Pennsylvania Cremation Laws

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, cremation has emerged as a widely accepted and preferred method of disposition. However, as with any end-of-life decision, understanding the legal framework surrounding cremation is crucial to ensure compliance and fulfillment of one's wishes. Below, we'll delve into the intricacies of Pennsylvania cremation laws, providing clarity on requirements, permissible scattering locations, and restrictions. Here's what you need to know.

Overview of PA Cremation Laws

Before a cremation can take place in Pennsylvania, certain laws must be followed:

1. Obtaining a Cremation Permit: A cremation permit is mandatory and can be obtained from the local registrar or the crematory. The purpose of the permit is to ensure that Pennsylvania cremation laws are being followed, as well as to track the disposition of the deceased.

2. Authorization for Cremation: Authorization for cremation must be provided by the next-of-kin, typically the spouse, children, or parents. If there is no next-of-kin, a designated funeral representative or a court order may be required. This ensures that the cremation is being carried out in accordance with the wishes of the deceased or their family.

3. Notification of the Coroner: If the death is not due to natural causes, the local coroner must be notified. Although there is no state law in Pennsylvania that requires an autopsy before cremation, the coroner may require one if they have any suspicions about the cause of death. The purpose of an autopsy is to determine the cause and manner of death and to rule out any potential foul play.

4. Completion of a Cremation Authorization Form: A cremation authorization form, provided by the crematory, must be completed and signed by the authorized individual. This form typically includes information about the deceased, such as their name, date of birth, and date of death, as well as the name of the crematory and the person authorizing the cremation.

5. Waiting Period: In PA, cremation laws declare there must be a 24-hour waiting period between the time of death and the cremation. This waiting period is designed to give family members and loved ones the time to make arrangements and ensure there are no objections to the cremation.

Where Can I Scatter or Bury Ashes in Pennsylvania?

Cremation laws in Pennsylvania permit scattering or burying cremated remains in a variety of locations, with some restrictions:

1. Private Property:Cremated remains can be scattered or buried on private property with the landowner's permission. This requires obtaining the consent of the owner of the property where you want to scatter or bury the ashes. You automatically give consent for any property you own, but if you're not the owner you must seek permission first.

2. Cemeteries:Cremated remains can be interred in a designated scattering garden or buried in a columbarium niche within a cemetery. Cemeteries often have specific regulations regarding the scattering on their grounds, so it is important to check with the location before doing so - you can't simply choose a cemetery in Pennsylvania to scatter without first speaking to someone who works there and can give you permission. But it is worth it, as a cemetery provides a constantly landscaped, serene environment for which to visit and to reflect on your time with the deceased, with no worry about tourists or other visitors to a public location that is not a cemetery.

3. Public Lands: Scattering cremated remains on public lands is generally allowed, but certain restrictions may apply. It is advisable to check with the specific park or land management agency for regulations. Some public lands in Pennsylvania, such as state parks, may have restrictions on scattering or may require a permit.

4. Waterways: Scattering cremated remains in waterways is generally permitted, but it is important to avoid locations where ashes could interfere with recreational activities or damage the environment. It is essential to be mindful of potential environmental impacts, such as the effects of ashes on aquatic life. Additionally, if you do want to scatter in a large body of water, such as Lake Erie in northeastern Pennsylvania, you must do so at least 3 nautical miles from shore.

5. In the Air: There are no specific Pennsylvania cremation laws that prevent you from scattering cremated remains while airborne, such as from an airplane or other aircraft. The FAA has said that it's illegal to drop anything from an aircraft that could cause harm, though. This means you can't drop the receptacle or urn that houses the remains. Instead, you must return the urn back to the ground safely.

Restricted Scattering Locations in PA

While cremated remains can be scattered or buried in various locations across PA, some restrictions still apply:

1. Private Property without Permission: Scattering on private property without the landowner's permission is prohibited. Even outside of Pennsylvania, respecting the property rights of others is essential and scattering without permission could lead to legal repercussions.

2. Protected Areas: Scattering in national parks, state parks, or other protected areas in PA may have restrictions. These areas are often subject to environmental regulations with rules on human activities. Some parks may issue permits for the scattering of cremated remains, while others may prohibit the practice altogether.

3. Urban Areas:Cremated remains are considered inert and non-toxic, which is why it's generally permitted to scatter them. However, scattering in densely populated areas or confined spaces is generally discouraged due to potential disturbances to others.

Understanding Pennsylvania Cremation Laws

Navigating Pennsylvania cremation laws is essential for ensuring a respectful and compliant final disposition. By understanding the requirements, permissible scattering locations, and restrictions, individuals can make informed decisions that align with their wishes and the legal framework.

Consulting with a funeral director or crematory can provide further guidance and ensure that the cremation process is handled with the utmost care and adherence to state regulations. Additionally, always keep the wishes of the deceased in mind when making the decision to cremate their remains and where to scatter those remains after cremation.