DEAR ABBY: Thirty years ago, a friend of my husband’s roommate passed away of AIDS and was cremated. His family had ostracized him. I have no idea who they are or where they are. The roommate left and later died, also from AIDS. He left his friend’s ashes in his old room in my husband’s house in the San Francisco Bay area with instructions to scatter them in Hawaii.

The ashes have been sitting reverently in a cardboard box on a shelf in our several homes for all these 30 years. We are still together, but getting old. There is no paperwork of any kind. All we know about the deceased is his name and the fact that he was a friend. 

Before I die, I would like to resolve this problem and arrange for the ashes to have a permanent resting place, preferably in Hawaii. I have a nephew who lives on the Big Island, where the scattering should take place. How should I proceed, in light of the no paperwork problem?– MIKE IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR MIKE: I applaud your caring heart and your determination to carry out this man’s last wishes. I took your question to Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, and this is what he told me: 

“There is no impediment to your taking the ashes and placing them where you wish since there are no relatives who have an interest in them. If you plan to carry them on an airplane, be sure to have them in a scannable container -- nothing metal or such heavy earthenware that an X-ray scanner would be prevented from seeing inside. There is no requirement that you carry a death certificate, or any other certificate, with you. You do not need ‘papers’ to walk around with an urn or to travel with one.

“As far as scattering goes, people scatter ashes all the time. Cremated remains are sterile calcium and no threat at all to the environment. While public lands usually discourage, or prohibit by rule, scattering of ashes, it is common practice that cannot be stopped. Use discretion and care -- there is no such thing as ‘ashes police.’”


Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

Recommended for you