Burial & Cremation Laws in Oklahoma

Everything you need to know about burial, cremation, and other post-death matters in Oklahoma.

Updated by , Attorney University of Arkansas School of Law
Updated 7/05/2023

Each state has laws affecting handling of a body after death (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 Oklahoma.

How do I get a death certificate in Oklahoma?

If you're in charge of wrapping up the deceased person's affairs, you'll probably need 10 or more official (certified) copies of the death certificate to carry out your job. You'll 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 Oklahoma, a death certificate must be filed with the local registrar within three days and before final disposition of the body. (Okla. Stat. tit. 63 § 1-317.) 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 this person or organization to order them for you at the time of the death.

If you need to order more copies after some time has passed, go to the website of the Oklahoma State Department of Health . From there, you'll find options to order death certificates online, by phone, in person, or by mail.

In Oklahoma, you must provide a copy of your government-issued photo ID or other acceptable identification when you order the death certificates. Each copy of an Oklahoma death certificate ordered by mail costs $15. Online and phone orders cost $20 for the first copy and $15 for each additional copy.

Who can order a death certificate in Oklahoma?

In Oklahoma, you can obtain a certified copy of a death certificate if you are:

  • a surviving spouse, parent, child, grandparent, sibling, or ex-spouse of the deceased person
  • a legal guardian of the deceased person
  • the legal representative of the deceased person's estate as documented by the court
  • the funeral director of record, or their agent
  • a person who can demonstrate a familial relationship with the deceased person through birth, death and/or marriage certificates
  • a person with a court order
  • someone who co-owned property with the deceased person, or
  • someone named in the deceased person's will, if the will is in probate.

For records more than 125 years old, a genealogist can also apply for a copy of a death certificate. For records less than 125 years old, a genealogist will need to provide documentation including the statement of a family member or a court order.

For more information, see OSDH's Death Certificate FAQ. You may need to supply additional documentation to establish your eligibility to receive the death certificate.

In Oklahoma, who completes the death certificate?

In Oklahoma, the funeral director must sign the death certificate and is responsible for filing it. To complete the death certificate, the funeral director obtains personal data from the deceased person's next of kin and then delivers the certificate to the deceased person's attending physician or the medical examiner within 24 hours of the death.

The attending physician who was in charge of the decedent's care for the illness or condition that resulted in death has 48 hours after the death to complete the medical certification portion of the death certificate (including cause of death). If the death was not due to natural causes, in which case the death is referred to the medical examiner who completes the medical certificate. (Okla. Stat. tit. 63 § 1-317.)

Is embalming required in Oklahoma?

Embalming is a process in which blood is drained from the body and replaced with fluids that delay disintegration. Though it's still a common procedure, embalming is rarely necessary; refrigeration serves the same purpose.

Oklahoma regulations state that a body must be either embalmed or refrigerated if the burial or cremation does not occur within 24 hours. No public viewing is allowed 24 hours after death unless the body is embalmed. (Okla. Admin. Code § 235:10-11-1(a)(13).)

In Oklahoma, is a casket necessary for burial or cremation?

A casket is often the single greatest expense incurred after a death. The average cost of a casket is more than $2,000, and the price can run into the $10,000-$20,000 range for more elaborate designs and expensive materials. Whether due to the cost or for other reasons, 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.

In Oklahoma, do I have to buy a casket from the funeral home?

No. Although funeral homes may sometimes be very pushy about getting you to buy caskets from them, federal law requires funeral homes to accept caskets that consumers have purchased from another source, such as an online retailer. (Learn more about your consumer rights under the FTC Funeral Rule.) You may also build your own casket, if you prefer.

Is water cremation (aquamation) available in Oklahoma?

Alkaline hydrolysis (more informally called "water cremation," "flameless cremation," "aquamation," and many other terms) is a chemical process that reduces a body to components of liquid and bone. It's considered a greener alternative to cremation because it uses less energy than cremation and does not release matter into the atmosphere.

In 2021, Oklahoma recognized aquamation as an acceptable form of disposition when it added a definition of "alkaline hydrolysis" to its Funeral Services Licensing Act:

"Alkaline hydrolysis" means the reduction of human remains to bone fragments and essential elements in a licensed crematory using heat, pressure, water and base chemical agents.

(Okla. Stat. tit. 59 § 396.2.)

While water cremation or aquamation is recognized by law, you might be able to find only a small number of facilities offering the service in Oklahoma, which might mean traveling a distance to access it. The equipment is expensive and public demand is still small, though it's growing. With time, facilities offering water cremation are likely to become more commonplace.

If you're interested in this option for yourself, you may want to explore pre-planning your final arrangements. Water cremation tends to cost a little more than traditional cremation. (For example, see this 2023 NPR interview on water cremation in which one funeral home prices its water cremation service at $1,000 more than traditional cremation.)

Learn more about alkaline hydrolysis.

Where can bodies be buried in Oklahoma?

Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property may be possible in Oklahoma. (See Okla. Stat. tit. 59 § 396.19 and the FAQ of the Oklahoma Funeral Board.) Before conducting a home burial or establishing a family cemetery, check with the county or town clerk for any local zoning laws you must follow. If you bury a body on private land, you should 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 ashes be stored or scattered after cremation in Oklahoma?

In Oklahoma, there are no state laws controlling where you may keep or scatter ashes. However, you must obtain a cremation permit before cremating a body. (See Okla. Stat. tit. 63 § 1-329.1.) Ashes may be stored in a crypt, niche, grave, or container at home. If you wish to scatter ashes, you have many options. Generally, 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. However, you will probably encounter no resistance if you conduct the scattering ceremony quietly and keep the ashes well away from trails, roads, facilities, developed areas, campsites, and waterways. You can find guidelines for scattering ashes on the websites for some national parks. For more information, start with 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, including contact information for the EPA representative in Oklahoma, see the EPA's page on Burial at Sea.

Scattering ashes by air. While there are no state laws on the matter, federal laws prohibit dropping anything 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.

Other Resources

To learn about the federal rule on funerals, which protects consumers in all states, visit the FTC's Funeral Rule page.

For more information about funeral laws in Oklahoma, see Oklahoma Home Funeral Laws.

To find out more about funerals and other final arrangements, see Nolo's section on Getting Your Affairs in Order.

Get It Together, by Melanie Cullen (Nolo), helps you gather and organize the essential details of your life for yourself and your family.

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