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.
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 Rev. Stat. § 432.133.) 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 organization to order them for you at the time of the death.
If you're the executor of the estate (in charge of wrapping up the deceased person's affairs), you should ask for at least 10 certified copies. 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.
If you need to order copies of a death certificate after some time has passed, visit the website of the Oregon Public Health Division. From there, you can find options for ordering death certificates in person, online, by phone, or by mail.
When ordering death certificates, you must provide a photocopy of an acceptable form of identification, such as a government-issued photo ID. Each certified copy of an Oregon death certificate ordered by mail costs $25; certificates ordered in person, online, or by phone are slightly more expensive.
Anyone can obtain death certificates that are older than 50 years. But for death certificates in the last 50 years, access is restricted to the following individuals or organizations:
The funeral director, or the person acting in that role, is responsible for filing the completed death certificate. To complete the death certificate, the funeral director obtains personal information from the next of kin and also obtains the medical certification (including cause of death) from the physician or medical provider who was caring for the deceased person for the illness or condition that caused the death. This medical provider has 48 hours to complete the medical certification.
If the medical provider is not available or if the medical provider gives permission, the physician who completes an autopsy can complete the death certificate. If the death was not due to natural causes, the medical examiner determines the cause of death and signs the medical certification within 48 hours after taking charge of the case. If the cause of death cannot be determined or is pending investigation, the medical examiner notes this on the death certificate. If necessary, the medical examiner submits an affidavit regarding the cause of death to amend the record within five days of performing an autopsy.
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.
If a body will not be buried or cremated within 24 hours, Oregon's rules require either embalming or refrigeration—but there's a choice. (Oregon Admin. Rules § 83-030-0010.)
In a few circumstances, however, embalming is required:
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.
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.
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.
Alkaline hydrolysis was legalized in Oregon in 2009, when the state updated its definition of "final disposition" to include the dissolution of human remains:
"Final disposition" means the burial, interment, cremation, dissolution or other disposition of human remains authorized by the board by rule.
In addition, the same statute defines the phrase "alkaline hydrolysis." (Oregon Rev. Stat § 692.010(4).)
While water cremation is recognized by Oregon law, you might be able to find only a small number of facilities offering the service in Oregon, 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.)
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:
The city or county planning commission may have additional requirements. 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.
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. 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. 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, developed areas, campsites, 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, including contact information for the EPA representative in Oregon, see the EPA's page on Burial at Sea.
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.
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 Oregon, see Oregon 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.