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 Oregon.
In all states, it is legal to have your loved one's body at home after they die. Oregon does not require you to involve a licensed funeral director in making or carrying out final arrangements. See, for example, Oregon Revised Statutes § 432.133 (2019), which permits a "funeral service practitioner or person acting as a funeral service practitioner" to file the death certificate.
Oregon defines a "person acting as a funeral service practitioner" as any person other than a licensed funeral director, "including but not limited to a relative, friend or other interested party, who performs the duties of a funeral service practitioner without payment." (Oregon Revised Statutes § 432.005 (2019).)
Oregon law requires anyone who assumes custody of a body to file a report of death form with the state registrar of the center for health statistics within 24 hours of taking custody of the body. (Oregon Revised Statutes § 432.158 (2019).) This form is included in the home burial packet described below, or you can obtain it by contacting the Oregon Center for Health Statistics at 971-673-1190.
Oregon 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:
Appointing a representative. To make a legally valid document naming someone to carry out your final wishes, you must write down what you want, then date and sign your document in front of two adult witnesses. You can download this form and prepare it to appoint your representative. Or, if you prefer, you can make up your own form, as long as the language you use is substantially the same as the statutory form.
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.
Oregon's Mortuary and Cemetery Board rules require a body to be embalmed under specific circumstances, such as when:
In all other cases, a body must be refrigerated or embalmed only if final disposition will not occur within 24 hours. Burial or cremation must occur within ten days after the death, unless the Mortuary and Cemetery Board is notified.
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 you will not be using a funeral director to carry out final arrangements, you must complete and file the death certificate yourself. Oregon law requires you to file the death certificate with the state registrar of the Center for Health Statistics within five days after the death and before final disposition. (Oregon Revised Statutes § 432.133 (2019).)
You will need to fill in the section for personal information and then present the death certificate to the deceased person's doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner, who will then supply the date, time, and cause of death and return the death certificate to you within 48 hours for filing. (Oregon Revised Statutes § § 432.005 and 432.133. (2019).)
Oregon now uses an electronic death registration system, but you can still file the death certificate yourself. You can obtain a home burial packet, which contains a blank death certificate, instructions, and a report of death form, by calling the Oregon Center for Health Statistics at 971-673-1190. (Oregon vital records officials recommend requesting a home burial packet before the death occurs, such as when the person is in hospice or has been told that death is imminent.) You can also find instructions for completing a paper death certificate on the Oregon Center for Health Statistics website.
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.
The deceased person's doctor or the medical examiner will grant permission in writing to move the body for purposes of burial or cremation. (Oregon Revised Statutes § 432.158 (2019).)
Oregon law permits you to establish a cemetery if you:
(Oregon Revised Statutes § 97.460 (2019).)
Before conducting a home burial or establishing a family cemetery, check with the town or county clerk to see if there are any additional zoning rules you must follow.
For more information, see the Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board website.
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 Oregon, no special cremation permit is necessary. (Oregon Revised Statutes § 432.158 (2019).)
For more information about cremation, including information on scattering ashes, see Burial and Cremation Laws in Oregon.
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.