Advice From Funeral Celebrants

Top 10 Options for Cremated Remains: Pros and Cons

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Have you ever wondered what to do with cremated remains?

With the annual number of cremations in the United States rapidly closing in on one million people, we’re generating literally tons of cremated remains, a.k.a. cremains, every year. What can you do with your loved ones’ powdered bone fragments? More than you’d think!

The top options are to keep, dispose of, or enshrine cremains. Here is my Top Ten list of things you can do with cremated remains, with associated pros and cons for each option.

In the Light Urns BlogOne: Scatter on land
Pros: It’s free! You can scatter your loved one’s remains at a place they loved to visit. If you are scattering on public land, just don’t do it in front of a park ranger. It’s a “don’t ask, don’t tell” sort of situation. Please get permission if you are scattering on someone else’s private land.
Cons: You can’t put a memorial marker on public land to mark the spot where the scattering occurs. Descendants might get angry when they can’t find where Grandpa’s remains were scattered.

Two: Scatter at sea
Pros: It’s a low-cost fitting send-off for someone who loved the sea. The only expense is getting a boat to take you at least three miles offshore, a U.S. maritime requirement.
Cons: Care must be taken with ocean breezes to avoid the “dust in your face” phenomenon. A biodegradable urn container (paper, cardboard, wicker, etc.) that dissolves after sinking is the answer. Note: Cruise ship management frowns upon throwing anything overboard.

Three: Scatter by air
Pros: This is a fitting send-off for free spirits, including balloonists, pilots, hang gliders and bungee jumpers (who may meet their earthly end sooner than other less-adventurous folks). There are also fireworks manufacturers who will mix cremated remains into spectacular pyrotechnic displays.
Cons: Air scattering services and fireworks manufacturing can get pricey. You will not be able to identify a specific spot for their final resting place.

(further methods of scattering ashes)

Four: Bury in a cemetery
Pros: Cremated remains can be buried in smaller plots that cost less than a full body burial site. Or, depending on the cemetery’s rules, cremains may be interred within a family member’s full sized plot. The family gets a place to visit and remember the deceased.
Cons: Even smaller cremains plots can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on the cemetery.

Five: Bury at home
Pros: Assuming you’ve got a yard at home, it’s free to bury your loved one’s cremated remains. You’ll know they are near. You can mark the spot with a statue, a manufactured marker or a simple rock.
Cons: Whenever you sell the house, you’ll either have to dig up the cremains and take them with you or you must declare the presence of remains on the property. This might adversely affect your property value.

Six: Keep an urn at home
Pros: Your loved one’s remains can be enshrined in a beautiful urn set in a special spot. Everyone in the family can remember that loved one and admire the container.
Cons: Ever see that scene from the comedy film Meet The Parents where Ben Stiller is trying to open a bottle of champagne? The cork flies off and hits the ceramic urn on the mantle that holds the cremated remains of Robert DiNiro’s mother, with disastrous results. ‘Nuff said.

Seven: Place in a columbarium
Pros: A columbarium, a.k.a. columbary, is a place for storing funeral urns, so they give a specific place to visit the deceased. Columbaria are usually located in cemeteries. Some churches have a spot for collecting cremated remains, either keeping them in urn niches or mingling remains in a garden or walled area.
Cons: There is usually a cost associated with obtaining a niche for remains.

Eight: Share with family
Pros: Cremated remains can be split up among far-flung family members. They can be kept in mini-urns, memorial jewelry, even made into glass or ceramic works of art.
Cons: Some family members may not like this idea. Plus, unless you are using coffee cans, the price of multiple urns or pieces of memorial jewelry can add up, depending on the size of the clan.

Nine: Create a reef
Pros: There are services that mix cremated remains into concrete structures that build marine reefs. Your loved one’s final resting place is mapped, and you can go scuba diving to visit them.
Cons: While a memorable memorial option, it can cost as much as burial. Visiting the memorial reef site can become a major investment of time and resources.

Ten: Build a monument
Pros: Speaking of mixing cremated remains in concrete, why not make a monument? You can set it up on your property, or even make it a centerpiece at family reunions!
Cons: Some family members may not be amused.

With the U.S. cremation rate now exceeding 41% and growing, more and more families will be considering these options. If you want to be cremated, figure out your preference and let your family know. Help them avoid the agony of having to decide for you. You’ll be glad you did.

About the author:
, The Doyenne of Death™, is author of A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die and The Family Plot Blog. A Certified Celebrant and an event planner experienced in funerals, she’s also a breast cancer survivor who speaks regularly to groups on getting the funeral planning conversation started. Rubin is a member of the Association for Death Education and Counseling and the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association. She also serves on the cemetery committee for Congregation Albert and volunteers with the Chevra Kaddisha, which ritually prepares bodies for Jewish burial. Her web site is http://AGoodGoodbye.com.

40 Comments

  1. Pingback: What to Do With Your Ashes | Home Care Oregon

  2. This is a great list – I’m going to recommend it to others as a useful aide. Especially like the pros and cons.

  3. Tamarra Seaman Reply

    I would like my ashes turned into two medium sized rocks 3 to 8″diameter, for close family members, and the rest of the ashes turned into pebbles that loved ones can have if they want. I haven’t seen this option available and do not want to make it a difficult endeavor for my loved ones when the time comes.

    • Hello Tamarra
      Thank You for your quarry, interesting question. I totally understand how you must feel, not “to make it a difficult endeavor”, and it is smart to plan for what you want now, when that time does comes. Unfortunately we do not work with peoples cremains in this fashion, but I could imagine a local Funeral Director hiring maybe a “Tile Setter” or “Concrete Worker” that would not have any problem in using online instructions like these:

      Using your cremains mixed with the concrete.
      Good Luck – Susan

  4. Bolo Jungle Reply

    I am in a situation where this is a kind of near-term concern. Your will, your living will, and your health care proxy are all important and legally defined. Good idea to get those nailed down, especially if you are concerned about questions, conflict or challenges. But what you do with your remains isn’t often included and is a personal choice. If you can’t decide, you leave it to your loved ones – which can be OK as long as they understand their options (like some of the prior commenters – all good). Usually it makes it easier if you have a simple plan. I decided on mine today. Cremation, a CHEAP urn and recyclable – because they are going to throw it out as soon as my ashes cool off. I grew up near the woods and spent a LOT of time at a local creek. It has been part of my origin story ever since and I think about it (and actually dream about it) quite often. I had a good childhood in a nice place. No money, but the woods was an awesome playmate. The creek is not part of the drinking water, etc. (even if it was, I’m dead – who cares?) But probably not legal. Do it at night. Leave some upstream/downstream flexibility, and scattered the ashes. Simple. Drop the urn into a recycle barrel somewhere. I am not the ashes; I am the life I lived. Remember that when you want to get together for a few drinks and talk about what a swell guy I was.

  5. Sarah hunter Reply

    I mixed my husbands ashes with stepping stone mix and concrete. I made a heart out of wood and burned into that heart his name,birth date, and death date. I also put loving father,husband, brother, and uncle. I then had a man fishing with the words keep fishing all burnt into the wooden heart. I made sure the heart was weatherized with water seal. I put the heart in a rectangle container and after i mixed the ashes and stone materials, i poured the mixture around the heart. I also added pictures made from ceramic on the stone of him fishing.My husband wanted 2 of these made. One to go to the cemetary where 2 of his kids are buried and his parents. The other is on a jetty where I paid the city to allow the stone to be placed at his favorite fishing spot. I found the salt water was breaking down the stone so I painted the stone with a concrete adhesive. It is not cracking or breaking down anymore. We talked about this before he died since he was dying of a terminal illness. Family members thought is was crazy but after it was done, they like the idea.

  6. if you have no family or friends, can you just have the cremation place keep the ashes
    and dispose of them?

  7. gail puckett Reply

    I just recently lost my daughter and I cannot afford an expensive Urn. I was wondering if you might have an idea if if I can use something else in place of an Urn. I want to keep them at home with me. She did like to go out with friends and she drank “Jameson” would a bottle after the alcohol is gone be ok to use…..I want to sorta use something she liked. Thst isn’t the only thing she liked but a friend brought a bottle to remember her at the candlelight vigil we had. Can u help me please…..

    • Hi Gail,

      I am truly sorry to hear about your loss.

      From time to time we do have a selection of urns that we offer as free urns, all you will need to pay for is Shipping & handling. Here is the link for those Free Urns: https://www.inthelighturns.com/free-urns.html

      If you do not find any of these free urns to fit what you would like, please take a moment to browse through the rest of our memorials products, you might be surprised to find something you like in your price range. Right now we are offering a discount when you use coupon code: FLOWERS

      In the case that you do not find anything on our site, please don’t be discouraged. If you have something in mind already such as the “Jameson” bottle you had mentioned, and that is something that you and your loved one would be most happy with, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

      Best Regards,
      Susan Fraser

  8. Hey Susan,

    Your site is very informal and I had a few questions for a class project I’m doing. I wanted to provide an option for people who are being cremated to become trees (apple, mango, roses, etc.). However I’m not sure what kind of legal matters I might run into or if it’s even possible to plant someones remains in their families backyard. I know all states have different laws but if you could shine a bit of light I would deeply appreciate it.

  9. Nicky White Reply

    I was wondering if it’s legal for someone to scatter loved ones ashes in their own yard? If yes, what happens in the event that you move? Or sell your property? Do you need to tell the real estate agent or potential buyers? Or is it a secret best kept to yourself? What does the law say about this particular scenario? Personally I’d be mortified if I bought a house that had human remains of any kind in the back yard.

    • Hello Nicky,

      If you own the property you live on, it is legal to scatter your loved one’s ashes on your land. However, if you decide to move or sell your property, it would be best to disclose the information to your real estate agent to be on the safe side. People will scatter loved ones ashes in so many places! One of the more popular ways to scatter is with our scattering tubes because they travel well and can be used for the sea, a lake, hiking up a mountain or a garden. Did you have a place in mind for yourself?

      Sincerely,
      Susan Fraser

  10. Bethany prausa Reply

    I have plenty of family and friends but ADAMANTLY DO NOT want a funeral or memorial service. I have also included in the will to leave my cremated remains at the cremation facility and allow them to dispose of them. Trash em as far as I care. Buried if possible? Or does it depend on the state and the home? Thank you for your time as I perfect the language in my will.

    • Hello Bethany,

      Did you want your ashes to be buried or disposed of? Depending on what you are thinking of doing there will need to be some pre-planning for your friends and family. However, there are many cases where funeral directors have to take matters into their own hands if one’s ashes go unclaimed. Each State and funeral home is different. For instance, Ohio only requires a 60 day period for uncollected ashes. Most states require funeral homes to keep unclaimed ashes for at least four years and then it is up to the funeral director to decide.

      Sincerely,
      Susan Fraser

  11. william schuhmacher Reply

    I have heard of ashes being incorporated (no pun) into ork like ceramic art but have not found anyone who does this. I have three cans f dog ashes as well. Lost my wife 15 years ago so time isn’t a factor in any decision. thank you for the service. wjsart

    • Hello William,

      With all the new techniques becoming available, there are so many creative and different ways to incorporate ashes into different art forms. We do not work with cremains, however we have plenty of custom cremation urn options to chose from. Take a look at some of our custom designs we have done.

      Our design team is very talented and enjoys creating authentic and custom urns for each individual. Our representatives will work closely with every customer to ensure their custom urn is specially designed for their loved one.

  12. I love the sentiment behind scattering ashes at sea. If I were to ever have a loved one who asked me to be responsible for their remains this is the first image that comes into my mind. Spreading them out into the sea or a river just has a certain romance in my mind. I think that I would want to keep a small amount of the ashes in an urn to remember them.

    • I wanted to keep a small portion of my father’s ashes; they were prepared for the request…..had a small four inch “urn”

    • Hello Jasper,

      Ocean scattering is a great way to commemorate your loved ones Celebration of Life, especially for those with a deep connection to the sea. Our cremation keepsake urns hold a small amount of ashes with various styles to chose from.
      Take a look at all the options available here: https://www.inthelighturns.com/keepsake-cremation-urns.html

      Or give us a call at 1-800-757-3488 to speak with someone directly. Our representatives are great for information and will communicate with our design team to create your custom order.

  13. My grandsons.father.passed away. His mother has kept the remains with no service or closure for the boys. They are sole beneficiaries of his estate their mother was legal you separated .do the boys or their mother as legal wife have any legal rights to the ashes.

    • Hello Mark,
      Each state has different laws pertaining to your question, what state are you located in? In most states the spouse is legally entitled to the cremains, unless he left a will behind and stated he wished for his cremains to be dispersed differently.

      Sincerely,
      Susan Fraser

  14. David M Burke Reply

    question
    Is it possible to request that the ashes be stored inside a coffee container (Chuck full of nuts) (The Big Lebowski, film) or do they require a more sealed urn
    Thank you
    David

    • Hello David, you could place your loved ones ashes in whatever it is you choose for your home. If you are putting the urn at a cemetery you should check if they have certain regulations first.

      Hope this helps

  15. Larry tuckey Reply

    My wife past away in Jan of this year I have the urn next to me at night she lays next to me gives me comfort day and night I make sure she stays warm the question I have have her label of her name does it go to the top or bottom I don’t know which way she laying

    • Hello Larry, do you happen to know which urn you have so I can give you the correct location to place the name label? Please feel free to call us at 1(800)757-3488 if you have any other questions or concerns.

      Thank you

  16. I’m glad that you mentioned that law requires you to be at least three miles offshore to scatter any ashes. I have my grandfather’s ashes, and he told some people that he wanted them to be scattered in the ocean. I’ll have to make sure that I find a way to get three miles out, so I don’t end up breaking the law.

  17. Pingback: How to Create a Cremation Ceremony - IN THE LIGHT URNS BLOG

  18. Please share recommendations for “Garden” burial options. Looking for natural areas where spreading ashes is permitted. Is there a company that provides this service?

        • Very nice, it looks like there is a service near you that specializes in the scattering of ashes with the use of an airplane, http://www.ajourneywithwings.com/. A lot of cemeteries do have scattering gardens within them as well. If you are wanting to spread the ashes on public or private property you would need to get consent from the property owner beforehand. Have you ever looked into the options for water burial or would you prefer to stick to spreading on land?

        • We did water burial with father. My mother is more interested in land. Are there other options in mountain areas or lakes?

          • Hello Barbara, you can always scatter in your favorite mountain or lake area, just make sure to get permission from the land owner if it is private property. Ashes can be scattered in most national parks as well as other sites overseen by the National Park Service. You can get granted permission for scattering ashes in these areas by going through the National Park Service or Bureau of Land Management.

  19. When I die I want to be cremated will the crematorium discard of my ashes?

    • Hello Crystal, This is definitely a good question, and a concern of many I am sure. Do you have family that would be able to claim your ashes? I would suggest pre-planning and making sure someone will be able to claim your ashes once the time has come. Also, Depending on the state you are in, there are different laws pertaining to how long a crematorium or funeral home is required to hold onto the ashes. What state are you in? I can help get some more information for you depending on where you live. You may also want to check out this post as well in regards to the concern of uncollected ashes, What Happens To Uncollected Ashes

      Sincerely,
      Susan Fraser

  20. My Dad prepaid everything to be cremated and ashes put next to his wife with a marker. Now the cemetary says we have to pay for the date of death to be added to my Dads marker before they will install it. It’s hard for us to believe he did not already pay for this, as he told us he did. What do you think?
    Thank you.
    Kathie Schwartz
    408-649-0202
    Kathieschwartz@gmail.com

    • Hello Kathie, I would be somewhat apprehensive as well in this situation. Do you by chance have any paperwork you can get a hold of from when your dad made the initial purchase?

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