There had been a death in the family, and the deceased had been cremated. The question from the caller on the other end of the line: what to do with the ashes? Could he scatter them in a cemetery? Is he legally required to purchase a burial plot?

Maryland has little in its state laws dealing with the subject. The State Board of Morticians and Funeral Directors and the Maryland Office of Cemetery Oversight, which regulate crematories, drafted guidelines for spreading ashes after residents of Venice on the Bay complained in 1999 that people were scattering ashes on the Anne Arundel County community's private beach.


Cremated remains are not legally required to be placed in a cemetery. But the Environmental Protection Agency and Maryland Department of Natural Resources have policies governing disposition of any material, including human ashes, over public land or water.

"Ordinarily, disposition of cremated remains can only be properly done on the decedent's own private property, the property of next of kin or within a designated area in a cemetery or mausoleum," according to a state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene guideline.

The guideline leaves few options. It does note that you can legally keep cremated remains in your possession as long as you like. If you move to another state, disposal of the remains would then come under that state's laws.

Scattering ashes on federal land may be an option. "Officially, you should request permission before scattering ashes on federal land. However, you will probably encounter no resistance if you conduct the scattering ceremony quietly and keep the ashes well away from trails, roads, facilities, and waterways. You can find guidelines for scattering ashes on the websites for some national parks. For more information, begin your search at the website of the National Park Service," advises nolo.com a public law website.

Those considering scattering ashes on public land owned by local governments may wish to check city and county regulations and zoning rules before proceeding.

To have cremated remains placed in a cemetery or mausoleum, make arrangements with individual cemeteries. Some cemeteries also offer designated scattering gardens where you can scatter ashes. Most charge fees for a gravesite, mausoleum niche or scattering garden.

The EPA regulates, but does not prohibit, burial or disposal of ashes at sea. Cremated remains can be buried in or on ocean waters at least 3 nautical miles from land. No special permit is required, but the agency requires that it be notified within 30 days of an ash scattering or burial at sea. The EPA allows you to place flowers and wreaths on the water if the materials are "readily decomposable in the marine environment."

The EPA does not allow scattering ashes on beaches or in wading pools by the sea.

State Department of Natural Resources regulations prohibit disposing of ashes in the Chesapeake Bay within 7 miles of a shoreline. Since the width of the bay varies from about 4 miles in Aberdeen to 30 miles across at its widest point near Cape Charles, Va., the regulations effectively bar scattering cremated remains in the bay in certain places..

Donna Engle is a retired Westminster attorney. Reach her with questions or feedback at 410-840-2354 or denglelaw@gmail.com. Her column, which provides legal information but not legal advice, appears on the second and fourth Sunday each month in Life & Times.

Editor's Note: The width of the Chesapeake Bay, a fact that may affect regulations regarding disposal of cremated human ashes in waters, was incorrectly stated in an Oct. 25 Legal Matters column on laws and regulations relating to cremation. According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, the bay's width ranges from 4 miles near Aberdeen to 30 miles near Cape Charles, VA. The column cited a published report that state regulations prohibit disposing of ashes within 7 miles of the bay shoreline. However, a search of the Maryland Code Environment Article sections relating to water pollutant management did not list human ashes among defined pollutants.