How to Scatter Ashes

Many people today are choosing to be cremated. Cremation is less expensive than a traditional funeral and is more environmentally friendly. Furthermore, when you are cremated, you have more options available to you in terms of location to be buried at. You don’t have to spend eternity in a box in the ground. You can be buried at sea or scattered in places, such as on your favorite mountaintop. However, what many people don’t realize is that there are rules and regulations as to where you can be scattered. In this blog post by Dolan Funeral Home, a full-service, family-owned funeral home in Chelmsford, we’ll offer up tips and advice with regards to having your ashes scattered. When a loved one dies, we’d be privileged to help with your funeral arrangements. Contact us today!


What is legal?

If you were wondering when the “anti-scattering of ashes law” was passed, you can breathe easy; no such law exists. However, you can set your own law on your own property. Here are some specific places and rules to be aware of below.

  • National parks. Many of us have a huge affinity for National Parks. From the Great Smoky Mountains to Yellowstone and Yosemite, these national treasures are beautiful creations to behold and wonderful places to spend the rest of your life. Most National Parks do allow you to scatter ashes of your loved one there. However, there are a few steps you’ll have to do to be legal. One, you need to get permission from the chief park ranger. Two, you’ll usually need a permit, which may have a fee attached. Three, you can’t just walk up to Old Faithful and dump ashes in the crater. This could have a major adverse affect on the beautiful geyser, but no tourist really wants to see your loved one’s ashes go up in the air. Most National Parks will tell you not to scatter ashes anywhere near the popular places tourists frequent, such as trails or campgrounds. Lastly, you’ll have to be sensitive to cultural, environmental, and archaeological areas. For example, Mesa Verde is a wonderful National Park; however, there are many Native American traditions associated with the area, so you’ll want to be cognizant of where you do finally decide to scatter the ashes of your loved one. One caveat: Dolan Funeral Home in Chelmsford understands that many people, unaware of these rules, just scatter ashes without permission. Although it’s unlikely you will be prosecuted, realize it is a possibility.
  • Private property. This is one area you could get in big trouble scattering ashes without permission, namely because you are trespassing, illegally dumping, and probably breaking some other law that could land you in jail and/or paying a hefty fine. You’ll need permission before scattering ashes on a private property. Verbal permission is fine; however, it’s best in this day and age to get written permission since ultimately it would be your word against the property owner’s if he or she changed her mind.
  • Be wary of areas that are considered private property even though the public uses them. These areas include amusement parks, sports stadiums, museums, and golf courses. All of these places are still considered private property, even if your taxes helped build it. And with all things related to private property, you’ll have to get permission first. So although Grandma loved Disney World, unfortunately, she cannot spend eternity there. One more caveat: if you do spread ashes in a place you are not allowed and you are caught, you can pay a fine and face jail time, but that’s not the worst of it; you could be required to actually clean up the scattered ashes you spread. Now that would be a penalty you definitely want to avoid.
  • Burial at sea. From Sir Francis Drake and Captain James Cook to Osama bin Laden, many famous people have been buried at sea, not to mention all those who drowned and whose bodies were never recovered. Being buried at sea is actually a very popular way to be buried per se; think about it, you can rest all over the world! Being buried at sea is legal; however, like everything these days, there are rules you must follow. One, you have to go at least three nautical miles off shore before you can bury your loved one at sea or scatter his or her ashes (both or which are legal). You can dump your loved one’s ashes from a plane or a boat if you prefer. You can’t use anything that won’t biodegrade easily. For example, slipping Grandpa into the sea in a coffin would not be a good idea. If you are using an urn, the urn must be biodegradable. This goes for anything you place in the sea, from flowers to memorial wreaths. Above all else, you want to protect the marine life from harm. You do not need a permit to bury a loved one at sea; however, you will need to report the burial to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) within 30 days. Your pet cannot be buried at sea legally. These are just the federal regulations for burial at sea. The states also can weigh in, and many have, with their own laws. Many states prohibit remains from being scattered on beaches (let’s face it, do you really want people walking on your loved one anyway?) or near the shore. Like with the National Parks, many people don’t realize that there are rules for burial at sea (it is a huge ocean owned by everyone after all), so many people just bury their loved ones at sea. You will probably not be prosecuted if you do it away from shore where it will never be noticed.
  • Burial in a lake, waterway, river, or pond. If you remember Tollund Man who was found perfectly preserved in a bog, you’ll know that burying people in bodies of water has been around for millennia. Most rivers, ponds, and waterways are governed not by the federal government, but by the state in which they reside in. You will have to do some investigating in order to obtain permission for a burial of a loved one in one of these bodies of water. Scattering of ashes is more likely to be outlawed in a body of water due to the fact it’s smaller, so check with your state in order to avoid fines and/or penalties.
  • National Forests. This is another gray area for the scattering of your loved one’s remains. After all, National Forests are beautiful places to behold, and many of them are completely away from humans. Again, check with the state in which the National Forest resides in in order to determine legalities.
  • Graveyards. A graveyard is, after all, a place of burial. However, if the graveyard is a private graveyard, you will definitely need permission. But even if the graveyard is a public one, check with the authorities for regulations. After all, do you really just want your loved one’s ashes dumped in a pile for others to walk on? Some towns have banned this practice. That being said, it has become popular for cemeteries to offer scattering gardens, or specific places that are often full of trees and flowers for you to scatter your loved one for a small fee.


Dolan Funeral Home is the best funeral home in the greater Lowell area, as well as southern New Hampshire. We aim to help you take the best care of your loved one after death. We offer cremation services, as well as traditional burial services. Should you decide to bury your loved one elsewhere, we offer our funeral home for celebration of life ceremonies or memorial services. We also have added in funeral service catering in order for you to have a lovely ceremony and then have a traditional reception afterwards. This can be a great way to lift the heaviness you are feeling as you remember your loved one with close friends and family members.

Dolan Funeral Home in Chelmsford offers aftercare services as well, where we strive to help you sort out the legalities of your loved one’s death, or just be the ear you need. We also offer memorial products for you to have to help remember your loved one, such as a register book, prayer cards, crosses, doves, and jewelry, which can be personalized. From graveside service to actual burial, Dolan Funeral Home is here to help you with all your funeral planning needs. Contact us today!

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