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A guide to spreading ashes in California

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Choosing a location to spread a loved one’s ashes is an important decision. In a perfect world, a loved one will leave detailed instructions on their ideal ash-spreading ceremony. Many times, however, friends and family are left to make this decision based on what they think the deceased may prefer or by choosing a location convenient to the bereaved. 

Not only are there personal preferences to consider when planning to scatter ashes, but there are state and local guidelines to follow as well. We’ve compiled the most frequently asked questions about scattering ashes in California to help you make informed decisions during a difficult time. 

BETTER PLACE FORESTS IS NOT A LAW FIRM AND DOES NOT PROVIDE LEGAL ADVICE. The information provided in this post does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information is for general informational purposes only. Contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter.

The 2022 guide to scattering ashes in California

Every state has different rules and regulations when it comes to spreading ashes. We’ve put together some answers to frequently asked questions about spreading ashes in California so that you have information you need when it’s time to make important decisions about end-of-life plans for yourself or your loved one.

Is cremation allowed in California?

Yes, cremation is permitted in California. However, a cremation permit must be issued by the county health department prior to cremation. Currently human composting is not legal.

Is it illegal to spread ashes in California?

No, it is not illegal to spread ashes in California. However, you’ll need a permit, which is covered below. In addition, there might be other rules you must follow, which we will discuss further in this article. 

What is the cost of cremation in California? 

The average cost of cremation in California is $1,300 to $2,300. 

Can I scatter ashes outdoors?

You can scatter ashes outdoors once you’ve decided where to scatter ashes and have filed any necessary permits. In California, an Application and Permit for the Disposition of Human Remains (VS 9 Permit) must be issued from the relevant County before a scattering of ashes can take place. When it comes to scattering ashes outdoors, you should also consider where and how you’ll store cremated remains until the ceremony, how you’ll place the ashes (buried, scattered, or another method), and what kind of ceremony you want to have.

Where can you spread ashes in California?

California is a beautiful state with numerous scenic locations that would make the perfect setting to honor and memorialize the deceased. With the deserts, mountains, forests, and parks to choose from, you have many beautiful and meaningful options to spread your loved one’s ashes. Here are a few options you might consider in California.

  1. Public Land: In California, you can spread ashes on your own private property or private property that belongs to someone else if you have written permission.
  2. National or State Parks: If your loved one enjoyed camping or hiking, you may want to scatter their remains at one of the national parks in California. This is usually allowed as long as certain guidelines are followed, such as not spreading them on trails or close to waterways and not leaving any permanent marker behind. Information and permits can be found online at each park’s website.
  3. Scattering Gardens: If you’d like to find a location where you can leave a permanent marker, which you can’t do with an ocean or air scattering, consider spreading ashes at a dedicated California memorial forest. This allows you to select a special tree that you can come back to visit and remember your loved one in the serenity of nature. 
  4. Water: While you can’t spread ashes on the beach, you can spread them at least three nautical miles from shore. Read below for more information on spreading ashes at sea in California. 
  5. Air: You can spread ashes by air in California, as long as it doesn’t pose any damage to people and property below. More information is available in the section below.

Can you scatter ashes at the beach? 

The Federal Clean Water Act requires that cremated remains be scattered at least three nautical miles from shore, which means you can’t scatter ashes on California beaches. If your loved one had a favorite beach, consider hosting a memorial there before chartering a vessel to spread their ashes at sea. 

Do you need a permit to scatter ashes at sea in California?

Thanks to the EPA, you do not need to obtain a special permit for scattering ashes at sea in California apart from the California VS9 permit. The EPA has a general permit that authorizes the scattering of remains at sea, as long as you follow these guidelines:

  • Remains must be scattered at least three nautical miles from shore
  • Remains can only be human, meaning you cannot include pet ashes in the scattering
  • All materials must be decomposable
  • The EPA must be notified of the burial at sea within 30 days via their website. Most companies specializing in ash spreading at sea will handle this detail for you. 

If you would like to have a water burial, an internet search will help you find a boating service that will take you the required distance to perform the ash scattering. Many people simply toss the ashes into the water, but if the wind shifts directions, the ashes may blow back into the boat, which can be upsetting. To avoid this, you may want to consider purchasing a biodegradable scattering urn. They are designed to descend under the water and release the ashes as the urn disintegrates. Fresh flowers can be tossed in with the ashes to help you see them easier as they move with the ocean’s current. 

Can I scatter ashes by air in California?

The FAA allows you to spread ashes from a plane as long as it doesn’t pose any damage to people and property below. This is a fitting option if your loved one was an aviation junkie or loved cloud-watching and star-gazing. An ash scattering tube is recommended for air spreadings, as the tube helps control the release of the ashes with the direction of the wind. Just like with scattering at sea, you can do an internet search to find licensed companies that provide this service and take care of any required paperwork. 

Do you need a permit to scatter ashes in California?

Yes, for all scatterings in California, you must complete an Application and Permit for the Disposition of Human Remains (VS 9 Permit) and ensure it is filed with the relevant County. In completing the permit form, you will need the following information: 

  • An original death certificate (or a true copy) or an original transit/burial permit
  • The full name (of the deceased)
  • Date of birth (of the deceased)
  • Date of death
  • City, County, and the State of Death

If you want to spread ashes in a state or national park, you will need to check if any additional permits are required. If you are hoping to spread ashes on other public land, you’ll also want to check and see if any other permits or permissions are required. 

Discussing end-of-life plans with your loved ones is an important conversation to have. Although it can be hard to begin these discussions, they are so beneficial to ensure that everyone is aware and able to determine what rules and regulations they might need to follow when the time comes.

Read more: Memorial service ideas for family and loved ones

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