Is it legal to request your relatives to burry you in your yard, if you don't want or you can't afford a grave at a public cemetery(and you don't want to be incinerated)?

  • 16
    This is jurisdiction dependent. If you are interested in a specific jurisdiction please add a suitable tag.
    – quarague
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 8:23
  • 5
    I'd also note that the law usually makes a distinction between cremains which no longer count as dead bodies, and burial of a corpse that is not cremated which is often subject to public health regulations that vary meaningfully even between, e.g., different U.S. states.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 12:03

4 Answers 4


Once a body is cremated it is generally no longer subject to the laws related to dead bodies. But the disposition of a corpse that is not cremated varies greatly from one U.S. state to another.

The Washington College of Law has a website called the State Burial Laws Project that summarized the relevant laws for many U.S. states. As the example of New Hampshire illustrates, however, lots of those laws pertain to preservation of interred remains once they are lawfully interred (i.e. to the preservation and protection of burials).

Another multi-state survey has been prepared by Nolo. For example, in Colorado:

Where can bodies be buried in Colorado?

Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but there are no state laws in Colorado that prohibit burial on private property. Burials on private property must be recorded with the county clerk within 30 days. (Colorado Revised Statutes § 25-2-111.) The county recorder or coroner should be able to supply you with a form you can use for this purpose. The funeral director or person who has custody of a dead body must get authorization to dispose of the body (including burial or cremation) before doing so, usually from a county health unit or coroner. (Colorado Revised Statutes § 25-2-111.)

Note that local governments may have additional rules governing private burials. Before burying a body on private land or establishing a family cemetery, you should check county and city zoning rules.

Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation in Colorado?

In Colorado, there are few limits on where you may keep or scatter ashes. Ashes may be stored in a crypt, niche, grave, or container at home. If you wish to scatter them, you have many options. Cremation renders ashes harmless, so there is no public health risk involved in scattering ashes. Use common sense and refrain from scattering ashes in places where they would be obvious to others.

Scattering ashes in an established scattering garden. Many cemeteries provide gardens for scattering ashes. If you're interested, ask the cemetery for more information.

Scattering ashes on private land. You are allowed to scatter ashes on your own private property. If you want to scatter ashes on someone else's private land, it's wise to get permission from the landowner.

Scattering ashes on public land. You may wish to check both city and county regulations and zoning rules before scattering ashes on local public land, such as in a city park. However, many people simply proceed as they wish, letting their best judgment be their guide.

Scattering ashes on federal land. Officially, you should request permission before scattering ashes on federal land. As with local or state land, however, you will probably encounter no resistance if you conduct the scattering ceremony quietly and keep the ashes well away from trails, roads, facilities, and waterways. You can find guidelines for scattering ashes on the websites for some national parks. For example, the website of Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park offers a downloadable application for a permit to scatter ashes in the park.

Scattering ashes at sea. The federal Clean Water Act requires that cremated remains be scattered at least three nautical miles from land. If the container will not easily decompose, you must dispose of it separately. The EPA does not permit scattering at beaches or in wading pools by the sea. Finally, you must notify the EPA within 30 days of scattering ashes at sea.

The Clean Water Act also governs scattering in inland waters such as rivers or lakes. For inland water burial, you may be legally required to obtain a permit from the state agency that manages the waterway.

Scattering ashes by air. While there are no state laws on the matter, federal aviation laws do prohibit dropping any objects that might cause harm to people or property. The U.S. government does not consider cremains to be hazardous material; all should be well so long as you remove the ashes from their container before scattering.

Colorado's laws are mostly aimed at preventing a body lawfully buried in a backyard from leading to a potential criminal investigation of a death that did not involve a crime by making it easy to match the body to a death certificate.

But, most jurisdictions regulate the means by which bodies can be disposed of to some degree. For example, outside San Marcos, Texas, and possibly a few other isolated places, a practice that is traditional in some kinds of Tibetan Buddhism and among the Parsi people of India is called "sky burial" is not permitted.

Historical Note

In the early Neolithic era (e.g., in the Vinca culture), dead bodies were frequently buried underneath the decedent's house.

In the early Bronze Age, cremation became a litmus test for Indo-European linguistic and cultural expansion in Europe, Central Asia, West Asia, and South Asia, although this practice faded after many centuries when this was the norm, and internment (i.e. burial) came to be the norm again.

Cremation then tended to become more common in urbanized areas starting in the classical Greco-Roman era in Europe. This urban-rural divide between cremation and internment rates largely persists to the present, driven by the scarcity of land and the tendency of people not to live in the same place for multiple generations in urban areas, and the abundance of land and stability of families over many generations in rural areas where farming is predominant.

But internment also tends to be less common in places with permafrost or ground that is frozen for much of the year, in places with very thin soils over bedrock, and in places with stable populations (e.g. Louisiana) that are immersed in wetlands where dry ground is scarce and rot sets in very quickly (crypts and cremation are more common in these places).

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    All I know about the scattering of the ashes of the deceased in the U.S. is that the Disney parks have special codes and procedures for incidents for where guests decide to scatter the ashes of their loved ones on the Haunted Mansion attraction. Apparently it's happened on more than a few occasions.
    – hszmv
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 13:54
  • @hszmv Wild! Who knew?
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 14:03
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    @ohwilkeke I mean, the rides do advertise that they have 999 ghost residents with room for one more. Some people just want to fill a vacancy.
    – hszmv
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 14:37
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    It should be noted that cremation ashes are not ashes as we may expect from a camp fire and as often suggested in movies. Rather, they are crushed bones, and don't immediately compost or disintegrate.
    – P2000
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 23:14
  • @P2000 Good point.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 23:20

Use of a graveyard is mandatory in

In Germany, there's a different Bestattungsgesetz (literally: 'burial law') for each state that regulates where you can legally put a grave and who has to pay for it in which order. The Hamburg version dictates in §10 that corpses have to be buried, §11 dictates order of pay, §12 regulates the two available ways (put into the earth or incinerate), and §16 regulates the act of burial:

(1) Beisetzungen, auch von Urnen in Kolumbarien oder Mausoleen, sind nur auf Friedhöfen zulässig. Die zuständige Behörde kann hiervon in Einzelfällen Ausnahmen zulassen.

(2) Die Beisetzung einer Urne von einem Schiff auf See ist zulässig, wenn dies dem Willen der oder des Verstorbenen entspricht. Die Vorschriften für die Küstengewässer sowie für die Hohe See und die jeweiligen landesrechtlichen Vorschriften für die Seebestattung bleiben unberührt.

(1) Burials, including urns in columbaria or mausoleums, are only permitted in cemeteries. The competent authority can permit exceptions to this in individual cases.

(2) The burial of an urn from a ship at sea is permissible if this corresponds to the will of the deceased. The regulations for coastal waters and for the high seas and the respective national regulations for burial at sea remain unaffected.

Ways around the graveyard mandate?

As far as I know, it's nigh impossible to obtain an individual exception for a burial outside of a graveyard in Hamburg.

However, if you are to be buried in a different country, all those rules from §16 (and similar mandates in other states) fall away. As a result, you can end up on the shelf of a relative for grieving or as a ring on a relative because a part of you was pressed into a diamond and the rest is buried in Switzerland.


Short answer: Yes

Longer version:

There are various rules, for example:

  • The burial must be recorded on the property deeds
  • At least one metre of soil above and below the coffin
  • Not near water courses or water sources
  • Not contrary to any restrictive covenants on the property
  • ... and so on

It is possible that the existence of a burial will reduce the value of the property when it is eventually sold, and of course any purchaser will not be obliged to allow relatives access to the grave if they wanted.

See (for example) this site for more details.


It is legal, unless Cemetery Guild Protection has managed to convince the local authorities to make it illegal. This will be state by state (with additional restrictions on the county or city level also possible) in the USA.

USA summary

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    where? please add the jurisdiction. As I showed, it is nigh impossible in for example germany...
    – Trish
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 16:17
  • @Trish as the home of guild protection, I wouldn't imagine it any other way
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 19:18
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    it has nothing to do with a cemetery guild or guilds in general, but graveyard mandates are twofold: water protection and human remains are hazardous materials. Also, the guilds were invented in France in the 8th century, common all over continental Europe and abolished in large part starting with the french revolution and dismantled all over Europe during the Napoleonic era, the last traces vanishing during industrialisation.
    – Trish
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 22:13

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