All About Estates

Cremation and the Burial or Scattering of Ashes – Things to Consider

I am an avid reader and always learn something new, even when reading for pleasure. The novel I recently finished, Cold, Cold Bones, by Kathy Reichs was no exception. This is the paragraph that piqued my interest: “A woman in Mount Holly was struck by a falling object while wrapping burlap around shrubs in her yard. The object was a small sack. The woman opened the sack. Inside were charred bone fragments and other debris. The woman called the police. The police traced the sack to a crematorium offering aerial scattering over the locale of your choice.”

Well, that is quite disturbing and not the poignant scene that I picture when thinking of the scattering of a loved one’s ashes! Cremation and the scattering of ashes was a very, very minor subplot in the novel that may not have even caught my attention, but I remembered reading a recent Toronto Star article Is it legal to scatter your loved one’s ashes in Toronto?  I wanted to learn more and in today’s blog I will share some of what I have discovered on the burial or scattering of ashes.[1] I am mindful that this is a sensitive topic and decisions are difficult and personal.

Who Can Make Arrangements

The first thing to consider is who can make arrangements for the disposal of the body. In Ontario, it is the estate trustee who is responsible for making proper funeral and burial arrangements. The fundamental duty of the estate trustee is to dispose of the body in a “decent and dignified fashion”. Burial or cremation meet this criteria. While the funeral instructions of the deceased are not legally binding on the estate trustee, the wishes may be carried out. The estate trustee has a duty to inform family members of the particulars. Proper funeral expenses are payable out of the estate in priority to any other charges. The amount must be reasonable under the circumstances.

Burial of Ashes

Sometime after purchasing our first house, my husband and I purchased another plot of land – a cemetery plot, or more correctly, the right to be buried in a cemetery plot. It was important to my husband that he have a plot near where other family members were buried in the cemetery in the small town where he grew up. In order to be in the same family “row”, we had to purchase a small plot and it is restricted to the burial of urns only, as it is not large enough for caskets. We were young at the time and probably had not thought too much about whether we wanted to be cremated, but this purchase informed that decision.

An urn containing ashes may be buried in a registered cemetery or placed in a niche within a columbarium in a registered cemetery. In Ontario, burying urns on public land outside of a licensed cemetery is not permitted. Guidelines on burying an urn on private land include: 1) obtaining permission of the property owner, if you do not own the land; 2) burying the urn at least three feet deep; and 3) burying the ashes in a biodegradable urn so that it decomposes over time leaving no trace of the interment.

Scattering of Ashes

In contrast, ashes can be scattered on most public property. You may also scatter ashes on private property with permission from the landowner. Public property includes Crown land, including land covered by water, if it is unoccupied (for example provincial park, conservation reserve, Great Lakes) and there are no signs or postings that prohibit scattering, and on municipally-owned lands (contact the municipality to check if there are by-laws that prohibit scattering in certain areas such as municipal parks).[2]

You may also buy rights to scatter remains in a registered cemetery or sign a contract with a licensed funeral establishment, cemetery, crematorium, or alternative disposition to scatter the remains of cremation on your behalf.

As for the unfortunate incident in the book that I read, if choosing a service provider offering aerial scattering of ashes, it is best to know exactly what you are purchasing so there are no surprises with bags falling from the sky.

Thanks for reading.

[1] There are also other options available, e.g. a person may want to keep ashes with them in an urn in their home or place them in a piece of keepsake jewelry, create a memorial diamond or a parting stone. Ashes may be divided if multiple people in a family want to keep a portion of the remains.


About Betty Laidlaw
Betty Laidlaw is a law clerk in the Trusts, Wills, Estates and Charities group at Fasken, with over 30 years experience. Betty has extensive experience assisting executors and trustees in managing complex, high-value estates and trusts. Betty specializes in the administration of estates and trusts and also focuses on estate accounting and estate litigation. Betty has received a Certificate in Estate and Trust Administration (CETA) from STEP Canada which denotes excellence in the industry. With this Certificate, Betty has received professional recognition as a specialist in estate and trust management. Betty is an affiliate member of STEP Canada and an associate member of the Institute of Law Clerks of Ontario. Email:

1 Comment

  1. David Windeyer

    April 28, 2023 - 6:00 pm

    This brings to mind a true story a fellow in a trust company office had. A deceased gentleman wished to have his ashes scattered over his favourite fishing lake that was land locked. A person from the trust company who had his own plane offered to made the flight and scatter the ashes.
    Upon reaching the lake he felt it would be easier to fly over the lake to pour the ashes out of the door while in flight. He was somehow unaware of the direction the ashes might take which was that the draft caused by opening the pilots door while in flight went inwards and not outwards.
    With the cabin of the plane and himself covered with the “ashes” he was forced to land a sweep out the cabin of the ashes and into the lake. Mission accomplished!

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