Is It Legal To Bury Ashes In Your Backyard In The USA?


Cremation is becoming more and more popular in the United States with 79% of Americans being expected to opt for cremation over burial by 2035. This means that respectfully dealing with their cremated remains will become the responsibility of more and more families

Currently, there are no state or federal laws which prohibit the burial of cremated human remains on a privately owned property. Burial of ashes on public land, property that you don’t own, and in a cemetery regardless of a previous family burial will require prior permission.

That’s the answer in a nutshell, but in fact, there are a few other things to consider before you bury ashes in your backyard. So feel free to read on to find out more.

Laws On Burying and scattering ashes by State

Burying and scattering ashes isn’t as regulated as the burial of a cadaver. In all states, you are permitted to bury or scatter cremated remains on your own property if you are the landowner. If you aren’t the landowner, you need to get written consent from them before scattering ashes.

Exception to rules about burying and scattering ashes

Scattering ashes at sea falls under stricter laws, known as the Clean Water Act.

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This states that on the ocean you must dispose of human remains of all types ‘at least three nautical miles from land. If the container will not easily decompose, you must dispose of it separately. The EPA does not permit scattering at beaches or in wading pools by the sea. Finally, you must notify the EPA within 30 days of scattering ashes at sea.

This law extends in many states to rivers and lakes but not in others. It’s always best to double-check with your local health or environmental agency before scattering ashes around inland waterways or beaches.

Georgia is the only state which has set a time limit in order to scatter ashes at sea, which must occur within 50 days of cremation. After that, it is not permitted.

StateBurial on private propertyScattering on private propertyScattering on public propertyScattering on federal propertyScattering
at sea
Website
AlabamaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
AlaskaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
ArizonaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
ArkansasPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
CaliforniaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
ColoradoPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
ConnecticutPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
DelawarePermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
FloridaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
GeorgiaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionWithin 50 days of cremation (Clean Water Act)link
HawaiiPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
IdahoPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
IllinoisPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
IndianaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
IowaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
KansasPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
KentuckyPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
LouisianaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
MainePermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
MarylandPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
MassachusettsPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
MichiganPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
MinnesotaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
MississippiPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
MissouriPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
MontanaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
NebraskaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
NevadaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
New HampshirePermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
New JerseyPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
New MexicoPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
New YorkPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
North CarolinaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
North DakotaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
OhioPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
OklahomaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
OregonPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
PennsylvaniaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
Rhode IslandPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
South CarolinaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
South DakotaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
TennesseePermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
TexasPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
UtahPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
VermontPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
VirginiaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
WashingtonPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
West VirginiaPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
WisconsinPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
WyomingPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink
Washington D.CPermittedPermittedWith permissionWith permissionFollowing the Clean Water Actlink

How to bury ashes

When you are burying ashes in your backyard or property, it’s best to find a spot where the ground won’t later be disturbed. You also need to decide if you want to bury the cremains in an urn or directly into the soil.

how to bury cremated remains

Step 1 – Choosing a container

Is there really a difference between doing one or the other?

Burying an urn

  • easier to relocate
  • easier to exhume later
  • keeps ashes separate

Burying ashes directly

  • more natural
  • no need for additional material
  • provides complete closure

Ultimately, you need to decide if you are ever likely to leave your home because if you do, you may need to take the ashes with you.

Step 2 – Digging the hole

When digging the hole for the urn or loose ashes, you want to think about giving it a bit of protection from digging pests. Unlike when you bury a dog or cat, cremated remains won’t give off a particular smell to attract scavengers. At the same time, you don’t want to make it easy for your curious pet to dig up the ashes either.

Generally, it’s recommended that you bury an urn in a 3-foot hole and certainly not more than 4-5 feet. It’s not necessary to reinforce the hole in most cases, but if you wanted to create a subterranean vault it’s fairly easy with supplies from your local hardware store.

Step 3 – Marking the spot

Ideally, you should place some sort of plaque or permanent marker so that you can relocate the burial in the future. You should also inform the local authorities when you have buried ashes, as they may need that information for future development projects.

Environmentally-friendly urns

In almost all cases you will want to honor the recently departed by impacting the environment in the smallest way possible. For this, you need to opt for a biodegradable urn which will not pollute the surrounding soil and will decompose over time.

Here are some recommendations which you can have delivered to your door from Amazon.

Biodegradable Cremation Urns for Adult Ashes

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Bios Biodegradable Cremation Urn for Humans 

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Bamboo Cremation Scattering Urn

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Planting with human ashes

Contrary to what many may think, cremated ashes are actually not very good for the soil. They have very high ph levels and a sodium content which is harmful to plant growth. So this is why the placement of your cremation burial is very important, even if you have no green-fingered plans for them.

You can use cremains to link your loved one to a permanent reminder of them in your garden, such as a tree, by first neutralizing the ashes. This can be done by mixing the ashes first with a special type of soil which is has a lower ph level and will ‘dilute’ the sodium content.

Alternatively, you can buy this product that does the job for you (product sold on Amazon).

Exhuming ashes

There are no specific laws about exhuming cremated remains from your backyard. However, any exhumation in a cemetery, for ashes or a body, needs to be done with official permission from the owner. Unlike with a body, ashes rarely need official documentation from the state to be removed from a grave.

If you are moving house and you have buried the ashes of a loved one in the yard, then you are legally allowed to dig them up and take them with you to be reburied. If you have buried the ashes in a grave located in a cemetery, you will need to work with the operators of that cemetery to move the ashes.

Digging up an urn is a lot less bureaucratic than digging up a casket, but official permission is still needed.

Notifying authorities about ashes

You are not legally required to inform the state about the disposal of human ashes after a legal cremation, except in one instance.

If you have opted to scatter ashes at sea, which must be done in accordance with the Clean Water Act, all states require that you inform the Environmental Protection Agency within 30 days of doing so.

However, if you have buried a loved one on your own property, whether as a home burial of a casket or ashes, you should still write to the authorities marking the grave. This will ensure that your loved one can rest in peace without the disturbance of future development on their grave.

How long do cremated remains last in the ground?

Cremated remains can last for millennia when buried in sealed urns but generally degrade after a couple of decades if stored in biodegradable containers. Burying loose ashes in the soil will significantly speed up this process but can have a temporary negative effect on surrounding plant life.

Basically, if you bury ashes in the ground they will not break down overnight. This can be a good thing if you need to relocate the ashes in the future. It can also be a bad thing if the gravesite is the target of redevelopment in the coming decades.

Scattering ashes can allow them to degrade slightly faster as they are spread over a much wider area. However, this may not be ideal if you want to create a static monument to your loved one.

How to spread ashes in a yard

In order to scatter ashes in your yard rather than burying them you will need a few things.

  • A special urn for scattering ashes
  • a large area to scatter them on
  • a noticeable wind
  • a surgical mask
  • no washing or neighbors in the yard(s)

Scattering ashes on a slightly windy day is helpful as this will help you get an even spread and avoid a molehill of ash appearing in your yard. Make sure you have your back to the wind when you open the specially designed urn, which is longer and thinner than the storage variety.

Wearing a face mask isn’t necessary but highly recommended in case the wind changes direction.

When you start to spread the ashes pour out the contents of the urn as quickly and smoothly as you can while the wind spreads it over the yard. For the rest of the day, make sure that no pets or kids are playing in the yard in order to allow the ashes to fully dissipate.

Is it disrespectful to bury ashes in a yard?

It’s up for everyone to decide this, but I personally feel that having a loved one so close to you during your daily life is a good thing. As long as the burial is done with ceremony and the gravesite is respected and kept clear, it seems like as good a final resting place as any.

Burial can sometimes be a better option for ashes than keeping them in your house or even scattering. This is because you allow them to slowly degrade back into the soil without any possibility of getting covered in them when the wind changes.

Can you bury or spread Pet ashes in your yard?

As with human ashes, there are no laws against spreading the cremated remains of a pet in your yard. You should follow similar guidelines for burying a pet as a human, making sure the grave is around 3 feet deep.

Also like human remains, pet cremains will be slightly harmful to the growth of vegetation in your garden. if you want to remember your pet and get something beautiful out of their ashes, you can use the handy kit below to grow a tree or plant from their remains.

KIRI Bio Urn for Human and Pet Cremation

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Bios Memorial Pet Loss Urn

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