If you are interested in holding a home funeral for a loved one who has died, you'll need to be aware of the laws that apply. Here is an overview of the rules that govern home funerals in Oklahoma.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one's body at home after they die. Oklahoma does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. (See, for example, Oklahoma Code § 63-1-317 (2018), which permits the funeral director or "person acting as such" to file the death certificate.)
Oklahoma law determines who has the right to make final decisions about a person's body and funeral services. This right and responsibility goes to the following people, in order:
(Oklahoma Statutes § 21-1158 (2018).)
How to appoint a representative. To make a valid document naming someone to carry out your final arrangements, you must write down what you want, then sign and date your document in front of a notary public. (Oklahoma Statutes § 21-1151.)
Naming your representative in an advance directive. One smart way to appoint a representative is to complete an advance directive for health care naming a health care proxy. In your document, you can give your proxy explicit power to carry out your final arrangements. This saves the trouble of making separate documents for health care decisions and final wishes.
You must make your proxy's after-death authority clear in your advance directive document; otherwise your agent's decision-making power ends when you die. Also, be sure to have your advance directive notarized to satisfy the requirements above.
For information about making an advance directive, see Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney.
To make an Oklahoma advance directive that appoints your health care proxy to carry out your final plans, you can use Nolo's Quicken WillMaker.
If you are in the military, you may name the person who will carry out your final wishes in the Record of Emergency Data provided by the Department of Defense.
Who pays for your funeral arrangements? You can either pay for your plans before you die, or you can set aside money for your survivors to use for this purpose. If you don't do either of these things, and there's not enough money in your estate to pay for funeral goods and services, your survivors must cover the costs.
In Oklahoma, a body must be embalmed or refrigerated if final disposition will not occur within 24 hours. State regulations also prohibit public viewings of unembalmed bodies more than 24 hours after death. (Oklahoma Administrative Code § 235:10-11-1 (2018).)
Refrigeration or dry ice can usually preserve a body for a short time. There are resources available to help you learn to prepare a body at home for burial or cremation. The website of the National Home Funeral Alliance is a good place to start.
If the person died of a contagious disease, you should consult a doctor.
If you will not be using a funeral director to carry out final arrangements, you must complete and file the death certificate yourself. Oklahoma law requires you to file the death certificate with the state department of health within three days after the death. (Oklahoma Code § 63-1-317 (2018).)
You will need to fill in the demographic information and then present the death certificate to the deceased person's doctor or the medical examiner within 24 hours after the death. The medical provider will then supply the date, time, and cause of death and return the death certificate to you within 48 hours for filing. (Oklahoma Code § 63-1-317 (2018).)
Oklahoma now uses an electronic death registration system, but you can still file the death certificate yourself. You can obtain a death certificate and guidance by contacting the Oklahoma Center for Health Statistics at 405-271-4040.
You will need certified copies of the death certificate to carry out certain tasks after the death, such as arranging for the disposition of the body and transferring the deceased person's property to inheritors. You may be able to file the death certificate and get certified copies the same day. If not, you will have to make a return trip to pick up the copies. Be prepared to pay a small fee for each copy.
Unlike many other states, you do not need a special permit to move a body in Oklahoma. You do, however, need a burial-transit permit from the medical examiner if you wish to move the body out of the state. (Oklahoma Code § 63-6-101 (2018).)
There are no state laws in Oklahoma that prohibit home burial, but local governments may have rules governing private burials. Before conducting a home burial or establishing a family cemetery, check with the town or county clerk to see if there are any zoning rules you must follow. You can most likely hold a home burial if you live in a rural area.
Some crematories require that you use a funeral director to arrange cremation. If you don't want to use a funeral director, make sure the crematory is willing to accept the body directly from the family. In Oklahoma, the medical examiner must authorize cremation or burial at sea. (Oklahoma Code § 63-1-329.1 (2018).)
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Oklahoma.
Even the most staunch home funeral advocates know that learning to care for one's own dead can be difficult, especially during a time of grief. If you need help, there are people available to coach you through the process. You can find local guides, consultants, and other resources by visiting the National Home Funeral Alliance website. The book Final Rights, by Joshua Slocum and Lisa Carlson, also offers extensive information on the subject.
For more information about final arrangements and documenting your final wishes in advance, see Nolo's section on Getting Your Affairs in Order.