Finding a dedicated space for your loved one’s urn

6 min read

Options for where to keep an urn

  • The first consideration is whether you want the urn to rest somewhere where anyone can visit, or somewhere more private.

  • Columbaria and mausoleums are options for those who want to keep an urn in a public place.

  • You may also consider burying the urn in a cemetery.

  • There are many ways to keep an urn at home, whether on display or more hidden.

  • Some families choose to split up ashes into multiple urns or locations.

After a someone you’re close to passes away, having a dedicated space where you can visit and memorialize them can be a comfort. In this incredibly emotional time, the process of choosing and cultivating a place dedicated to the memory of your loved one can serve as its own source of solace as you move through the grieving process. Even if the person is not being buried in a casket but cremated and placed in an urn, you can create a space to visit and honor the life of your loved one, which will also serve as a place where future generations can visit and pay their respects.

If this is the path you and your family choose to go down, there are several options and considerable flexibility as to where and how you can create an appropriate and respectful place to place the urn and honor their memory. 

Of course, if the person left specific instructions for where and how they would like their urn to be kept, honoring their wishes is the best, clearest choice. But if they left no final wishes, or if they indicated that they preferred cremation but left no further instruction, your first decision regarding the placement of an urn is whether to opt for a public or private space. Do you want your loved one’s final resting place to be somewhere that anyone can visit, or a location that only you and those close to you have access to?

Public options

If a public space is your preferred way to go, two of the most common choices are a columbarium or mausoleum. A columbarium is typically a free-standing structure or a room located in a church or cemetery. Columbaria are built to contain walls of little shelves or cubbies—called niches—specifically designed to hold urns containing cremation ashes. 

If you decide to rest your loved one’s urn in a columbarium, you can personalize their niche with photographs or mementos to commemorate their life. Sometimes niches have a glass door, so the urn can be on display, but it’s more typical for them to be designed like decorative safety deposit boxes, with metal doors. They can be part of an elaborate, decorative structure or a simple room with shelves. 

Niches are available in a variety of sizes. A standard niche is a cube of about 9 inches on a side, but most cemeteries offer a variety of sizes for individuals, couples, or even whole families. As you might imagine, prices vary by size. If this ultimately feels like the right option, it is important to make sure the dimensions of the vault or niche are compatible with the cremation urn to ensure the vessel will fit. 

A mausoleum is a structure designed to permanently house any remains above-ground. Although the terms mausoleum and columbarium are sometimes used interchangeably, technically mausoleums can be a resting place for both cremation urns and whole caskets. Broadly speaking, a space for an urn in a mausoleum is usually bigger and more expensive than in a columbarium.

You may also look into storage and display options at your family’s church, temple, or other religious building, but these can vary substantially depending on size, space, style, and local zoning laws.

It’s an option people often do not think of, but you can also choose to bury your loved one’s urn in a cemetery. Some cemeteries have dedicated cremation plots, but you can also often bury the urn in a regular plot, which can be marked with a traditional grave marker or plaque. You might also want to opt for a cremation memorial like a bench or stone to mark the place of honor where your loved one’s remains are buried.

The biggest benefit to keeping an urn in a public space is that it’s easily accessible to whoever wants to visit. Friends, relatives, and loved ones can come by whenever they like. It’s also a place that will be there for generations, so future descendants can visit and pay their respects for years to come.

Keeping it private

If you find you would rather maintain your loved one’s urn somewhere private, you may choose to create a special place for it in or around your home. The decision to keep your loved one’s ashes at home can help maintain a sense of closeness, permanence, and respect. 

Fireplace mantels or dedicated shelves are popular and accessible options, but if keeping an urn on display doesn’t feel like the right choice, you may also consider an out-of-the way location like a special closet or drawer. In a space tucked safely away from household traffic, you can still create a respectful, personalized resting place. A custom-built cabinet is similar to a niche that you keep in your own home. Alternatively, some people choose to designate a dedicated memorial space in their backyard.

There is no timeline for deciding where and how to keep your loved one’s urn.

Keeping an urn at your home can also be convenient because it can be easily moved if you move cities. Likewise, you can always decide to place it in a cemetery, columbarium, or other more permanent option at some point in the future.

While there is no timeline for deciding where and how to keep your loved one’s urn, some stricter states require you to sign a permit agreeing not to remove the cremated remains from their urn if you opt to keep the urn at home. It is also important to note that if you are the keeper of the urn, you must make arrangements for what happens to the ashes upon your own death.

You may also want to consider multiple urns, or some combination of the options discussed. Some families choose to use smaller memorial keepsake urns, each of which holds a small amount of the ashes.  

No matter what you decide, keep in mind that there is no timeline to this aspect of the grieving process. While you might find that it brings you solace and helps you get a sense of closure, you may also find it incredibly hard to make these decisions immediately after experiencing the loss of your loved one. Take breaks, take it easy, and use all the time you require to meet your own needs as you move through this process. As with many of these decisions, it all comes down to budget, beliefs, and family traditions—but most of all, you should do what feels right to honor the memory of the person you loved ●