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.
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 § 432.133.) 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 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 $25; additional copies also cost $25 each.(Certificates ordered in person, online, or by phone are more expensive.)
In Oregon, there are two kinds of death certificates, called "short form" and "long form" death certificates. A short form death certificate does not list the cause of death. The following individuals or agencies may obtain copies of a short form death certificate:
A long form death certificate does state the cause of death. The following individuals or agencies may obtain copies of a long form death certificate:
Anyone can obtain death certificates that are older than 50 years.
The deceased person's primary or attending medical provider who provided medical care at the last illness completes the medical certification within 48 hours of having access to the necessary medical records. 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. (Oregon Revised Statutes § 432.133 and Oregon Revised Statutes § 432.075.)
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:
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.
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.
Alkaline hydrolysis is a chemical process that reduces a body to components of liquid and bone. It is 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. (Oregon Revised Statutes § 692.010(4).)
In Oregon, alkaline hydrolysis is regulated by the state’s Mortuary and Cemetery Board, which has published detailed rules covering "alternative disposition facilities." To read more about the requirements, go to the link and search for an exact match for the phrase "alternative disposition facilities."
Smith-Lund-Mills Funeral Chapel & Crematorium was the first authorized provider for alkaline hydrolysis in Oregon. Today, several funeral homes advertise alkaline hydrolysis as a greener alternative and offer this service on their own or in conjunction with a partner organization. Although many states have legalized alkaline hydrolysis, Oregon is one of the few states with the necessary equipment to actually perform the service. As a result, funeral homes in other states sometimes use Oregon facilities to complete alkaline hydrolysis when there are no local organizations that provide the service in their state. For more information about alkaline hydrolysis, view this video produced by Pearson's Funeral Home.
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. 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.
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.
Get It Together, by Melanie Cullen (Nolo) helps you gather and organize the essential details of your life for yourself and your family.