Learning how to write an obituary for someone we love can acknowledge their passing and help honor their life. We can acknowledge their passing, celebrate their life, share parts of their life that people are unaware of, and express the grief of our loss.
An obituary informs people of when the death occurred and all the details concerning the visitation, memorial service, and interment arrangements. It also tells the community of the death and invites those who knew our loved ones to attend the funeral and interment and offer sympathy and support.
It is wise to take the time to write a meaningful obituary that is well thought out, expressive, informative, and easy to read. That’s why we’ve written this “How To Write An Obituary” guide to walk you step-by-step through the process of writing a meaningful and comprehensive obituary for your loved one.
FOR EASIER NAVIGATION:
- What Is An Obituary?
- How To Write An Obituary
- Obituary Sample
- How To Write An Obituary: Tips
- How Can Funeral Funds Help Me?
- Additional Obituary Questions & Answers
WHAT IS AN OBITUARY?
An obituary is an announcement published in newspapers, online, or social media when an individual passes away. It serves as a notification of death and provides information about the time and date of visitations, memorial service, and interment.
An obituary is more than a simple death announcement. It is where we honor our loved one’s life stories to live on forever. It pays tribute by telling who they are as a person.
It can be done differently by sharing their life stories, writing about their hopes and dreams, telling about their love and hobbies, listing their accomplishments, and reflecting on how they lived.
Most memorable obituaries touch on the person’s life and legacy.
HOW TO WRITE AN OBITUARY
Before you write an obituary, check your local newspapers for any print requirements concerning the length of the obituary and how much it will cost; this will impact the length of your obituary. Be aware of the line rate before you begin writing.
Read the obituaries in the newspaper you want to publish and note the format to better tailor your writing, so you don’t make your obituary too long or too short. However, if you want to publish the obituary on your website or through social media, the length doesn’t matter.
You can write two versions of the obituaries: the abbreviated version for the newspaper and a more detailed version for online such as on the funeral home website, your website, or other memorial sites.
STEP 1 – ANNOUNCEMENT OF DEATH
In the first sentence, begin to write an obituary by announcing the name of your loved one and when he died.
Highlight the basic facts about the deceased, including their full name (first, middle, and last name, nickname, and suffixes like Jr., Sr., III) and where he lived in the opening sentence. Include the age, place of death, and how they died. Keep the opening sentence concise and direct.
On the evening of October 15, 2019, Thomas Smith of Dallas, Texas, passed away in his sleep at the age of 90.
The using “died” may also be avoided because it may seem blunt, you can instead use the phrase “passed away,” “departed,” or went with the Lord” if they are religious. Use what you are comfortable with.
The cause of death is optional. You don’t need to provide it if you don’t want to, but there are many reasons to include it in the first paragraph. However, the cause of death is something many obituary readers are curious about. And, it may keep you from having to explain what happened over and over to every friend and mourner.
STEP 2 – SUMMARY OF THEIR LIFE
Include a summary of his life in the next paragraph.
An obituary is not a biography, but you can include his life’s most important events and contributions. Make a list of significant events in the life of your loved one on a different sheet of paper so you will see the different options.
Biographical information you may wish to include in the obituary:
- Date and place of birth, marriage, and death
- Hometown and places lived
- Schools attended, honors and degrees earned
- Places of employment and positions held
- Business and location
- Military service and rank
- Membership in organizations
- Place of worship
- Hobbies or special interests
An obituary isn’t a legal document, so you can include their stepparents as parents, and you don’t need to mention divorce if you don’t want to.
You can make a chronological list of life events, or you can list by importance.
Mention some significant accomplishments, contributions, and recognitions but choose carefully. Make a summary, especially if he is involved in many social organizations, places of employment, places of residence, and hobbies.
Avoid listing your loved one’s mother’s maiden name or his birthday in the obituary to prevent identity thieves from stealing information and committing fraud.
Strive to use a few words to make the obituary as concise as possible.
“Tom’s parents are Adam and Emily Smith. He was born in 1929. He received his master’s degree in 1952 and managed the Smith family restaurant for 55 years. In January 1954, he married his childhood sweetheart Julia, and they raised three children, Gerald, Eva, and Clinton.”
You can also include a paragraph about personal characteristics, hobbies, and passion. Including these details will reflect his personality, so readers will understand how he lived his life.
“In his spare time, Tom writes children’s books. When he was not managing the business, he would go to the children’s hospital and read to sick children. He was popular for his caring acts and for helping in the community.”
STEP 3 – WRITE FAMILY INFORMATION
Mention survivors and predeceased information in the 3rd paragraph. It is customary to write family members who have survived the deceased.
Use “survived by” before listing any relatives still living. For family members who predeceased him, use the phrase “preceded in death by” before listing any relatives still living.
How to list survivors in an obituary example:
- Children (with their spouses or partners’ names also noted in brackets, if applicable)
- Adopted children
- Siblings, half and step-siblings
- Surviving in-laws
List immediate family by name. For extended family, you can use collective nouns or write how many.
Make a list of surviving family members to ensure no one will be left out. It can be painful if we forget to mention our step-sister or stepchild.
List family members with their first name, spouse’s first name in parenthesis, then surname. If the couple is not married, include the partner’s first name and surname in parenthesis.
Consider the people most important to the deceased like aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, fiancé, and closest friends. You may wish to include these loved ones even if they are not blood relatives like adopted children.
Nowadays, obituaries include life-long friends, caregivers, and even pets.
Thomas is preceded in death by his mother, Emily, his father, Adam, and his wife, Julia. He is survived by his children, Gerald, Eva, and Clinton, and seven grandchildren, five great-grandchildren.
STEP 4 – PROVIDE FUNERAL OR MEMORIAL SERVICE INFORMATION
If the funeral and memorial service are public, you can give details. If you are conducting a public service, list the date, time, location, and funeral home. Be specific with the details so other people close to him will know where to go or send funeral flowers.
“A public funeral service will be held at 10:00 am on October 19, 2019, at Watermark Community Church.”
Do not provide funeral or memorial information if it is a private service.
Other information that must be included:
- Dates, times, and location of the visitation
- Time, date, and place of memorial service with the name of the officiant
- Time, date, and location of the burial or interment
STEP 5. WRITE SPECIAL MESSAGES
At the end of the obituary, you can write a special message or a request for donations to a specific charity. You can write charities or organizations that were important to your loved one.
If you want to “pay it forward”, you can ask for donations to an organization that raises awareness for an illness or a cause. You can also ask for donations to cover the cost of the funeral.
If your family prefers charitable donations or monetary contributions, you can include the phrase “in lieu of flowers,” you can consider donating money to the American Cancer Society.
STEP 6 – ATTACH PHOTO
A photo helps identify the deceased and allows readers to recognize your loved one from all other obituaries. However, adding a photo can add to the cost of the obituary.
Choose a picture that reflects your loved one’s personality. A close-up photo typically works best. If you’re having a hard time selecting one photo, remember that you will be able to add more pictures and videos on the online version of the obituary.
Check with the newspaper for their requirements. If you are working with a funeral home, the funeral director may be able to assist you with formatting the photo and writing the obituary before submitting it to newspapers.
STEP 7 – REVISING THE OBITUARY
After you write an obituary, read it aloud to see any errors. Go over your written copy to check any errors in the spelling or sentences.
Read the obituary from bottom to top, going from right to left to see any mistakes. Read the whole copy slowly to capture some sentences that are incorrectly worded or sound awkward.
If you wrote the obituary on a computer or laptop, be sure to print it out. That way, you can instantly edit the page and see what you have to correct. Note your changes with a pencil so you know where to go back and change them.
Check and review for mistakes.
Once you are satisfied with the copy, have a family member or a friend read it out loud to see errors or missed information. It’s always better to get a different perspective. Allow them to read and ask if there’s anything they like to add or wish to remove. Note their suggestions to incorporate them into the revised copy of the obituary.
Compare your copy to the printed obituaries in the newspaper. Check the latest obituaries in the newspaper you want to submit to. Check their format you have to revise the copy you’ve written.
STEP 8 – SUBMITTING THE OBITUARY
Many funeral homes offer to print the obituary in local newspapers as part of the package. Coordinate with the funeral director to ensure you don’t miss any vital information.
Check the website of your local paper to see the submission process. Some newspapers accept obituary submissions through email or their web portal.
Check the website for their requirements and the file format you must attach. Submit the obituary 2-3 days before the funeral service so people can make arrangements to attend the funeral.
The information you have to ask for include:
- How much do they charge? Generally, newspapers charge per inch, also consider the word count, font size, style, and column width. Ask how many characters can be included in an inch. Also, ask how much they charge for a photo and if they require a certain size.
- Ask for the deadline of the paper. You need to submit the obituary within the deadline to get it printed. 5:30 pm is the common newspaper’s print deadline. You may get it published, though you submitted late; avoid long text because the editor may not have much time to proofread it.,
- Ask if they can accommodate you on the date you want it printed. Prepare and submit the obituary to the newspaper as soon as possible to inform everybody about the funeral’s death, time, and place.
- Call the paper if it has a nationwide circulation. If your loved one is popular in a larger area or has lived in another town, contact the newspaper from related cities to get the obituary printed on them on time.
Here’s a sample of how to write an obituary for a father:
On the evening of October 15, 2019, Thomas Smith of Dallas, Texas, passed away in his sleep at the age of 90.
Tom was born to Adam and Emily Smith in 1929. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1950 and managed the Smith family restaurant for 55 years. In January 1954, he married his childhood sweetheart Julia and together raised three children, Gerald, Eva, and Clinton.”
Tom was a creative children’s book writer in his spare time. When he was not managing the restaurant, he would go to the children’s hospital and read to sick children. He was known for his caring acts and for helping in the community.
Tom is preceded in death by his father, Adam, his mother, Emily, and his wife, Julia. He is survived by his children Gerald, Eva, and Clinton, and seven grandchildren, five great-grandchildren.
A public memorial service will be held at 10:00 am on October 19, 2019, at Watermark Community Church 7540 Lyndon B Johnson Freeway, Dallas, TX 75251. With Senior Pastor Todd Wagner officiating. Those who desire to make memorial donations in memory of Tom may be made to the American Cancer Society.
HOW TO WRITE AN OBITUARY: TIPS
1. Have basic details ready
Write the basic information about the deceased. It will make obituary writing easier.
- Full name
- Date of birth and age
- City of residence
- Spouse or partner’s name
- Children’s name
- School Attended
- Year in the military service
- Honors and awards received
- Organization affiliation
- Religious denomination and address
- Funeral home and address
- Days of visitation and time
- Funeral service date, time, and address
- Memorial service date, time, and address
- Interment date, time, and address
2. Guide Questions to answer about your loved one:
- How would you describe your loved one’s personality?
- What are your fondest memories of your loved one?
- What are the things you loved most about the deceased?
- What were his proudest accomplishments?
- What were his hobbies and special interest?
- What are the unique personality traits of your loved one?
- How would he like to be remembered?
Answering these questions will make the obituary more compelling.
3. Use third-person narrative
Avoid writing the obituary in the first person or using phrases such as “the family of Thomas Smith announces,” the obituary is not about the family members who write it, but about the person who died.
Write it from the third-person perspective, like an outsider who witnessed the event.
4. Keep it Accurate and Simple
The best way to complete a great obituary is to write a draft. Having basic information at hand will make the writing of an obituary easier. Make sure that is accurate, but keep it simple. Stay consistent with the way you list the family members.
Make several versions of the draft before making the final copy. Make the abbreviated version for the newspaper and the long version to be placed on the internet.
5. Ask another person to read the obituary and give feedback
After you write an obituary draft, ask another family member or a friend to check and provide feedback. It will ensure the accuracy of the information, and the copy will reflect your loved one’s life.
6. Proofreading, Editing, and Revising the obituary
If you find editing and proofreading difficult, ask a family member or a trusted family friend to verify facts and catch misspellings.
Proofreading avoids mistakes in the obituary when it goes to printing. Review the details carefully; once the obituary is printed, it cannot be changed.
7. Things you should never mention into an obituary
Some things should never go into an obituary because this information can make you and your family vulnerable to identity theft or fraud:
- Complete date of birth
- Complete home address
- Mother’s maiden name
Not including this information is because identity thieves can be a real problem. Some unscrupulous people may try to use your loved one’s identity to access bank accounts and personal credit.
People often save a copy of obituaries as a remembrance of their loved ones, so make sure that the final copy is something worthy of a scrapbook and worthy of your loved one’s memory.
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ADDITIONAL OBITUARY QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
What is an Obituary?
An obituary is a tribute and an announcement of death published in newspapers, websites, or social media. It provides information about the time and date of visitations, memorial service or celebration of life, and the internment.
What is the average length of an obituary?
The average obituary contains 200 words. It can be as brief as 50 or longer than 400 words.
Obituary length varies by the medium you will use. A newspaper obituary is typically limited because of space. You can write longer obituary online and on social media.
What is the proper format for an obituary?
- Part 1 – Announcement of death
- Part 2 – Life Summary
- Part 3 – Biographical information
- Part 4 – Visitation, funeral or memorial service information
- Part 5 – Tribute or special messages
- Part 6 – Attach a photo
What should you not include in an obituary?
Avoid identity theft, don’t include this information:
- Complete birthday
- Mother’s maiden name
- Home address
- Cause of death
Other things you should not include:
- Negative feelings
Should you include birthdate in obituary?
DO NOT include the complete birthday in an obituary to avoid identity theft.
How do you list family in an obituary example?
Survived by (family) include the place of residence:
- Children (according to birth order, and their spouses)
- Siblings (according to birth order)
- Other relatives, such as nephews, nieces, cousins, in-laws
- Pets (if appropriate)
Who is listed first in an obituary?
The standard obituary list of survivors starts with the spouse and children (full, step, and adopted).
Who should be listed as survivors in an obituary?
The survivors’ list should also follow the same format above.
How do you separate names in an obituary?
You can use a semi-colon to separate a list that contains commas in the same sentence. This is most helpful in listing survivors.
How do you list multiple names in an obituary?
For extended family, you can write the deceased had 8 grandchildren and 18 nieces and nephews instead of writing all their names.
How do you list multiple spouses in an obituary?
You can list each spouse with their children, starting with the current spouse and ending with the first spouse and their children.
How do you list a blended family in an obituary?
The name of the deceased is survived by siblings (write all their names) half-siblings (their names) and stepsiblings (list names).
How do you list step parents in an obituary?
[Deceased name] was raised by father [name] and stepmother [name], along with mother [name] and stepfather [name].
How do you list stepchildren in an obituary?
Stepchildren should be listed according to order of birth, and their spouses.
How do you list half-siblings in an obituary?
Half-siblings should be written in the order of birth. [Name of the deceased] is survived by half-siblings list all of their names.
Who should be listed as survivors in an obituary?
The standard survivor list is the same as above.
Do you include ex-wife in obituary?
Including the ex-wife in an obituary should be the decision of the surviving family. To avoid family disagreement many families, choose to include the ex-wife as a survivor.
Do you include in laws in obituaries?
Including the in-laws in the obituary should be a family decision.
How do I put my ex daughter in law in an obituary?
Ex-in-laws can be considered a survivor in the obituary if they remained good to the family and they felt it is appropriate to include them in the obituary.
What do you call unmarried couples in obituary?
The most common practice today is to use the word “domestic partner” or “partner” to refer to unmarried couples.
What is the legal term for boyfriend?
Boyfriends or girlfriends are now commonly called “partners.”
How do you write the date of death?
You can write the date of death this way:
- Year only
- Year and month
- Year, month, and day
How do you write born and died?
“Birth” or “Death,” write the month in full.
How do you punctuate names in an obituary?
You can use a comma to separate sentence elements. For example, John A. Doe, 90, of Texas, died Sunday.
How do you punctuate family in an obituary?
Using a semicolon (;) to pause between two statements is common.
What do names in parentheses mean in obituaries?
Names in parentheses may mean a call-name, nickname, or middle name. In some cases, if the spouse’s surname or the couple is not married the partner’s surname is written inside the parentheses.
Do you put maiden name in parentheses?
Yes, always put a woman’s maiden name or the surname at birth in parentheses if you know it. If you don’t know their maiden name, you can insert the first and middle name and then follow it with an empty parenthesis ().
What does Nee mean in obituaries?
Nee – refers to a woman’s maiden name or her family surname at birth.
How do you notate your maiden name?
You can notate your maiden’s name by using “nee.” Nee refers to your surname at birth and used to give the maiden’s name of a woman. You can also use parentheses to put your maiden name. Example: Jackie Kennedy, nee Bouvier.
How do you put your maiden name and married name together?
You can put the maiden name and married name together with a hyphen. Hyphenated name last names are a merger of a woman’s maiden name and married names.
How do you write the name of a deceased person?
You can write the word “deceased” after the person’s name or refer to them as the “late Mr. of Mrs. Smith”
How do you say survived in an obituary?
Living relatives are included in the survived by section and normally accompanied by the preceded by in death section to pay tribute to important family members who are already deceased.
Why do they say survived by?
Survived by [list] means that the list pertains to the deceased’s surviving relatives.
Is or was preceded in death?
The deceased was preceded in death by (list relatives who died before the deceased)
How do you list preceded in death in an obituary?
Write the deceased first name, then preceded by death by [list of names].
How do I create an online obituary for free?
You can create a free online obituary on the funeral home website, memorial sites, or social media sites.
How do I do an obituary online?
- Look for online resources that publish obituaries, such as funeral home websites, churches, community organizations, fraternal organizations, online obituary sites, and social media.
- Inquire about these sites for their requirements
- Inquire about the cost of obituary postings
- Submit a copy of your text online
Does Google Docs have obituary template?
Yes, Google docs have an obituary template that can be edited and printed.
How do you make an obituary in Google Docs?
Many funeral program sites like https://www.funeralprogram-site.com provide obituary, memorials, and funeral program templates in Google docs you can edit and print.