Massachusetts Estate Planning – Where You Can (and cannot) Scatter Cremated Remains
A growing number of people are choosing to include cremation as part of their estate planning/funeral pre-planning. Some of the benefits of cremation as compared to traditional burial include:
- Lower cost;
- Flexibility in scheduling the funeral service;
- Wide variety of choices for location of funeral service;
- Environmentally friendly. (Cremated remains can consist of non-toxic materials that are generally considered eco-friendly and safe);
- Portability of ashes which can be kept, scattered, or divided between loved ones; and
- Is accepted by many religions.
If you are thinking about being cremated, you may also be considering leaving a loved one specific instructions on scattering your ashes. As you ponder choosing the perfect location that reflects how you would like to be remembered, perhaps at a favorite vacation spot or a place that holds special meaning, you will need to find out where you can and cannot scatter remains.
Before we get started, we first want to point out that this article is intended to be both informational and thought-provoking and is not all inclusive. It is based upon information available as of the date of publication and does not constitute legal advice. It is vitally important to check with the city, county, state, or other applicable agency when designating a place, and then again at the appropriate time, to see if there are any laws, rules, and regulations in existence governing the location where you plan on scattering. It is also important to consult with a qualified attorney when creating and establishing an estate plan to make sure that your plan accurately reflects your intentions.
Keeping the above information in mind, as the law currently stands in Massachusetts, there is no specific statute governing the scattering of cremated remains. The law does say that “the remains of a human body after cremation may be deposited in a choice of a columbarium or a crypt of a mausoleum, buried or disposed of in any manner not contrary to law. See Mass. Gen. Law c. 114, §43M. Simply put, current law in Massachusetts requires people to conform with federal and state property laws when scattering ashes.
So where can ashes be scattered, you ask? Well, here are some general guidelines for a variety of popular choices:
- On my own land?
As a landowner, you are free to scatter ashes on your own land.
- On my neighbor’s land (and other privately owned land)? Maybe, but only with advance permission.
For other people’s property, permission must be obtained and it’s up to the landowner whether to grant or deny your request.
- On Town-Owned Land or at a State Park? Maybe, but only with advance permission.
Advance permission must be obtained from the landowner/applicable agency. This would include the local municipal government for land owned by a city or town and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation for state parks.
- At Yosemite National Park (or one of the other Federal National Parks)? Yes, with advance permission and compliance with park rules.
Advance permission must be obtained to scatter ashes in one of the National Parks. Visit their individual websites for details, application, and requisite fees. For example, information for scattering remains at Yosemite National Park can be found at: Scattering Cremated Remains – Yosemite National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov) and the application to do so at: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/ashes.pdf
- In the Atlantic Ocean (or Burial at Sea)? Yes, but only subject to federal law.
The EPA Clean Water Act regulates burials at sea and says, “cremated remains shall be buried in or on ocean waters of any depth provided that such burial takes place at least three (3) nautical miles from land.” The act also regulates materials thrown in the water with the ashes such as flowers and urns which must be made of biodegradable materials. There is also a requirement to notify the EPA within 30 days of scattering at sea. See 40 CFR 229.1.
When contemplating a burial at sea, you may want to consider consulting with a boat charter company, some of whom may offer to make the arrangements and handle the details for you.
- In a River, Lake or Stream (Inland Bodies of Water)? Maybe with permission, but also possibly not.
Rivers, streams, lakes, and other inland bodies of water are governed by the Clean Water Act. They are regulated by local and state agencies and require a permit. You will need to contact the state, municipal, or other applicable agency that manages the waterway where you plan on scattering for further information and details. To avoid the risk of pollution, local prohibitions against scattering human remains may exist.
- From a Plane (In the Air)? Yes, but only subject to federal law.
In Massachusetts, there is no state law that prohibits scattering ashes from a plane. Federal aviation laws, however, prohibit the dropping objects from planes that may cause harm to people or property, See 14 CFR 91.15, so while ashes can be released from a plane, the urn that holds them, as well as other solid or toxic items, should be retained and not dropped from a plane.
- In Outer Space? Believe it or not – Yes.
More recently, for those of you who are stargazers in search of a “celestial” experience, there are also companies who, for a fee, offer to send cremated ashes into space to either orbit the earth and return, or remain amongst the stars indefinitely.
- At Disney World or Fenway Park (or other sports arena)?
Even though choosing the “Happiest Place on Earth” or the arena that hosts your favorite sports team may be tempting, due to the sheer volume of requests, these forums do not typically grant permission for scattering of ashes. Disney World, in particular, has a reputation for taking this rule very seriously and anyone caught doing so risks being expelled from the parks and permanently barred from returning.
Attorney Anthony Gemma is an experienced probate and estate planning attorney. To schedule a free consultation, contact Gemma Law Office, PC today at (781) 380-8183 or by email addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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