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Cremation Law: What you need to know about cremation in WI and scattering ashes

By Maureen Kinney, La Crosse WI Estate Planning Attorney on Monday, March 7th 2016

Cremation in Wisconsin is gaining in popularity. A report last year found that for the first time in the state’s history, more people are choosing cremation over burial. Ranging from $400 to $1,000, cremation is far less expensive than burial or entombment options, and many people view it as more environmentally friendly. It’s also an alternative to traditional cemeteries which are running out of burial plots. 

If you do choose cremation, you may want to consider what you wish to happen to your remains. While the laws are pretty clear about what is allowed for burials and entombment, they are much less so when it comes to treatment of cremated remains. 

In Wisconsin, laws require that cremation must occur at a licensed crematorium. After that, the remains are simply handed to survivors. No one tells you what you can or cannot do. Some people have the ashes placed in urns, some bury them alongside loved ones, some choose mausoleum niches so people can visit.

Many people have romantic ideas about their ashes being scattered over the sea or in a place that held special memories. Beware, there are limits. So before you make arrangements with survivors to scatter your ashes over Lambeau Field, here’s what you need to know about some more popular choices.

  • National parks — require a permit and authorization from the chief park ranger.

  • Seaside — the EPA requires ashes be released at least three nautical miles from land.

  • State parks and other government-owned property — require permission.

  • Mountain tops — no regulations in Wisconsin outside of government-owned property, but state laws vary.

Also keep in mind that you must follow other unrelated laws, including no trespassing on someone else’s land. And if you plan to travel by air with the ashes, it shouldn’t a problem with TSA, but it’s wise to check with your airline to see if they have any policies in effect.

If you have specific ideas about how you would like your remains handled, your best bet is to complete an Authorization for Final Disposition of Remains. This is a legal document and an important part of an estate plan that directs what is to happen with your remains upon your death. In it, you name an agent, someone to represent you and ensure your wishes are followed. The document then supercedes the wishes of next of kin. Be sure to share its contents with your executor or personal representative.

By Maureen Kinney, Partner, Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC. For an estate planning lawyer in La Crosse, call her at 608-784-5678.

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