DEAR ABBY: I am an attorney who provides legal assistance throughout the country to cemeteries, crematories, funeral homes and trade associations in the industry. I am writing to correct some popular misconceptions that were reflected in some of the letters in your column in the last few weeks.
First, all of the letter writers used the term "ashes" to describe cremated human remains. The remains of a cremated body are not ashes as the term is commonly understood. The remains are bone fragments that, if not mechanically reduced, can be too large to scatter. They do not immediately dissolve when scattered. They normally cannot be dispersed and blown away. Unfortunately, the movies and the media have misused the term "ashes" for many years, not realizing the problems it causes survivors who attempt to scatter remains in the manner often depicted.
Second, while it is permissible in all states to scatter cremated remains, there are legal requirements. No state law allows them to be scattered on private property without the consent of the property owner. Many national and state parks have specific rules, permit requirements and, sometimes, location limitations for the scattering of those remains. Several years ago, representatives of a national park and the leader of an Indian tribe contacted an industry association to complain about illegal scattering of cremated remains on the tribe's sacred burial grounds, which were located within the park. Most cemeteries also have rules and regulations that must be observed.
Third, adding an additional memorial for the cremated remains of a second spouse on the cemetery plot where the first spouse is buried has legal implications. When burial spaces are originally acquired, there is an expectation that a surviving spouse will be buried with the deceased spouse in an appropriate manner. If a companion memorial was purchased and installed when the first spouse died, changing the arrangement may require the legal consent of all survivors. In addition, most cemeteries have rules and regulations dealing with burial of cremated remains with human remains and the appropriate types of memorials.
Finally, when separating cremated remains as a keepsake, it is important to make sure that everyone agrees with the plan. The individuals who have the legal right to authorize a cremation usually have the right to determine the disposition of remains. Also, any individual who takes a portion of those remains should be cautioned to treat them in a respectful and proper manner. Unfortunately, there have been incidents where cremated remains have been disposed of in the same manner as garbage.
I hope this information will allow your readers to provide meaningful memorialization for their loved ones without violating any laws, rules and regulations -– or the rights of other individuals. –- HARVEY I. LAPIN, ESQ., NORTHBROOK, ILL.
DEAR HARVEY: I hope so, too. This is a subject that many people have enthusiastically embraced -- as reflected in past columns. Anyone who wishes to scatter the "ashes" of a loved one should first contact the appropriate authorities to make sure they are in compliance with the law.