Burial & Cremation Laws in Oregon

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Each state has laws affecting what happens to a body after death. For example, most states have unique rules about embalming, burial or cremation, scattering ashes, and how to get a death certificate. Here are some answers to common questions about post-death matters in Oregon.

1. How do I get a death certificate?
2. Who can order a death certificate?
3. Is embalming required?
4. Is a casket necessary for burial or cremation?
5. Do I have to buy a casket from the funeral home?
6. Where can bodies be buried in Oregon?
7. Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation?
8. Learn more.

How do I get a death certificate?

If you are in charge of wrapping up the deceased person’s affairs, you'll need multiple, official copies of the death certificate to do your job. You will need to submit a certified copy of the death certificate each time you claim property or benefits that belonged to the deceased person, including life insurance proceeds, Social Security benefits, payable on death accounts, veterans benefits, and many others.

In Oregon, a death certificate must be filed with the county registrar within five days after the death and before the final disposition of the body. (Oregon Revised Statutes § 432.307.) Typically, the funeral home, mortuary, cremation organization, or other person in charge of the deceased person’s remains will prepare and file the death certificate. The easiest way to get copies of a death certificate is to ask the person or organization that files the certificate to order them for you at the time of the death. If you are the executor of the estate, you should ask for at least ten certified copies.

If you need to order copies of a death certificate later, visit the website of the Oregon Public Health Division. From the PHD website, you can download a mail-in order form or find information about ordering death certificates in person, online, or by phone.

When ordering death certificates, you must provide a photocopy of an acceptable form of identification, such as a government issued photo ID. The first certified copy of an Oregon death certificate ordered by mail costs $20; additional copies ordered at the same time cost $15 each. (Certificates ordered in person, online, or by phone are more expensive.)

Who can order a death certificate?

In Oregon, the following individuals or agencies may obtain copies of a death certificate:

  • the deceased person’s immediate family member or next of kin
  • the legal representative of the deceased person, an immediate family member, or next of kin
  • anyone that needs a copy of the death record to establish a personal or property right
  • a government agency that needs the record for official business
  • anyone who can establish that the record will be used only for research purposes
  • an investigator licensed under Oregon law, or
  • anyone requesting a death record that is at least 50 years old.

See Oregon Revised Statutes § 432.121 and the Oregon Public Health Division website.

Is embalming required?

Embalming is a process in which blood is drained from the body and replaced with fluids that delay disintegration. It is rarely necessary; refrigeration serves the same purpose.

Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board rules require a body to be embalmed or refrigerated if final disposition will not occur within 24 hours. In addition, embalming is required if:

  • more than 24 hours have passed since the death and the body will be removed from refrigeration and shipped, if the body will not reach its destination within six hours (unless the body is placed in a sealed rigid container)
  • the death was due to one of certain communicable diseases and the body will be shipped (if religious customs prohibit embalming, the body may be shipped in an approved, sealed container)
  • the death was due to a communicable disease and there will be a public viewing, or
  • there will be a funeral service or public viewing and the body will be removed from refrigeration for longer than six hours.

(Oregon Administrative Rules § 83-030-0010, 830-030-0060, 830-030-0070, 830-030-0080.)

Is a casket necessary for burial or cremation?

A casket is often the single greatest expense incurred after a death. The cost can range from $500 to $20,000 or more. Some people prefer to forgo a casket altogether.

Burial. No law requires a casket for burial. However, you should check with the cemetery; it may have rules requiring a certain type of container.

Cremation. No law requires a casket for cremation. On the contrary, federal law requires a funeral home or crematory to inform you that you may use an alternative container, and to make such containers available to you. An alternative container may be made of unfinished wood, pressed wood, fiberboard, or cardboard.

Do I have to buy a casket from the funeral home?

No. Federal law requires funeral homes to accept caskets that consumers have purchased from another source, such as an online retailer. You may also build your own casket, if you prefer.

Where can bodies be buried in Oregon?

Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property may be possible in Oregon. Oregon law states that you may establish a cemetery if you:

  • own the property
  • obtain written consent from the county or city planning commission or, if there is no county or city planning commission, the governing body of the county or city
  • agree to maintain records of burials if the governing body of the county or city requires it, and
  • disclose the burials if you sell the property.

(Oregon Revised Statutes § 97.460.)

If you bury a body on private land, draw a map of the property showing the burial ground and file it with the property deed so the location will be clear to others in the future.

Where can we store or scatter ashes after cremation?

In Oregon, there are no state laws controlling where you may keep or scatter ashes. Ashes may be stored in a crypt, niche, grave, or container at home. If you wish to scatter ashes, you have many options. Cremation renders ashes harmless, so there is no public health risk involved in scattering ashes. Use common sense and refrain from scattering ashes in places where they would be obvious to others.

Scattering ashes in an established scattering garden. Many cemeteries provide gardens for scattering ashes. If you’re interested, ask the cemetery for more information.

Scattering ashes on private land. You are allowed to scatter ashes on your own private property. If you want to scatter ashes on someone else’s private land, it’s wise to get permission from the landowner.

Scattering ashes on public land. You may wish to check both city and county regulations and zoning rules before scattering ashes on local public land, such as in a city park. However, many people simply proceed as they wish, letting their best judgment be their guide.

Scattering ashes on federal land. Officially, you should request permission before scattering ashes on federal land. As with local or state land, however, you will probably encounter no resistance if you conduct the scattering ceremony quietly and keep the ashes well away from trails, roads, facilities, and waterways. You can find guidelines for scattering ashes on the websites for some national parks. For more information, begin your search at the website of the National Park Service.

Scattering ashes at sea. The federal Clean Water Act requires that cremated remains be scattered at least three nautical miles from land. If the container will not easily decompose, you must dispose of it separately. The EPA does not permit scattering at beaches or in wading pools by the sea. Finally, you must notify the EPA within 30 days of scattering ashes at sea.

The Clean Water Act also governs scattering in inland waters such as rivers or lakes. For inland water burial, you may be legally required to obtain a permit from the state agency that manages the waterway.

For more information, see Burial of Human Remains at Sea on the EPA website.

Scattering ashes by air. While there are no state laws on the matter, federal aviation laws prohibit dropping any objects that might cause harm to people or property. The U.S. government does not consider cremains to be hazardous material; all should be well so long as you remove the ashes from their container before scattering.

Learn more

To learn about the federal Funeral Rule, which protects consumers in all states, visit the website of the Federal Trade Commission.

For more information about funeral laws in Oregon, see Making Funeral Arrangements in Oregon.

To find out more about funerals and other final arrangements, see the Getting Your Affairs in Order section of Nolo.com.

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