By Jedidiah McKeehan

My father-in-law and I were chatting recently about where someone he knew was planning on being buried and I commented that I had heard that someone I knew had just been buried on some property their family owned wrapped in some old blankets.  I think the thought process was that it was a more environmentally friendly way to handle burial as opposed to putting a casket with all of its materials and contents in to the ground.

My father-in-law could not believe that something like that could be legal, and I was not sure about all of the facts that had been conveyed to me, so I decided to do some research on what Tennessee law says about burials and the requirements that exist regarding it.  Well, there really are not any Tennessee laws that speak to burial requirements.

So let’s answer some questions.

If you are buried, do you have to be buried in a casket?  No, there is no Tennessee law that requires that you be buried in a casket, which is a good thing, because those things can be really, really expensive, sometimes as much as $20,000.00.

If you do decide to get a casket, do you have to buy it through the funeral home you’re using?  No, you can buy a casket online, or even build one.

Do you have to be buried at a cemetery?  No, you do not, you can be buried on private property, however, you may want to check with county or city codes where you live to see if there are any permits required for such or they require that you note a “burial ground” with the register of deeds.

Are there any restrictions on where you can scatter ashes?  In some instances, yes, but practically, no.  If you are dead set on scattering ashes somewhere, I do not know that anyone is going to be able to stop you before the scattering is completed, however, federal law “officially” requires that you get permission before you scatter ashes on federal land and the Clean Water Act states that you have to be at least three nautical miles from shore if you are desiring to scatter at sea.  There are no Tennessee laws that address where ashes can be scattered.  You may want to check local codes about this as well, but I would guess there are not many cities or counties that have drafted codes that address this (if any).

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.