11/22/2014

Final Disposition: Cremation or Burial?

 The experts will say that cremation isn’t a “final” disposition because the ashes could still be buried.  However, the choice most people make is between cremation and burial with a casket.  When cremation is the choice, the world opens up to decide what to do with the ashes!  On the mantel in an urn, scattered at a favorite place, scattered over water or placed in a columbarium, are among the popular choices.

There are some laws governing the scattering of ashes, most notably those scattered at sea.  The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that the location be three miles off the coastline, with the cremated remains in a biodegradable container if used to release ashes into the water.  Flowers and wreathes can be placed at the location as long as they are made of natural, organic materials and are also biodegradable.  It is necessary to inform EPA that the ashes were scattered at sea within 30 days of the ceremony.  A copy of the form used to report to EPA can be seen here.

 If the plan is to scatter ashes on private land, only the consent of the landowner is needed.  When the venue is uncontrolled public land, such as rural woods, the best advice seems to be “don’t ask, don’t tell” if there are no clear health or safety concerns.  Controlled public land, such as parks and gardens will have their own rules which may require a permit.

As a related matter, a Virginia resident may designate the decision maker for his final disposition, in a written, signed and notarized document, accepted in writing by the person designated.  While this may seem excessively formal, it does preclude a fight within a family about who has the right to decide on burial or cremation, as affected the family of Top 40 host Casey Kasem.