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How to Write an Obituary

Updated on September 14, 2014

Obituary in the Paper

Fictitious Obituary on Newspaper Scrap
Fictitious Obituary on Newspaper Scrap | Source

Examples and Templates for Writing an Obituary

For many people the obituary section or the death notices is the first one read in the morning newspaper. Benjamin Franklin noted that he read the obituary page first and "If my name is not on it, then I get up."

Writing an obituary is not a skill that most people have. The obituary may be the last words written about a person by family and friends after they die. Understandably the writers want to get this final tribute right.

In "How to Write an Obituary" you will find some of the more common questions about obituaries, writing an obituary and placing an obituary either in the newspaper on online.

In addition to examples, templates and resources to make the writing process easier you will also find information on how to write, save and share your own obituary. By writing your own, not only is it easier for family members, but you have a say in how you are remembered.

Sample Obituary created from Newspaper Scrap. The person and all information in the obituary is fictitious.

Obituary

...the first thing many people read in the news each day. May be the last word written about a person.

Ben Franklin Reads the Newspaper

Ben Franklin Reads the Newspaper
Ben Franklin Reads the Newspaper | Source

I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page.

If my name is not on it, I get up.

— Benjamin Franklin

Old Obituary

Old Obituary
Old Obituary | Source

What is an Obituary?

An obituary is a notice or announcement, especially in a newspaper, of a person's death, often with a short account of their life.

The obituary page is often the first part of the newspaper many people read each day and may be the last word written about a person's life.

Obituary information may be written by family members and friends with assistance from the attending mortuary, funeral home or crematorium.

This information is provided to the newspaper and is considered a paid advertisement or announcement.

Helping with the obituary is a service that may be included in the price paid to the mortuary, funeral home or crematorium.

A death notice which is an announcement of the death may be a legally required public notice under certain circumstances.

OBIT - Inspiring Stories

OBIT: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People who Led Extraordinary Lives
OBIT: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People who Led Extraordinary Lives

A look at the stories left behind in this collection of obits from ordinary people who lived extraordinary lives.

 

Obituary or Obtuary Notice or Death Notice

Different Newspapers may use different terms to describe obituaries, obituary notices or death notices. There are also news and feature obituaries.

Check the terms used for different types before submitting one. You may discover that what you thought was free requires a fee.

  1. Obituary

    An obituary is a brief notice of the death of a person, particularly a newspaper notice, usually includes a short biography.

  2. Obituary Notice

    One paper defined an obituary notice as "a paid listing, often provided for you by the attending mortuary."

  3. Death Notice

    A death notice is a paid listing announcing the death of someone.

  4. News Obituary

    The report of a death that is considered newsworthy because of the prominence of the individual or his or her place in the community or country.

  5. Featured Obituary

    A basic news report expanded upon with biographical information, including anecdotes, descriptions, quotes, reminiscences. Feature obits are usually limited to prominent, influential or famous people.

  6. Pre-written Obituary

    A pre-written obituary is one that the newspaper keeps on file to use in case of an unexpected death. The pre-written obituary has already been written about a person before they die.

Reading the Obituaries

Reading News Obituaries
Reading News Obituaries | Source

What is a News Obituary?

A news obituary expands on a regular obituary or death announcements. These are deaths that are determined to be "Newsworthy events," and therefore require news coverage.

The deaths of national or local public figures, prominent people and celebrities are typically featured as news obituaries.

Also included are those who made significant contributions during their lifetimes and those who have died a tragic, accidental or unusual type of death.

Newspapers judge potential news obituaries based on news value and other factors. The deaths of prominent, notable or even interesting local people may also be featured obituaries depending on the newspaper.

The News Obituary is typically a longer obituary that tells interesting stories or anecdote of the person who has died. It is generally written by a journalist or staff member (usually assigned to obituaries) at the publishing newspaper.

The Portable Obituary: How the Famous, Rich, and Powerful Really Died

The Portable Obituary: How the Famous, Rich, and Powerful Really Died
The Portable Obituary: How the Famous, Rich, and Powerful Really Died

Michael Largo compiled a fascinating, off-beat, and darkly humorous necrology that provides the grim, often outrageous details about the passing of influential persons.

 

Your Death May Not Be Newsworthy Enough

You may write many memorable pieces for the New York Times, create buzz for one of their sections and create good will for the paper everywhere. But don't get too secure...

The fact is, if you die too young, the paper of record will simply ignore you.

Roger Friedman

Sometimes we discover that a death is determined not to be 'newsworthy enough' to be a news obituary. This happended at the end of July 2008 when Monique Yazigi, lost her battle with breast cancer at the age 45.

Despite having written many memorable stories, mostly for the Styles' section of the New York Times, the Times publishers decided her death was simply not worth mentioning.

Eventually Yazigi's friend James Markarian wrote a check and paid $5,000 private obit that ran on Wednesday in the New York Times.

Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries

Fade To Black: A Book Of Movie Obituaries
Fade To Black: A Book Of Movie Obituaries

In this book Paul Donnelley chronicles the lives and deaths of more than 1,200 movie personalities. He includes a wealth of important characters from the history of film, not just the big stars.

 

Start the Morning Reading the Obituaries

Start the Morning Reading the Obituaries
Start the Morning Reading the Obituaries | Source

Like everyone else who makes the mistake of getting older,

I begin each day with coffee and obituaries.

— Bill Cosby

Things to Consider before Placing an Obituary

There are several things family members may want to to consider before deciding to place an obituary or death notice.

  1. Not everyone who dies has a notice placed in the newspaper.
  2. Some newspapers have limited space so do not publish every obituary submitted.
  3. The obituaries that are chosen to be publish are often the ones with the greatest public interest.
  4. Some newspapers publish obituaries or death notices for free.
  5. Some newspapers require a significant fee to publish an obituary or death notice.


Writing the Check

Signing the Check
Signing the Check | Source

Did you know an Obituary can require a Fee?

It is important for people to realize that many newspapers and most larger papers regard the obituary notice is a paid listing.

Death Notices and Obituary Notices are viewed as advertisements so they are handled by the Classified Advertising Department and require payment to run a "Death Ad."

Many of larger newspapers charge to publish an obituary or death notice, unless the death is judged as "newsworthy." These newsworthy obituaries are written by staff writers. Only those notices with the broadest community interest are published.

Newspapers in smaller towns may publish the obituary as a courtesy to locals, or those who spent significant amounts of time in the town.

For smaller papers, the deaths of local citizens may be quite newsworthy events and will run the obituaries for as a news story for free.

Obituary Wordle

Obituary Wordle
Obituary Wordle | Source

Fee or Free Obituaries

When getting ready to submit an obituary to the newspaper, be sure to check to see how that particular newspaper publishes their obituaries.

Some are published for free but many others require a fee.

Free Obituary Publication

  • Some papers run a limited number of lines or a brief announcement for free.
  • Some papers (usually smaller or local ones) publish a longer obituary for free.
  • Most papers will publish newsworthy obituaries (deaths of public figures, prominent locals and celebrities) for free.

Fee Obituary Publications

  • Larger papers publish Obituary/Death Notices for a fee.
  • Mortuaries or families write and submit the obituary to the paper.
  • Many larger papers also offer Online-only Death Notices for a fee.

An obituary should be an exercise in contemporary history, not a funeral oration.

— Peter Utley

What do I include when I write an Obituary?

When writing an obituary many newspapers often requires that a certain format is used to keep a consistent style for the obituaries.

The following list are the more common elements included in an obituary.

  1. Announcement

    This section includes the date, location and may include the cause of death.

    If you do not want the cause of death listed please be certain to note this.

  2. Biographical Information

    This section includes a bit about the person's life, their accomplishments, education, honors, hobbies, etc.

  3. Survivor Information

    This section includes the family. List the spouse, children, grandchildren, in-laws, other close relatives and if wished close friends.

  4. Scheduled Ceremonies and Gatherings of Remembrance

    This section includes the time and location of any viewings, funeral services, memorial services, scatterings or inurnments; or any other gathering.

  5. Contributions or Flowers

    This section includes where flowers can be sent or if the family requests that contributions be made to a meaningful organization instead of sending flowers or in lieu of flowers.

  6. Arrangements

    This section includes the day, the time, directions, or any other needed information for scheduled ceremonies and gatherings or contribution information to florists or friends. Providing information can help to ease the burden of phone calls to the family.

Source: Guide to Writing an Obituary. Cremation.com

How to Write an Obituary - Video

Losing a loved one is very painful, and though writing about their life can be an arduous task, it can also be a therapeutic and wonderful way to honor your loved one from Howcast.

What Information do I need for the Obituary?

The information needed for publishing an obituary or a death notice varies depending on the type of notice and the requirements of the newspaper.

How much information is needed depends on whether you are going to publish a short obituary notice or a more lengthy (paid) death notice.

Basic Information Needed for to Write an Obituary

The following items are required in all obituaries:

  • Name, age, occupation and city of deceased.
  • Time and place of death. Some include cause of death.
  • Birthdate and birthplace.
  • Survivors. Survivors listed depend on the age of the person who had died. Survivors may include:
    • Spouse
    • Children
    • Grandchildren
    • Siblings
    • Parents
    • Other close relatives
  • Memberships in local or national organizations
  • Military service.
  • Funeral, Memorial and Burial arrangements.

Additional Information Needed for a Longer Obituary or Death Notice

Many obituaries or longer paid death notices may also include:

  • Education.
  • Occupation and work or employment history.
  • Outstanding achievements, publications and/or awards
  • Offices held in government, professional or community organizations.
  • Memberships in fraternal, religious, community or civic organizations.
  • Service in armed forces.
  • Interesting hobbies or activities.
  • Anecdotes and recollections of friends and relatives.

Before submitting your obituary to the paper, be sure to check and see what the newspaper charges to prevent discovering you have a hefty bill.

This Is My "Will": How To Write Obiographical Sketches (Your Own Obituaries)

This Is My "Will": - How To Write Obiographical Sketches (Your Own Obituaries)
This Is My "Will": - How To Write Obiographical Sketches (Your Own Obituaries)

This Is My "Will" - How To Write Obiographical Sketches (Your Own Obituaries) is a handbook to help families and churches write creative obituaries for burial programs.

The handbook is intended to give you operational tools to use before an emergency to get your loved one to help write their own obituary.

 

The Obituary Checklist

Here is a common list of elements that are included when writing an Obituary from How to Write an Obituary: Style and Usage Guide to Writing Obituaries, Post News Obituaries.

  1. First Name, Middle Initial, Last Name
  2. Age
  3. City, State, Zip
  4. Cause of Death
  5. Place of Death (may specify hospital or nursing home, or may simply say name of city)
  6. Date of Death
  7. Eulogy Comments (can be used throughout the obituaries, may include loving comments such as "beloved husband of" or "dedicated volunteer", or whatever description deemed appropriate)
  8. Occupation (list job title or function, name of company and number of years employed at that company. May list more than one occupation if applicable)
  9. Community Involvement
  10. Hobbies (list clubs, memberships, volunteer work, other noteworthy accomplishments, etc)
  11. Military Service (dates and branch of service and years served)
  12. Marriage (list spouse's name, date of marriage. May also say the maiden name and state of origin. If spouse deceased, say s/he was preceded in death by...)
  13. Other Survivors (list in order by the name and city: parents, children, grandchildren, step-children, brothers and sisters, cousins)
  14. Religious Affiliation
  15. Place and Time of Service (name of funeral home, viewing hours, time of funeral)
  16. Pallbearers and Honorary Pallbearers (verify spellings)
  17. Contributions and Other Memorials

Obituaries of the Finest Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen

The Times Great Military Lives: Leadership and Courage-in Obituaries (Times (Times Books))
The Times Great Military Lives: Leadership and Courage-in Obituaries (Times (Times Books))

Collected here are the obituaries of some of recent history’s finest military leaders—among them Napoleon, Montgomery, Patton, and MacArthur—each reproduced in facsimile of its first printing.

Together these lives tell stories of grand strategy, tactical boldness, courage and ingenuity under fire, and an enduring commitment to selfless service.

 

I read the obituaries everyday

to remind myself of my own mortality.

"Man" Reads the Obituary

"Man" Reads the Obituary
"Man" Reads the Obituary | Source

Obituary Samples

What does a sample Obituary look like?

This is a sample obituary. (All of the names, places are fictional.)

Martha Miller, 87 of Hillsdale, NV died on August 27, 2011 after a lengthy illness.
She was born April 12, 1924 in Spring Gap, MO to Harold and Marie Harrison. Martha graduated from Spring Gap High School and went on to attain a Masters Degree in Chemistry from Albert Einstein University. She married Steven Miller in 1948.
Martha was one of the first female chemists to work for the Benzene Corporation. She was a dedicated employee, devoted wife and mother.
Martha was survived by her sister Margaret and her brother Michael; her children Sarah and Stephanie; their spouses Nathan and Oliver; 6 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren. She is preceded in death by her husband of 55 years Steven and her parents.
A Memorial Service will be held on September 10, 2011 at 2:00 p.m. at the Hillsdale Community Hall.
The family would like to thank Hospice of the Hills for their excellent care.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Hospice of the Hills or to Meals on Wheels.

Parts of a Sample Obituary

You can use the template below to start writing an obituary. Just fill in the sections, adding in the information in the quotes and all capitalized word spots. Be sure to removed the headings for the different parts, which are included to help organize the obituary.

Part 1 - Announcement

"NAME," "AGE," of "RESIDENCE," died (or passed away, went to heaven) on "DATE." (Note: listing the cause of death is optional).

Part 2 - Biographical information

"HE or SHE" was born (Include the "PLACE, DATE OF BIRTH to PARENTS"). "NAME" graduated from "SCHOOL" and received "DEGREE or DEGREES" from "SCHOOL or SCHOOLS." "HE or SHE" was married to "SPOUSE'S NAME" (Note: listing the wedding date is optional).

"ADDITIONAL OPTIONAL BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION INSERTED HERE." (Include employment history, military service, accomplishments, organizations, church affiliations, activities, hobbies and anything of importance)

Part 3 - Survivor Information

"HE or SHE" was survived by "CHILDREN, GRANDCHILDREN, OTHER IMPORTANT FAMILY MEMBERS." (Note: Be sure to separate each of the entries with a semicolon to keep things clear.)

Part 4 - Scheduled Ceremonies

Funeral Services (or Memorial Service, or Celebration of Life Service) will be held "TIME," "DATE" and "PLACE." (Note: If there is a viewing, internment or other pre or post funeral activity/activities, include that information.)

Part 5 - Contributions and Acknowledgments

The family suggests that memorials may be given to "LOCATION or NAME OF ORGANIZATION TO SEND THE MEMORIAL."

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that donations be made to "LOCATION or NAME OF ORGANIZATION TO SEND THE MEMORIAL."

The family of "NAME" would like to thank "HOSPITAL, DOCTORS, NURSES, HOSPICE, CHURCH" (Included whomever might have been involved).

For more help on writing an obituary see "How to Write an Obituary."

A Guide to Writing an Obituary

How to Write an Obituary: A Step-by-Step Guide
How to Write an Obituary: A Step-by-Step Guide

A helpful guide from Christina Newberry on how to write an obituary.

 

Get Help Placing on Obituary from Legacy.com

Legacy.com is the leading provider of online obituaries for the newspaper industry. They can also help in getting a Newspaper obituary placed throughout the United States.

How to Write Obiographical Sketches

This Is My "Will": - How To Write Obiographical Sketches (Your Own Obituaries)
This Is My "Will": - How To Write Obiographical Sketches (Your Own Obituaries)

More help in writing obiographical sketches for your own obituary

 

ObitNow.com - Write Your Own Obituary

ObitNow.com is a great resource. The website provides everyone a readily accessible, easy-to-use location to record last wishes, create meaningful epitaphs, and to write an obituary which features those accomplishments which YOU want others to know.

Creating My Obituary

Our Journey Is Our Work: Creating My Obituary
Our Journey Is Our Work: Creating My Obituary

This guide will help you write your own obituary.

 

The report of my death was an exaggeration.

(After reading his own obituary, June 2 1897)

— Mark Twain

What is a Pre-written News Obituary?

The Associated Press has admitted that they already have a pre-written obituary ready to go if anything were to happen to Britney Spears.

Many newspaper affiliates, such as the Associated Press, have pre-written or pre-taped obituaries on file for public figures, famous and high-profile people who are still alive.

These obituaries can be quickly updated for publication when the well-known person dies.

In general these pre-written or pre-taped obituaries are for the ill or elderly, but not always.

Some notable younger people like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan have had their obituaries written. I wouldn't be surprised if there isn't one for Charlie Sheen

With the more recent unexpected deaths of young celebrities and public figures like Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, Natasha Richardson, Tim Russert, Brittany Murphy, Health Ledger and Anna Nicole Smith, newspapers publishers are trying to decide who's pre-written obituaries they need to keep on file.

The AP has about 1,000 prepared obituaries in its files on a wide variety of public figures although most are on people over 70.

Books on Obituaries Available on Amazon

Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers
Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers

A helpful guide for journalists and anyone else who needs to write an obituary.

 

What is an Online Obituary or Memorial?

Online Obituaries and Virtual Memorials allow family and friends to post their condolences and share their grief online 24 hours a day 7 days a week. These are rapidly becoming popular options for families with members scattered around the country as a way of creating a space where everyone can remember their loved one who has died and can mourn online together.

Websites known as "virtual cemeteries" or "virtual memorial sites" provide space for photographs and biographical information about the dead. Visitors have opportunities to sign the guest book, even leave virtual flowers.

Reading the Obituaries Online

Reading the Obituaries Online
Reading the Obituaries Online | Source

Publish an Online Obituary or Virtual Memorial

There are many different options for publishing online obituaries or memorials. Some are offered by newspapers in conjunction with the printed newspaper obituaries or as an additional Online-only obituary option. Other options are offered by various companies.

Some companies and websites offer basic obituary publishing for free. Most Online Obituaries or Virtual Memorials require a fee to publish, however the fees for online obituaries are often significantly less and provide a virtual obituary for a much longer time period than publishing a newspaper obituary.

The Online and Virtual Memorials are a more cost effective option. Search for Online or Virtual Memorials and find one that you like.

Online Obituary/Virtual Memorial Options

The offerings of Online Obituaries or Virtual Memorials and the costs for services vary depending on the company.

Many Online Obituaries or Virtual Memorials generally include:

  1. A place online where family, friends guests can visit and pay their respects 24/7.
  2. A certain number of words of text.
  3. A place for photos or photo gallery.
  4. A Guest Book or condolence book for visitors to submit their condolences, poems, images. (Entries may be screened for appropriate content before posting.)
  5. Links to funeral homes and florists.
  6. Ability to "send" virtual condolence flowers.
  7. Available for one year or longer depending on the fee chosen or the online service chosen.
  8. Option for visitors to sponsor (pay to host) a Guest book for a particular period of time.

Obituaries in American Culture

Obituaries in American Culture
Obituaries in American Culture

Janice Hume explores American culture and what we value at any given time by viewing a collection of obituaries.

 

Live so that when the final summons comes you will leave something more behind you than an epitaph on a tombstone or an obituary in a newspaper.

— William A. Sunday

Copyright Information


Creative Commons License © 2006-2014 Kirsti A. Dyer MD, MS, FT. Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

The material in this resource book may be copied and reproduced on websites or in newsletters, ezines provided that the Author's Biography information is included with any article.

Longer excerpts from this online resource book may not be copied, duplicated or reproduced for use in a for-profit setting without prior written permission by the author.

Have you had to write an Obituary?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

© 2008 Kirsti A. Dyer

Comments on How to Write an Obituary

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    • LeonRusselman profile image

      LeonRusselman 4 years ago

      Thank you for the most thorough lens on the topic. I personally am not a big fan of the very long flowery pieces written and submitted about some people. I prefer the more short and to-the-point variety (just stick to the facts, Ma'am). I suspect the remainder (the flowery fluff portion) is not of much interest to anyone other than those who pieced it together. I may be mistaken.

      Nice work, though -on your part. Thank you.

      Leon

    • VarietyWriter2 profile image

      VarietyWriter2 7 years ago

      Blessed by a SquidAngel :)

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 8 years ago

      This reminds me of my early journalism classes. Obituaries were always our first assignments. I'll keep this handy as a reference. Squid Angel Blessings.

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