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.
If you are in charge of wrapping up the deceased person’s affairs, you'll probably need ten or more official (certified) copies of the death certificate to carry out 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 Oklahoma, a death certificate must be filed with the local registrar within three days and before final disposition of the body. (Oklahoma Code § 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 the person or organization that files the certificate to order them for you at the time of the death.
If you need to order more copies later, go to the website of the Oklahoma State Department of Health . From the OSDH website, you can download a mail-in order form or find information for ordering death certificates in person or online.
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 costs $15.
In Oklahoma, you can obtain a certified copy of a death certificate if you are:
For more information, see Death Certificate Eligibility at the OSDH website. You may need to supply additional information to establish your eligibility to receive the death certificate.
The funeral director signs the death certificate and is responsible for filing it. 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 to complete the medical certification and cause of death portion of the form within 24 hours of 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 to complete the medical certification unless the death was not due to natural causes, in which case the death is referred to the medical examiner who completes the medical certificate. (Oklahoma Code § 63-1-317.)
Embalming is a process in which blood is drained from the body and replaced with fluids that delay disintegration. It's rarely necessary; refrigeration serves the same purpose. Oklahoma regulations require a body to be embalmed or refrigerated if final disposition does not occur within 24 hours. (Oklahoma Administrative Code § 235:10-11-1(14).)
A casket is often the single greatest expense incurred after a death. You can buy a simple $500 box or pay $20,000 or more for an elaborate design. 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.
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 a casket yourself.
Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property may be possible in Oklahoma. (See Oklahoma Code § 59-396.19.) 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.
In Oklahoma, there are no state laws controlling where you may keep or scatter ashes. (See Facts About Funerals on the website of the Oklahoma Funeral Board.) However, you must obtain a cremation permit before cremating a body. (See Oklahoma Code § 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. 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. 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, 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, 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 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.
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 Oklahoma, see Making Funeral Arrangements in Oklahoma.
To find out more about funerals and other final arrangements, see the Getting Your Affairs in Order section of Nolo.com.
Get It Together, by Melanie Cullen (Nolo) helps you gather and organize the essential details of your life for yourself and your family.