How to Write an Obituary (2023)

An obituary is an announcement that a loved one has died. It is meant to notify others about the details of any viewing, memorial, funeral, and burial services, share information about the person's life, and serve as a long-lasting record for future generations.

Here are the steps for how to write an obituary:

  1. Gather key details about your loved one.
  2. Announce the death and include their full name, age, hometown, and date of death.
  3. Include a brief summary of their life.
  4. Mention family members who have already passed away, as well as surviving family members.
  5. Share funeral or memorial service details, including whether they are public or private events.
  6. Note where donations, if applicable, may be sent.
  7. Fact check and proofread what you've written.

This article offers ideas on how to honor a loved one in this way or even write an obituary for yourself ahead of time.

How to Write an Obituary (1)

Planning the Obituary

As you plan your loved one's obituary (or your own), first check with the funeral home or similar service that's handling end-of-life arrangements. You also may connect with clergy members who provide pastoral care in your loved one's faith tradition.

These agencies will often help people who need to write an obituary. They may have a guide for obituary writing that's part of a planning overview. They also may have an online platform where you can place a digital obituary, and invite people to share memories, images, and videos.

Some are free, so check with the service provider. With newspapers, call ahead to check on the rates. Expect a charge of $200 to $500 for a "short" obit (often up to 300 words) and up to $1,000 for a "long" one with a photo.

With these details, you'll know how to plan the length of the obituary ahead of time, or you'll be able to make adjustments that align with your loved one's and family wishes in the space that you'll have.

How to Plan a Funeral or Memorial Service

How to Write an Obituary: Step by Step

The first step of writing an obituary is collecting the information you need. You can also choose a family member or friend who will help with the process of writing an obituary.

Reach out to people who knew your loved one from teams, clubs, or faith-based and community groups so they can contribute information. Ask people they once worked alongside, too.

Select your preferred tool, whether you're writing with pen and paper or on a computer. Many people will want to use a template for an obituary that's easy to use in digital form, but you can follow this step-by-step approach on paper, too.

Basic Obituary Facts

An obituary needs to include key details about your loved one. These basic facts include:

  • The full name of the deceased
  • Their age
  • Where the deceased lived
  • Their date and place of birth
  • The date and place of death
  • The date and cause of death (which the family may wish to withhold)

You'll start with a basic announcement of the death that clearly states your loved one has passed away. Include their name, age, hometown, and date of death. You might add that the death was sudden or that it came after a long illness, and include the time and place of death.

The place can be specific or, if you prefer, you might simply say they were surrounded by family.

Summary of Life

When writing an obituary, you'll want to include a brief summary of the deceased's life. This is a way to honor them and the meaning their life held, but it also helps other people remember them.

When writing an obituary, you can be straightforward and move from one fact to another. You can be more heartfelt, or even humorous. You also may already know what your loved one wanted to include and stay faithful to their ideas.

There really is no "right way" to write an obituary. However, most obituaries will next include the person's birth information, including where they were born and the name of their parents. It's common to include their job and career information if it applies. You may want to add any educational achievements.

A detail or two about their community activities, favorite hobbies, or their faith-community membership would be included here, too. Choose the things that reflect the identity of your loved one and how their life was shared with family and friends.

Who Reads the Obituary at a Funeral?

An obituary is different from a eulogy, which is usually presented at a funeral or memorial service. An obituary is written, while eulogies are spoken when a family gathers to remember the loved one. Deciding on a speaker (or more than one) is a part of the funeral planning process.

Family Names in an Obituary

An obituary also focuses on family, both those who have also already passed away and those who have survived and will be honoring your loved one. So you'll include both living and deceased family members.

If you've included the full names of the deceased's parents earlier, you don't need to repeat them here. What you can do is describe the family members beginning with the closest relationships. The common order of family in an obituary is:

  • A spouse or partner
  • Children and the spouses or partners of the children, whose names are set off with parentheses so that it looks like Child (Partner's First Name)
  • Siblings and their partners, if preferred
  • Grandparents, aunts, uncles, step-family members, or cherished and special friends can then be listed. Be sure to write the total number of grandchildren or great-grandchildren, even if you don't list their names.

It's not unusual for people who died before your loved one to be listed separately. A "preceding them in death" paragraph can include those who have not already been mentioned.

The Right Words to Say When Someone Has Lost a Child

Funeral or Memorial Details

An obituary is meant to share details about any funeral and memorial services. If you plan to invite the public, be clear that this is the case. If your ceremony is private, be clear about that, too.

For a public memorial, simply invite "family and friends" to the service. When you write the obituary, make sure people have information that includes:

  • Time
  • Day
  • Date
  • Place
  • Location

Be sure to include any other information that may be helpful to those attending the service. That includes the name of the funeral home and any memorial website to honor your loved one's life.

Donations

It's common to ask people who might otherwise have sent flowers or a gift to make a donation instead. There's a good chance that your loved one may have already told you their wishes about donations to a charity or memorial fund.

If not, then the choice is up to the family. Just be sure to name and location of the charity or memorial fund to which donations should be sent.

Managing Mundane Tasks After a Death

Checking the Facts

Obituaries are more than a matter of public record. They can become lifelong keepsakes for the people left behind. You'll want to be sure it's right.

You can work with another family member or a friend to proofread your obituary writing and make sure all the facts are correct and that no one was missed in the family list.

Be sure that the spellings of names and places are right. That's especially important if titles like "Dr." or abbreviations like "Jr." are needed to differentiate between people.

Sometimes, the ears are better than the eyes when it comes to improving the tone of a story. So, always give it one last read aloud, so that you can "hear" the tone, the facts, and any changes you'll want to make before publishing it.

Proofreading Tip

Edit the obit first, then proofread it. Editing involves revising, reorganizing, and rewriting sentences for clarity. Proofreading is checking details like spelling and punctuation. You're bound to catch more when you focus on one task at a time.

Summary

Structuring an obituary is largely a matter of choice; no two are alike. But readers expect to learn information about the deceased, including basic facts, a life summary, list of relatives, and details about the final arrangements.

In some cases, a dying person may leave clear instructions or even write their own obituary. As family members, you'll want to be sure to honor them or designate someone to write the obituary.

Friends and loved ones can help you do so, ensuring that your loved one is remembered well and fondly. A well-crafted obituary will help the living to move forward too, and remain forever as a precious keepsake.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What should be included in an obituary?

    An obituary should be informative. Be sure to include:

    • The full name of the deceased, including nicknames
    • The age of the deceased at the time of death
    • The city or town of residence at the time of death
    • A list of immediate surviving family members
    • A brief summary of the deceased's life
    • Memorial or funeral details with the address and date
    • Details about charities or memorial funds to send a donation

    Learn More:Grief and Bereavement

  • Should the cause of death be in a obituary?

    Check with loved ones before including the cause of death. In some cases, you may prefer to keep this detail private. You can use a euphemism like "passed after a long illness" or "passed suddenly." Or you can just not mention it at all.

    Learn More:Euphemisms for Dead, Death, or Dying

  • What should be excluded from an obituary?

    Obituaries should not be written in the first person. This means you should not use "I" language. Remember that an obituary is not a personal tribute, like a sympathy card or condolence letter. You should also exclude personal addresses and phone numbers.

    Learn More:How to Write a Condolence Letter or Sympathy Note

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Beyond the Dash. How much does an obituary cost? September 20, 2021.

How to Write an Obituary (2)

By Angela Morrow, RN
Angela Morrow, RN, BSN, CHPN, is a certified hospice and palliative care nurse.

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