Top 10 Options for Cremated Remains: Pros and Cons

Have you ever wondered what to do with cremated remains?

With the annual number of cremations in the United States rapidly closing in on one million people, we’re generating literally tons of cremated remains, a.k.a. cremains, every year. What can you do with your loved ones’ powdered bone fragments? More than you’d think!

The top options are to keep, dispose of, or enshrine cremains. Here is my Top Ten list of things you can do with cremated remains, with associated pros and cons for each option.

In the Light Urns BlogOne: Scatter on land
Pros: It’s free! You can scatter your loved one’s remains at a place they loved to visit. If you are scattering on public land, just don’t do it in front of a park ranger. It’s a “don’t ask, don’t tell” sort of situation. Please get permission if you are scattering on someone else’s private land.
Cons: You can’t put a memorial marker on public land to mark the spot where the scattering occurs. Descendants might get angry when they can’t find where Grandpa’s remains were scattered.

Two: Scatter at sea
Pros: It’s a low-cost fitting send-off for someone who loved the sea. The only expense is getting a boat to take you at least three miles offshore, a U.S. maritime requirement.
Cons: Care must be taken with ocean breezes to avoid the “dust in your face” phenomenon. A biodegradable urn container (paper, cardboard, wicker, etc.) that dissolves after sinking is the answer. Note: Cruise ship management frowns upon throwing anything overboard.

Three: Scatter by air
Pros: This is a fitting send-off for free spirits, including balloonists, pilots, hang gliders and bungee jumpers (who may meet their earthly end sooner than other less-adventurous folks). There are also fireworks manufacturers who will mix cremated remains into spectacular pyrotechnic displays.
Cons: Air scattering services and fireworks manufacturing can get pricey. You will not be able to identify a specific spot for their final resting place.

(further methods of scattering ashes)

Four: Bury in a cemetery
Pros: Cremated remains can be buried in smaller plots that cost less than a full body burial site. Or, depending on the cemetery’s rules, cremains may be interred within a family member’s full sized plot. The family gets a place to visit and remember the deceased.
Cons: Even smaller cremains plots can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on the cemetery.

Five: Bury at home
Pros: Assuming you’ve got a yard at home, it’s free to bury your loved one’s cremated remains. You’ll know they are near. You can mark the spot with a statue, a manufactured marker or a simple rock.
Cons: Whenever you sell the house, you’ll either have to dig up the cremains and take them with you or you must declare the presence of remains on the property. This might adversely affect your property value.

Six: Keep an urn at home
Pros: Your loved one’s remains can be enshrined in a beautiful urn set in a special spot. Everyone in the family can remember that loved one and admire the container.
Cons: Ever see that scene from the comedy film Meet The Parents where Ben Stiller is trying to open a bottle of champagne? The cork flies off and hits the ceramic urn on the mantle that holds the cremated remains of Robert DiNiro’s mother, with disastrous results. ‘Nuff said.

Seven: Place in a columbarium
Pros: A columbarium, a.k.a. columbary, is a place for storing funeral urns, so they give a specific place to visit the deceased. Columbaria are usually located in cemeteries. Some churches have a spot for collecting cremated remains, either keeping them in urn niches or mingling remains in a garden or walled area.
Cons: There is usually a cost associated with obtaining a niche for remains.

Eight: Share with family
Pros: Cremated remains can be split up among far-flung family members. They can be kept in mini-urns, memorial jewelry, even made into glass or ceramic works of art.
Cons: Some family members may not like this idea. Plus, unless you are using coffee cans, the price of multiple urns or pieces of memorial jewelry can add up, depending on the size of the clan.

Nine: Create a reef
Pros: There are services that mix cremated remains into concrete structures that build marine reefs. Your loved one’s final resting place is mapped, and you can go scuba diving to visit them.
Cons: While a memorable memorial option, it can cost as much as burial. Visiting the memorial reef site can become a major investment of time and resources.

Ten: Build a monument
Pros: Speaking of mixing cremated remains in concrete, why not make a monument? You can set it up on your property, or even make it a centerpiece at family reunions!
Cons: Some family members may not be amused.

With the U.S. cremation rate now exceeding 41% and growing, more and more families will be considering these options. If you want to be cremated, figure out your preference and let your family know. Help them avoid the agony of having to decide for you. You’ll be glad you did.

About the author:
, The Doyenne of Death™, is author of A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die and The Family Plot Blog. A Certified Celebrant and an event planner experienced in funerals, she’s also a breast cancer survivor who speaks regularly to groups on getting the funeral planning conversation started. Rubin is a member of the Association for Death Education and Counseling and the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association. She also serves on the cemetery committee for Congregation Albert and volunteers with the Chevra Kaddisha, which ritually prepares bodies for Jewish burial. Her web site is

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  1. By Tamarra Seaman on

    I would like my ashes turned into two medium sized rocks 3 to 8″diameter, for close family members, and the rest of the ashes turned into pebbles that loved ones can have if they want. I haven’t seen this option available and do not want to make it a difficult endeavor for my loved ones when the time comes.


    • By on

      Hello Tamarra
      Thank You for your quarry, interesting question. I totally understand how you must feel, not “to make it a difficult endeavor”, and it is smart to plan for what you want now, when that time does comes. Unfortunately we do not work with peoples cremains in this fashion, but I could imagine a local Funeral Director hiring maybe a “Tile Setter” or “Concrete Worker” that would not have any problem in using online instructions like these:

      Using your cremains mixed with the concrete.
      Good Luck – Susan


  2. By Bolo Jungle on

    I am in a situation where this is a kind of near-term concern. Your will, your living will, and your health care proxy are all important and legally defined. Good idea to get those nailed down, especially if you are concerned about questions, conflict or challenges. But what you do with your remains isn’t often included and is a personal choice. If you can’t decide, you leave it to your loved ones – which can be OK as long as they understand their options (like some of the prior commenters – all good). Usually it makes it easier if you have a simple plan. I decided on mine today. Cremation, a CHEAP urn and recyclable – because they are going to throw it out as soon as my ashes cool off. I grew up near the woods and spent a LOT of time at a local creek. It has been part of my origin story ever since and I think about it (and actually dream about it) quite often. I had a good childhood in a nice place. No money, but the woods was an awesome playmate. The creek is not part of the drinking water, etc. (even if it was, I’m dead – who cares?) But probably not legal. Do it at night. Leave some upstream/downstream flexibility, and scattered the ashes. Simple. Drop the urn into a recycle barrel somewhere. I am not the ashes; I am the life I lived. Remember that when you want to get together for a few drinks and talk about what a swell guy I was.


  3. By Sarah hunter on

    I mixed my husbands ashes with stepping stone mix and concrete. I made a heart out of wood and burned into that heart his name,birth date, and death date. I also put loving father,husband, brother, and uncle. I then had a man fishing with the words keep fishing all burnt into the wooden heart. I made sure the heart was weatherized with water seal. I put the heart in a rectangle container and after i mixed the ashes and stone materials, i poured the mixture around the heart. I also added pictures made from ceramic on the stone of him fishing.My husband wanted 2 of these made. One to go to the cemetary where 2 of his kids are buried and his parents. The other is on a jetty where I paid the city to allow the stone to be placed at his favorite fishing spot. I found the salt water was breaking down the stone so I painted the stone with a concrete adhesive. It is not cracking or breaking down anymore. We talked about this before he died since he was dying of a terminal illness. Family members thought is was crazy but after it was done, they like the idea.



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