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Are There Rules in Massachusetts Regarding Cremation?

March 15, 2019

Cremation is an increasingly popular disposition option. As the South Shore’s cremation experts, our team is carefully trained to guide you through the process and adhere to all laws and regulations in Massachusetts so that you and your family can concentrate on creating the most meaningful ceremony for your unique situation.

Cremation is simply a method of disposition. Like burial cremation
provides many options for memorialization. In fact, cremation actually offers more ceremony and memorialization options than burial.  However, choosing cremation also brings with it some rules and regulations that do not apply to casketed burial.

Due to the finality of the decision, Massachusetts has state laws regarding the timing of cremation, the authorization for cremation, the facilities in which cremation may take place and final disposition of person who has been cremated.

Timing of Cremation

Like many states, Massachusetts law requires 48 hour waiting period between the time of death and cremation. This is done to ensure that that there are no questions of criminal or civil liability arising from the person’s death. During this time, the deceased is typically cared for by a funeral home. As the only funeral home on the South Shore to offer a dedicated temperature-controlled room to care for the deceased, we offer every family the comfort of knowing that a loved one is protected and treated with dignity at all times.

During this waiting period, the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is also notified of the death. Prior to cremation taking place, a forensic investigator will conduct an examination to officially rule out liability and authorize the cremation. Cremation may not occur without this being done.

Authorization for Cremation

The law requires written authorization to proceed with cremation. Since the care of the deceased is the responsibility of his or her legal next of kin, the surviving spouse would typically be the one to authorize the cremation. If unmarried, this responsibility would then fall to children, grandchildren, parents, siblings and others as necessary by degrees of kinship. We take this very seriously. Since all children, as an example, have equal right to determine the disposition of a parent who has died, the Keohane team does everything we can to make sure that all next of kin are in agreement prior to approval.

If someone has no family or wants to be sure that cremation is carried out, one may complete a self-authorization form to be kept on file at the funeral home. This is a good way to ensure one’s wishes regarding cremation are fulfilled but it should never be used in place of having a meaningful conversation with family and friends. One’s final wishes will never affect the person who has died but it will affect those who ate left behind!


Massachusetts is one of a few states that separates the role of the funeral director from those who operate cemeteries and crematories. All crematories in Massachusetts are operated by and located in cemeteries, which creates a two-step process for families. Although Massachusetts law does allow for families to care for a loved one independently, almost all families engage the professional services of a funeral director to assist them not only with disposition but in creating a personal and meaningful experience. The Keohane team greatly appreciates this trust and assists the family in all aspects of planning including making arrangements with a highly professional crematory. 

Final Disposition

Cremation is a method of immediate disposition that offers tremendous flexibility both in terms of ceremony options and with final disposition. Unfortunately, once a person who has been cremated is transferred back to the care of the family, the sheer number of options may become overwhelming which is why our cremation experts take the time to work with families to select the method of final disposition that best serves their needs.

Most families find it important to create a lasting memorial and, for that reason, they often choose a cemetery for final disposition. Some families choose earth burial in an existing grave or in a grave that was newly purchased and may be designed for cremation only. Other families choose placement above ground in a columbarium niche.  Still others may select a cemetery with a scattering garden where a person may be placed in a beautifully landscaped natural area.

Some families choose scattering. Perhaps it is held in a location that was meaningful to the deceased where the family may conduct a scattering ceremony. While this can be a moving experience for the family, it is important to know that there may be certain rules governing scattering.

When scattering someone on land, it is important to note that scattering is not allowed everywhere. While Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium and Walt Disney World may hold significant meaning to families, scattering is prohibited in these and most other similar venues. Most cemeteries and golf courses also have prohibitions or restrictions on scattering. While one may, of course, scatter a person on his or her own land, scattering on another’s property is only allowed with permission.

Scattering on the water either in the ocean or in fresh water may be another option. This too may have its set of regulations. State agencies regulate scattering on fresh water ponds and lakes while Environment Protection Agency governs ocean scattering. In fact, the EPA requires that a person scattered at least three nautical miles from land. If the urn or other container is metal, stone, or plastic and 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.

Final disposition is not limited to just scattering or burial. Cremated persons can be shared among family members, turned into jewelry and memorialized in keepsake. Some people even choose multiple options like burial scattering and keepsake jewelry. The only limitations are regulations discussed here and the imagination of the family.

All of those options are available under Massachusetts state law. Whatever option works best for you and your family, the skilled professionals at Keohane will help you find the solution that provides healing for your family and honors that life of the deceased.

If you have questions or concerns about cremation in Massachusetts, our highly trained and dedicated team is here to answer your questions and concerns. Please call us at 1-800-KEOHANE to find out which of the many options available are right for your family.


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