pursuant to the terms and conditions of a permit, or in designated areas according to conditions which may be established by the superintendent."   Some federal parks have designated "scatter gardens" where individuals may scatter ashes without a permit (with the added restriction that the total group size be limited to 25 people and performed at least 100 feet from any trail, road, developed facility, or body of water).  Municipalities are considering "scatter gardens" in public parks well.

  • Burial at Sea

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a general permit under the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) to authorize the burial of human remains at sea. The general permit is published in the federal regulations at 40 C.F.R. 229.1.

The MPRSA general permit authorizes the transportation and burial at sea of cremated human remains in ocean waters under specified conditions. The following activity is not allowed under the MPRSA general permit for burial at sea:

  • Placement of human remains in ocean waters within three nautical miles from land, with land meaning that portion of the baseline from which the territorial sea is measured which is in closest proximity to the proposed disposal site.
  • Placement of materials which are not readily decomposable in the marine environment, such as plastic or metal flowers and wreaths, urns, tombs, tombstones, gravestones, monuments, mausoleums, artificial reefs, etc.

All burials conducted under this general permit must be reported within 30 days to the Regional EPA Administrator of the Region from which the vessel departed.

State Issues and Future Trends

Many states have specific, and unique, cremation statutes.  California, for example, requires that "[a]ll aircraft used for the scattering of cremated human remains . . . be validly certified by the Federal Aviation Administration," and "[a]ll boats or vessels used for the scattering of cremated human remains . . . be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles or documented by a federal agency[.]"  

New York recently passed legislation allowing New Yorkers to be buried with their pets at not-for-profit cemeteries, which will allow humans to be buried with their cremated pet with the cemetery's written consent, but only the pet will be cremated and only the human will appear on the headstone. 

There are many companies that will assist in placing or housing cremated remains that are not interred at a cemetery or stored at a private residence.  For instance, there are businesses in coastal states which offer "memorial reefs" where individuals can be interred in an underwater mausoleum for cremated remains. (Florida,; New England).  Or the International Scattering Society can arrange the disposition, including on Mount Everest.  And one can even have their ashes launched into space.  Another alternative might be for someone's ashes to be made into a diamond.

While many golfers may want to be scattered at Augusta National as in James Patterson's novel Miracle at Augusta, there are some rules to watch out for and some ways to accomplish that last wish of loved ones.  So whether its scattering and being lost eventually in the wind (or swept up and taken to a landfill) or it's the Prozac urn or the diamond forever, careful consideration will be  necessary in this final step of life.

Note: A discussion of the businesses profiled in this article is not an advertisement, endorsement, or guarantee of the services provided.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions