Is It Illegal to Open an Urn?

Resolving the question of what to do with cremated ashes raises all sorts of additional questions. Today we're going to look at a surprisingly common one.

While we want to be clear that we are not legal professionals and this is not legal advice, this question is fairly straightforward. But if you have any genuine concerns about the law and what to do with an urn, please consult a lawyer or attorney.

Is It Illegal to Open an Urn?

No. It is absolutely not illegal to open a cremation urn. If you are the one in charge of the decedent's remains, and you own the urn, you are free to do whatever you want with it.

This answer, of course, assumes that you have the legal right of possession for the ashes. Typically, if you're the spouse or next of kin, you have the legal custody of the remains.

We address the topic of who gets custody of a deceased person's body or ashes in this article, so we recommend starting there if you have questions about custody or legal "ownership" of the remains.

What Happens If You Open an Urn?

You have a container in front of you. Inside, you know you'll find the cremated ashes of someone you loved. But what will you find when you open it up? Are the remains loose inside? What will it be like?

It's the unknown that concerns you. So you turn to the internet for answers, and, well here you are.

You've come to the right place! At Urns Northwest, we know cremation urns. We can tell you what is going to happen if you open up the urn.

Opening the Urn

Learn how to open an urn here.

Unless the urn is sealed, opening it is usually pretty straightforward. You either remove the lid (for most vase-shaped urns) or flip it upside down and remove the stopper/gasket (most stone urns) or use a screwdriver to remove the bottom panel (most wood urns).

What's Inside the Urn?

Inside you will generally find the ashes sealed inside of a plastic bag. Most of the time.

Some urns, for instance ceramic and glass urns, may or may not have a liner or plastic bag. Sometimes the family chooses to pour the remains directly into the urn. Most marble/granite/stone urns with a bottom-opening gasket are also generally not lined, as the opening is small and the remains must be poured inside.

Whenever possible, we recommend inurning the ashes inside a plastic bag - either the one in which they come from the crematorium, or with a new one with which you line the urn and then pour the remains inside.

If the remains are in a plastic bag, great! Simply pull it out. Or, if the opening is very small, pour the remains into another container, then pull out the liner once it can fit.

Why Would Someone Open an Urn?

There are many possible reasons to open an urn. You have to open the temporary urn to transfer the ashes from that one into a permanent urn. Perhaps the family wants to scatter the ashes, or divide the remains for any number of reasons.

Sometimes the ashes are in an urn for a long time, and then the family wants to get a different urn, or maybe they just want to open it to take out a pinch of ashes to put into cremation jewelry.

These are just a few legitimate reasons to open a cremation urn.

Opening an Urn: Legal or Illegal?

So, is it illegal to open an urn?

No, not at all, so long as you are the next of kin.

Again, this is not legal advice but rather general information applicable to most situations absent conflict. For legal issues regarding your region's laws and your particular circumstances, please consult a lawyer.

Related resources:

Cremation urns:

Cherry Wood Cremation Urn for Ashes

This gorgeous cherry wood cremation urn is available here.

It's just one of our many premium quality American-made memorial urns.