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Transferring Ashes to a Cremation Urn

 by J. Malec


Image by J. Malec

The loss of a loved one brings unexpected challenges, such as the handling of a loved one’s ashes.

This blog provides information on how to handle transferring ashes to an urn after cremation.

Transferring ashes to a cremation urn: 3 options

  1. Have the funeral home or crematorium do it for you.
  2. Without removing the cremains from the plastic bag that the crematorium provided you, place the bag into the cremation urn.
  3. Transfer the ashes yourself by pouring them out of the bag into a scattering urn, keepsake urn, display urn, or into a piece of memorial jewelry.

What are my options when using a funeral home or crematorium to transfer ashes to a cremation urn?

You may opt to obtain a quality urn from a vendor of your choosing, and have it sent directly to the funeral home or crematorium so their staff can transfer the ashes for you.  For information on how to select an urn, read “How Do I Select the Right Size Cremation Urn?

Funeral homes and crematoriums have a selection of urns available. However, the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule specifies that: “The funeral provider cannot refuse to handle a casket or urn you bought online, at a local casket store, or somewhere else — or charge you a fee to do it.”

Options to transfer ashes

You may choose to transfer the ashes yourself without removing them from the original packaging. Cremated remains will come from the funeral home or crematorium contained in a thick polyethylene bag that is inside a sturdy cardboard or plastic box. The box will be labeled for proper identification and accompanied by a certificate of cremation that must remain with the ashes.

Follow these steps to transfer cremated ashes from the provided box to a cremation urn:

  1. open the box and remove the sealed bag containing the ashes
  2. place the sealed bag into the urn of your choosing

What if the cremation ashes and bag don’t fit into the urn?

Not all urns take cremation ashes the same way. Some will allow you to put an entire bag of ashes in with ease while others will require you to pour the ashes in. For instance, a box urn that has a wide opening will probably allow you to place an entire bag of ashes inside without any hassle. It may even allow you to put in the temporary cremation urn supplied by the funeral home. Here are examples of urns that make it easy to put in a bag of cremains:

jade marble cremation urn This urn has a nice wide top. Easy to insert a bag of cremated ashes.

Wooden cremation urn box

This wooden cremation urn opens into a wide compartment large enough for a temporary urn from the funeral home.

On the other hand, an urn with a small opening will not allow for the bag with ashes to be squeezed in. In this case the ashes must be poured in. This bottom loaded urn, for instance, has a small opening accessed by undoing the threaded cap:

Stained glass cremation urn - bottom loaded

The next section explains how to accomplish transferring ashes into an urns that require pouring in the ashes.

What if I intend to transfer ashes to a display urn, or temporary urn?

You may wish to transfer ashes from the original sealed bag to a biodegradablescattering urn, or into a display urn. This process requires a little preparation.

Once you have the urn of your choosing, you will need to find:

  • a flat, level surface
  • an area with ventilation
  • an area without wind
  • an area with good lighting conditions
  • a funnel may be helpful

According to the website Cremation Resource (http://www.cremationresource.org/), “Cremation remains are not toxic and do not present any health hazard.  In fact, human ashes are considered a sanitary, natural substance.” However, fine particulate matter should always be handled with care to avoid inhalation.

It is helpful to remember that ashes can vary from a fine sandy powder like sugar to a more gravelly texture such as kitty litter. It's recommended to have newspaper or other paper on the tabletop and under the urn to catch stray ashes. Pour as you would if you were handling such a material. Once the transfer is complete, replace the lid to the biodegradable or temporary urn and store in a safe place until your ceremony. If you are transferring into a display urn that is more permanent, be sure the lid is secured to your preference.

What if I have multiple keepsake urns or have commissioned a piece of art to be made with ashes?

Should you have multiple containers you wish to transfer the ashes into, the suggestions given above apply. Take great care in pouring into smaller vessels or in filling keepsake urns or jewelry urns. Funnels are necessary to lessen the possibility of spilling. OneWorld Memorials includes a funnel with each piece of cremation jewelry.

Ashes can be incorporated into commissioned pieces such as ceramic sculpture or fused glass. Artists who specialize in creating artwork that incorporates ashes usually have specific guidelines on how they would like to receive ashes. Ask what their requirements are, or send a message to inquire how they handle cremains and go from there.

Ask a friend or family member to help

Each person’s ashes are unique in chemical composition. Cremated remains may have a different texture and weight from one to another.

While the thought of transferring cremated remains can be intimidating, it can also help to provide closure. If you are uncomfortable performing this task alone, ask a close friend or family member to help. Creating a personal ritual around the transfer could be helpful in the grieving process.

J. Malec is a visual artist and writer whose work often deals with themes related to loss and healing. She lives in Minneapolis, and spends much of her time practicing permaculture in the city.

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