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An obituary is short paragraph in the form of a news article, which is generally published in a local newspaper or online and gives a summary of the person’s life who has passed away. It usually will have a photo of the person as well as service information. Although an obituary isn’t necessary, it is a good way to help notify a wider audience and celebrate the person’s life.
Summarizing and condensing a loved one’s life into a few hundred words can be difficult, especially with the added weight of honoring their legacy in writing. To help you write one, it may be beneficial to think of it more as a celebration of their life, a way of illuminating their accomplishments to share with those affected by their passing.
The following can be used as an informal obituary template. The obituary should reflect your loved one, so you should include things you think are important and don’t feel like you must include everything listed below, or exclude anything that is not listed below.
How to Write an Obituary: Step by Step
Before you begin
The obituary should be published before the funeral or memorial, especially if you will be including funeral information in the obituary. (If you would like more information on planning the funeral and the timing of different tasks, please consult our Complete Funeral Planning Checklist)
Whether the obituary will be published in a local newspaper or not will dictate its length. Before publishing, check with the publication to know their word limits, whether a photograph can be included, and what their costs are, as this may dictate the length of the obituary (prices vary but an average obituary could cost $200-$500 to publish). If space is not a concern, it can become a memorial allowing you to elaborate on the details of your loved one’s life.
Start with an announcement
The obituary should begin with important biographical information such as your loved one’s full name, the date and place of death, and their age at the time of their death. You should include where the deceased lived at the time of their death, and, if you wish, the cause of death.
Include a short summary of their life
Briefly outline the important events, qualities, and contributions of their life. You should avoid listing their mother’s maiden name or their birth date in the biography as this information may lead to identity fraud.
Describe any hobbies, passions, or personal characteristics
Take some time and think about what made your loved one happy and what was unique about them. This is the place to celebrate them and include something that will resonate with everyone who knew your loved one.
Mention close family
For those who have passed away before your loved one, use the phrase “preceded in death by,” and use “survived by” or “survived the deceased” before listing any relatives still living. In general, obituaries usually include close family members. You should include the full names of the deceased’s parents (don’t include maiden name if possible, see above), siblings, and children, as well as their spouse/partner, but only the total number of grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
Try to capture their essence and keep it lively
Avoid writing about how you feel about your loss and instead make it about their life. For example, do not use phrases such as: “with deep sorrow”, or “it is with great sadness”. The obituary should be about your loved one and not the mourners.
Provide service information
List important information about the funeral or memorial service and reception. Include the name and address (and website) of the funeral provider or funeral home and where the burial will take place, if applicable.
If the service will be private, you do not have to provide any information about the funeral service or where the service will be held.
If you would prefer monetary donations rather than flowers, include a statement that says, “In lieu of flowers…” followed by the organization or donation recipient.
There is no right or wrong way to create an obituary. The biggest constraint will be the length (and the cost) if you choose to have it published in a local paper or other publication. There are also online obituary publishers, including our own free Tribute Page creation tool for creating an online memorial for your loved one. Our Tribute Pages (click to see our sample Tribute Page) are easily shareable online and can include an obituary (of any length), pictures, and relevant service and memorial information.
For more information about our Tribute Page creator, please click here.