Cremated Remains

Handling Cremated Remains Takes Planning

So everything is going along fine and then – Bbam! – your Aunt Agatha dies and you find out that she had named you as her agent to transport her cremated remains to Hawaii and have them thrown into the ocean. 

Or, hypothetically, your destination could be to Disneyworld, a golf course in Scotland or another ash-worthy site.  

Your journey is going to require a bit of planning. 

You will be transporting a noticeable amount of ashes.  Cremains for an average adult woman weigh 4 pounds; you can add another 2 pounds for a man. 

And, while it is not illegal to transport cremains, a lot of companies get nervous about it.    

If you plan to take the cremains on a plane, it makes a difference if you are traveling internationally or domestically.  The United States allows you to transport cremains domestically, but you should bring a copy of the death certificate. Some states also require a disposition permit. 

If you are travelling internationally, then be aware that most countries impose restrictions.  At a minimum, you will have to bring certain documents with you, and those must be translated into the foreign country’s language.  

If you plan to travel by air, then you need to review the restrictions imposed by your airline.  Some will only allow you to take the cremains in a carry-on, while others require that you check them.  Most have explicit procedures that you have to follow for disclosing that you have cremains and requiring that they be labeled.

You should also check TSA rules.  The current rules recommend that you purchase a temporary or permanent crematory container made of a lighter weight material, such as wood or plastic, to carry the cremains.   You cannot bring them in a container that is made of a material that generates an opaque image, because the TSA officers will not be able to clearly determine what is inside the container.    You might think that you can handle this by not sealing the container, but TSA officers will not open a container, even if you request it.  

If, instead of traveling with the cremains, you plan to mail them, your choices are limited.  UPS, Fed Ex, and DHL will not knowingly transport cremains. The United States Postal Service will, but only if you follow their instructions.  USPS just posted new regulations: see Publication 139, issued September 2019, at

A possible alternative is to have your funeral home arrange for the transport of the cremains.  

As for scattering the ashes once you arrive – you need to do a bit of research on that, too.   Most national parks require a permit. The EPA requires that you be more than 3 nautical miles from the coast to scatter at sea.  Many states have requirements about scattering over private and public land. As for Disneyworld – scattering ashes is strictly forbidden.  If you are caught, you will be escorted out of the park and Aunt Agatha’s remains will end up at the bottom of a vacuum cleaner bag.

Virginia Hammerle is the President of Hammerle Finley Law Firm.   To sign up for the firm newsletter,  email legaltalktexas@hammerle.comEmployment opportunities available.

This article does not constitute legal advice.