Transferring Ashes into an Urn

The cremated remains of a loved one are nearly sacred for families - they sit enshrined in a cremation urn, delicate yet durable in their container. Often, families are even hesitant to handle or transfer the cremated ashes for fear of them escaping or spilling unexpectedly. But transferring them from their temporary container to a permanent one is easier than most think. 

This guide explores what your options are for getting your loved one's cremated ashes out of the temporary urn and into your sentimental, hand-picked cremation urn to lovingly display in your home or another meaningful location.

 

What to Expect When Receiving Ashes

When a loved one’s cremains are ready to be picked up, the Crematorium or Funeral Home will usually give a call to notify that the ashes are ready. When receiving this call, unexpected emotions may arise. When it finally comes to picking up your loved one’s ashes, conflicting emotions may be present, such as the feeling of togetherness along with the feeling of loss. It may be helpful to plan ahead of time to have a family member or friend make the drive with you to pick up the ashes. You may also want to imagine having a car ride home with your loved one. Below is some useful information to keep in mind on what to expect when receiving ashes:

Transferring Ashes

  • Often, families aren’t even aware they need to transfer ashes. It’s important to remember that the cremated remains don’t typically arrive in the cremation urn you ordered, even if the urn is coming from the same crematorium that you purchased a permanent urn through. However, it can be requested that the funeral home or crematorium assists you in filling the selected memorial with ashes.
  • If a memorial urn was not selected beforehand for the crematorium or funeral home to transfer the ashes in, the ashes will be placed in a temporary container – this is often a sealed bag inside of a cardboard box.
  • Most prefer to have the bag of ashes directly placed in the urn. However, it is important to note that modern and specialty urns that are shaped like a heart, butterfly, bird, etc. require some additional steps for keeping the ashes within a sealed bag inside of the urn. (Please refer to step three below)

The Importance of Carefully Transferring Ashes

First of all, the temporary box used to deliver the cremated remains should only be used as that - temporarily. The remains should not remain for a substantial amount of time in the box since it is a material that will degrade fairly quickly over time and is significantly vulnerable to the elements. A humid atmosphere or a small water spill can quickly cause the cardboard to deteriorate, which can expose the ashes inside.

When one is not careful, the cremated remains can become exposed or lost permanently. To best preserve the ashes, the plastic bags they’re placed in are tightly packed. Never attempt to simply tear the bag open, it’s highly likely the bag will over-tear, causing spilling of the cremains.

We strongly encourage you to read through the entire article before starting the process, as there are not only multiple points to consider but a few different ways to complete the process based on what type of urn you have. After reading the entire article, decide which approach is best for you.

 

How to Transfer Cremains to the Permanent Urn

It is important to note that a crematorium or funeral home will assist you in placing the ashes inside of the urn, but if you’re planning to transfer the cremated remains yourself from the container you received from the crematorium into the memorial urn you’ve carefully selected for a loved one, here are five simple steps to ensure a smooth transfer.

 Transferring Ashes into Urn

 

  1. Make sure your workspace is prepared.

This can be a delicate and sensitive process, so make sure you’ve taken care to ensure you’re transferring the ashes in a way that means most of them stay where they’re supposed to be.

  • Turn off ceiling fans or air conditioning systems: Turning off fans and air conditioners eliminates the possibility that a fan will swing and blow ashes into the air. You do not want to have the air blowing and scattering ashes within your home.
  • Close windows to the outside: Even the slightest gust of wind can cause a significant amount of ashes to distribute.
  • Make sure the area is well-lit: Lighting is just going to make your job easier, so the better the lighting is where you plan to work, the better it is for you to work in.
  • Lay down newspaper where you’ll be working: There's likely going to be some minor, minuscule spillage even with the precautions you're taking. Plus, even something as simple as an unexpected sneeze can cause a flurry of ashes to take flight. The newspaper makes it easy to collect any stray bits of ashes that have been knocked over. Newspaper is ideal for working on, as opposed to plastic or other materials that might be a bit stickier, making it more difficult to scoop or clean up any spillage.
  • Make sure pets or small children aren’t within reach: The last thing you want is a small hand grabbing the newspaper or a cat jumping onto the table with exposed ashes.

 

  1. Set out and open both the temporary cremation urn and the permanent cremation urn.

  • Practice opening and closing the permanent urn: Some cremation urns have small clasps, others have latches, some simply screw on – there’s plenty of ways for them to close. Some don’t even open at the top but have a base opening instead. It’s best practice to make sure you know how to open and close the urn before placing the ashes inside. If it’s more difficult, you want to know the trick for closing it before you’ve placed those ashes into the urn, making it more difficult and stressful.
  • Place the permanent urn on a stable surface: Make sure you don't set the cremation urn on top of any uneven areas of the table since you can't see it well underneath the newspaper. Uneven surfaces can lead to spillage and accidents.
  • Place them close to you but avoid the edge of the table: They should be centered, level, easily within reach, and accessible to you. If you are dividing the ashes among multiple keepsake cremation urns to share with other family members, have those all open as well.

 

  1. Place the plastic bag next to the urn or inside of it if the mouth of the urn is wide enough.

  • Do not yet open the bag: Figure out the best positioning for the bag before you decide to open the bag and release the ashes.
  • If the mouth of the cremation urn is on the wider side, place the unopened bag inside of it: This allows for the easiest transfer of ashes from bag to urn without needing to pour anything directly into the cremation urn.
  • If the bag doesn’t fit, there are three options: 
    • A funnel may be used to fill the urn directly with ashes.
    • If you wish to keep the ashes in the bag, a new bag will first need to be inserted into the urn with the opening of the bag on the outside. After that, a funnel should be used to fill the bag that is inside the urn. After filling, tie off the end of the bag and insert the rest of the bag into the cremation urn.
    • Alternatively, please note that a funeral home or crematorium will assist you in filling the urn with ashes.

     

    1. Pour the cremated remains into the permanent urn.

    • With a wide-mouthed urn:  If you have a wide-mouthed urn, position the bag inside the cremation urn, and using a sharp blade, slice open the bag about one to two inches thick, with criss-cross markings to create an x-shaped hole in the bag. Then, using your fingers or a pair of tweezers or pliers (whichever best fits), slowly pull the plastic bag out of the urn, allowing the ashes to slowly fall out of the bag and into the urn as you pull it out. You may need to use two hands to gently shake the bag to fully empty the remains into the container. For larger portions of ashes, this may not be the best approach, and you may want to simply consider using the next approach.
    • With a narrow mouth or larger amount of ashes:  Place a funnel over the opening of the cremation urn. Take the bag of ashes, and loosen the zip tie enclosure. Do this gently to prevent spillage or loose ashes from escaping. If the bag is taped shut, you will need to very carefully slice a small opening in one of the corners of the bag. Once the opening has been made, use one hand to stabilize the cremation urn, so it doesn't tip over, and use the other to slowly pour the ashes into the funnel. You may benefit from asking someone to help you so they can use two hands to stabilize, and you have two hands to be more careful in pouring the ashes out.

     

    1. Return any ash spillage into the cremation urn.

    • Carefully move the cremation urn to a stable surface so you can pick up the newspaper: Make sure you set the urn on a flat surface, and make sure no edges of the newspaper are sitting underneath the urn for when you pick the newspaper up.
    • Carefully funnel the newspaper, so the spilled ashes fall back into the cremation urn.

     

    1. Carefully close the cremation urn lid.

    • Use both hands to slowly center the lid: If the lid isn't centered, it won't go on straight, meaning it won't close entirely. Make sure the ridges are aligned, and check for full closure around the entire ring of the urn. This means it is well-sealed, and the ashes are protected.

     

    A Long-Lasting Memorial

    Red colored metal urn placed on a table top

    Cremation urns that are well made are designed to last for many years, meaning that once you’ve been able to carefully place those cremated remains into the urn, your next step is to find a permanent resting place for your loved one.

    This differs for most families, and while some prefer to keep the cremation urns displayed within their home, others opt for the burial of the urn at a cemetery, as one would do with a casket. Other families prefer to place them permanently in a mausoleum or columbarium where they can be visited. Some families prefer to share the ashes, with multiple members each receiving a small portion of ashes to display within the home. Discuss with your loved ones and consult the deceased individual's will and wishes to decide the best approach.

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