Transferring Ashes to an Urn

by J. Malec


Image by J. Malec

The loss of a loved one comes with unexpected challenges, primarily the final disposition preference. If your loved one preferred to be cremated, it can be difficult to determine what do with his or her ashes. This blog article provides information on transferring ashes to an urn.

Transferring Ashes to an Urn: Three Options

  1. Have the funeral home or crematorium transfer the ashes for you.
  2. Place the ashes directly into the cremation urn without removing them from the bag.
  3. Pour the ashes yourself into a scattering urn, keepsake urn, or jewelry for ashes.

What Services Do Funeral Homes or Crematoriums Provide?

There are a variety of urns available from a wide selection of vendors. Some people choose to have their urns sent directly to the funeral home or crematorium, so their staff can transfer the ashes instead. If you are in the process of choosing an urn, you may find valuable information in our article: How Do I Select the Right Size Cremation Urn?

Funeral homes and crematoriums have a selection of urns available, but you may decide to purchase your urn online. The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule specifies that the funeral provider of your choosing cannot refuse to handle an urn you bought online, at a local store, or somewhere else. They also cannot charge you a fee to do so.

Transferring Ashes to an Urn Yourself

If you choose to transfer your loved one’s ashes yourself, you may do so without removing them from the original packaging. Cremated remains will come from the facility in a thick polyethylene bag that is encased within a durable cardboard or plastic box. The box will be labeled for proper identification and will contain a certificate of cremation that must remain with the ashes. To transfer, you should open the box and remove the sealed bag of ashes. Place the sealed bag into the urn of your choosing.

If the bag containing the ashes is too large to fit into the urn, you may need to pour the ashes in directly. Not all urns are designed the same way. Box urns may be better equipped to hold an entire bag of ashes, or you can look for an urn with a wide opening. Some facilities provide wooden cremation urns as a temporary means to take home ashes.

On the other hand, an urn with a small opening will not have enough room to house the entire bag of ashes. In this case, the ashes must be poured in. Bottom-loading urns, for instance, have small openings that can be accessed by undoing the threaded cap.

Pouring Ashes into an Urn of Your Choosing

jade marble cremation urn

Wooden cremation urn box

Stained glass cremation urn - bottom loaded

Some people wish to transfer the cremated ashes from the original sealed bag to a biodegradable urn, scattering urn, or urn for display. This process requires a little preparation. Once you have found the perfect urn, you will need a flat, level surface, a well-ventilated area without wind or bad lighting, and a funnel.

Cremation remains are not toxic and do present any health hazard. In fact, the website Cremation Resource suggests that human ashes are considered a sanitary, natural substance. However, the fine particulate matter should always be handled with care to avoid inhalation. Cremated ashes can vary in texture from a fine sandy powder to a gravelly texture. You may want to have a newspaper on hand to catch any stray ashes or fragments.

Pour the cremated ashes with great care. Once the transfer is complete, replace the lid to the urn and store in a safe place until the scattering ceremony or memorial service. If you are sharing nominal portions of ashes with members of your family or friends, the process of transferring ashes to an urn may be more difficult. Cremation jewelry usually includes funnels and transfer kits to lessen the possibility of spilling. Ashes can also be incorporated into art, including ceramic sculptures or fused glass. Confirm any requirements or preferences your commissioned artist may have in receiving cremated remains.

You can also ask a friend or family member to help. Everyone’s ashes are unique in chemical composition, and the texture or weight may vary from one person to the next. The process of transferring ashes may provide closure if you are in mourning or feel uncomfortable about performing this task alone. With the help of a friend or family member, you can create a ritual around the transfer that is conducive to 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.


My fathers ashes went into an urn. Not al of his ashs fit, so they had some ashes in a bag, put this on top of the urn in the ground n coveed both up in the cemetary. Is. This the correct way to handle ashes that would not fit in an urn?

thank you

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