Planning Your Own Funeral – Questions about cremation

Questions about cremation

What exactly is cremation?

Cremation is the process of burning the remains of the deceased. This process generally takes about three hours. Throughout the entire process a labeling system ensures correct identification of the ashes.

As cremation is an irreversible process that eliminates all DNA as well as any ability to later investigate the exact cause of death, each cremation must be authorized by the Medical Examiner. More specifically, before a body can be cremated, the Medical Examiner must review the Medical Certificate of Death, signed by the attending physician. The Medical Examiner will then issue something called a “Form 4”, which gives approval for the cremation.

After cremation, all that usually remains of the body is 2 to 3 kilograms of pulverized bone and ash. These materials are pure and represent no health risk.

If you choose, the cremated remains may be disposed of by the crematorium, or returned in a container (usually called an “urn”) to the next of kin.

Do I need a casket if I am going to be cremated?

If cremation is chosen, a casket or other appropriate cremation container is still required. However, an appropriate cremation container need not necessarily be a casket, it need only be an enclosable, combustible container of rigid construction and equipped with handles. In some cases, you may supply your own home-made container providing it meets the requirements of the crematorium. Be sure to discuss this matter with the funeral provider.

Does cremation occur at a funeral home, or elsewhere?

Technically, cremation occurs at a “crematory”. These are generally located in funeral homes and cemeteries.

Can cremated remains be buried?

Yes. However, cemetery facilities for receiving cremated remains vary. Some have an urn garden where cremation lots are available for burial of an urn. Others have a columbarium, an above-ground structure where urns are held. Another option is to bury the cremated remains in a family plot. Some cemeteries also offer a common scattering garden. It’s best to check with the cemetery in question.

I want to be cremated and have my ashes scattered in a natural setting. Can I do this anywhere, or are there restrictions?

It is possible to have one’s ashes scattered, and you can leave specific instructions as to where and how this is to be done. However, just as a person cannot necessarily simply go anywhere during life, so, too, in death.

If you want your ashes to be scattered on your own land, this does not pose any problems. However, if you wish for your ashes to be scattered on land owned by someone else, you (or your personal representative) will first need to get written permission from the land owner. This includes national, provincial, and municipal parks. Although such parks can choose to allow scattering of ashes, there are no universal policies and you should not plan on being able to scatter your remains in this manner. If you wish to scatter cremated remains in a provincial park, contact the park in question to learn whether it is allowed, and, if it is, any restrictions as to time and location. See our list of additional resources for contact information.

As a last thought, since the act of scattering ashes is irreversible, you may want to think through all the pros and cons and discuss it with loved ones in advance.

You should NOT rely on this webpage for legal advice. It provides general information on Alberta law only. November 2013.
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