There are no national guidelines or laws that dictate how deep an urn filled with cremains should be buried. Interestingly enough, there are no federal laws that say how deep bodies should be buried, either. You’ve probably heard “six feet under” in music lyrics and old westerns all your life, but that phrase has little to do with the actual depth that most deceased are placed in the ground.
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There may be state or local guidelines that dictate how deep an urn or casket should be buried. Do some research on your local laws or call a nearby cemetery to get more information on what is appropriate in your area.
Proper Urn-Burying Depth Explained
We know this information may not help you understand what to do with cremation ashes, so here are some things to consider based on your unique situation.
If you are burying your loved one’s cremains in a cemetery
Some people choose to bury the cremains in a cemetery. This burial site is permanent, it gives mourners a place to visit, and it may follow the guidelines of the Roman Catholic Church.
If you choose to bury the cremains of a loved one in a cemetery, make sure you understand the burial requirements before signing on the dotted line and purchasing an urn. Some cemeteries require that you pay for an urn burial vault or buy a stone urn that acts as its own vault. Even if you intended to place the cremains directly into the ground, this might not be possible based on cemetery regulations.
Some sources say that most cemeteries bury an urn three feet deep. This is not true in every location and should be taken as a general guideline instead of a recommendation.
If you are burying your loved one’s cremains on private property
Burying a loved one’s cremains on private property may allow you to visit your loved one easily. It’s also extremely economical. You would only have to buy an urn and that purchase is not necessary.
You could check local laws or call a nearby cemetery to see if there are any regulations involving how deep to bury your loved one’s cremains on private property, but there may be very few reasons to do so. Cremains are sterile and they do not attract animals.
Since most cemeteries bury cremains three feet deep, you may consider using this as a general guideline.
6 More Tips for Burying a Loved One’s Urn
The interment of your loved one’s cremains is not a decision to be made lightly. Here are things to think about before completing the task.
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1. Are there any religious reasons to bury a loved one in one place as opposed to another?
Some faiths do not allow cremation. The Catholic church allows believers to be cremated, but only if the cremains are either interred in a Catholic cemetery or a columbarium niche.
As you consider burying the cremains of your loved one, his or her belief system should be taken into account before choosing a permanent resting place.
2. Do you want to be able to move the cremains at a later date?
If you plan to bury your loved one’s cremains on private property because you want him to remain nearby, you may consider what you will do when you move from that property.
If you want to be able to take the cremains with you to your new home, consider using a stone urn. These urns act like a vault and will not break easily. This will allow you to dig up the vault and move it to the next location with ease.
Tip: Keep in mind that you don't have to bury all of a loved one's remains in one place. Even if you're burying your loved one's urn, you might want to turn some of the ashes into a cremation diamond with a service like Eterneva.
3. Are you interested in green burial options?
You can choose to place the ashes directly into the ground if you are burying the cremains on private property. Instead of scattering ashes to the wind, the cremains are simply mixed directly with the soil and then more earth is placed on top.
Some people don’t like the messiness of this system. Instead, you may choose a biodegradable urn, like this Himalayan rock salt urn. This way, the cremains of your loved one are held neatly in a single container, but the urn will break apart and decompose over the years.
4. Have you considered a living urn?
The problem with burying cremains is that unless you create a maker or design a spot similar to a cremation garden, you may not remember the exact location of the burial after a few months or years. Some people like to know their loved ones’ precise location so they can visit the burial site.
If you intended to have a green burial, you might not like adding manmade items to mark the spot. Instead, you can compromise and purchase a living urn. Living urns hold cremains as well as a sapling of a tree. As the container breaks down, the cremains mix with the soil that nurtures the small tree.
Using a living urn will help you understand the precise location where your loved one is buried.
5. Are there things to consider when burying cremains directly into the ground?
As we mentioned earlier, you will not find clear-cut guidelines on the depth you should bury the cremated remains of your loved one. Although three feet can be used as a basic guideline, there’s no environmental reason why it cannot be a shallower depth.
If you want to make sure the cremains are buried instead of being scattered in the wind, choose a still day to complete the task.
6. Do you want to have a service when you bury the cremains of your loved one?
You may have already had a visitation and funeral for your loved one, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have an additional service when you bury the cremains. The service can be as elaborate or simple as you desire, especially if you have it at the private burial spot.
Instead, you may want to complete the task on your own. You may want to choose a significant date, such as an anniversary or birthday. Maybe you will simply wake up one beautiful morning and know that it is the right day to lay your loved one to rest.
Do You Want it Done Right?
The reality is that although there are many burial options, most people choose the traditional route selected by their parents and great-grandparents.
If you want your end-of-life plans to look different than the other members of your family, make sure you leave a record of your plans.
If you don’t provide a record of your plans, one of your children might say, “I think Mom wanted her cremains to be buried at the base of a maple tree sapling.” Your other children, who never listened to you, may argue with her and win. Your funeral will not look the way you intended.
Even if you shout your wishes from the rooftops, the only way to guarantee that things will be done right is to create an online end-of-life plan.
If you're looking for more on urns, read our guide on burial urns.