In this article:

Have you been asked to write an obituary? If you’re not sure where to start, don’t worry. We’ve put together this guide to give you an idea of what to include and how to write a fitting tribute to your loved one.

What is an obituary?

An obituary is a short article that announces the death of someone who’s just passed away. It usually includes details about their life and personality. It also has details about the time and place of their funeral or memorial service.

Obituaries are typically published in local newspapers – family members may want to share the news with their community just in case they haven’t reached everyone who’d like to pay their respects. But lots of people also choose to create online obituaries too. These can be put on social media so that it can be shared with family and friends even if they live miles away.

What’s the difference between a death notice and an obituary?

A death notice is usually shorter than an obituary. It will simply announce a person’s death and only include their name, age, and date of birth and death. But an obituary includes more detail about their life, their personality and how they affected the people around them. It’s an opportunity to not only announce the person’s death but to celebrate their achievements too.

Who writes the obituary?

An obituary shares personal details about a person’s life so usually a close family member or friend will write it. If you’re finding it difficult to write an obituary ask other family members for help. They might have a memory of the person they’d like to include. And they can check it for any spelling errors too. Don’t forget to ask your funeral director for advice too – they’ll be able to tell you what your local newspaper expects.

What to put in an obituary

Writing an obituary might be unfamiliar. So don’t worry if you’re not sure where to start. Here’s a guide of what’s often found in an obituary to make writing one a little easier.

1. Announce the death of the person.

Include the person’s:

  • Full name
  • Their age
  • Where they were born/where they lived
  • Date of birth
  • Date of death

Some people might include how the person passed away. But you don’t have to if you don’t feel comfortable doing this.


2. Write about their life.

What did the person do? What were their interests? What were they known for? Share what was unique about them. This is your opportunity to share details about your loved one’s life and what made them special.


3. Talk about their close family.

List the people that meant the most to the person who passed away. Traditionally this is their immediate family (partner, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren). But if they had other family members or friends they were particularly close to, you might want to mention them too.

How do you list family members in an obituary? There are no strict rules about how to list family members in an obituary. But traditionally you’ll see the phrase “survived by” used to list family members who are left behind.

Here’s an example:

John is survived by his partner, Anna, 56, and his son James 23. 

But keep in mind that there’s no right or wrong way to do this. List the family and friends that were closest to the person. And do it in the way that feels most appropriate to you.


4. Share details about the funeral service

Include the following details:

  • Where will it be held?
  • What date is it?
  • What time will it start?
  • Any other important info such as dress code and where to park.

You don’t have to include details about the funeral service if you’d prefer to have a small service just for close family and friends. But many people include these details just in case they haven’t been able to reach all their loved one’s friends or people they may have worked with in the past. It gives them an opportunity to say goodbye if they’d like to.


5. Add a photo

Depending on what you can include in your local newspaper you may be able to add a photo of your loved one. Pick a clear headshot of them. And make sure you check other family members are happy with it before sending it to the newspaper with the obituary.

How to write an obituary

Now you have an idea of what to put in an obituary here are some tips on how to write one for your loved one.

  • Speak to the newspaper about what to include. They may have specific spaces for obituaries. And some may include photos. Some might not. You may also have to work to a word count. Or if you want a longer obituary then you may have to pay more for the space. Having all this info upfront will help you know exactly what you’ll need to put together.
  • List everything you’d like to put in the obituary. This can just be ideas to start with. Just jot it down on a piece of paper. It’ll help you make a start. And it’ll give you a clear idea of everything that needs to go into the obituary before you draft it.
  • Find some obituary examples online. Search “obituary examples” in your browser. You’ll find lots of different templates and examples which might help you. You’ll find traditional obituaries. And uplifting obituaries that include jokes or poems. There are a lot of examples out there to give you an idea of how to personalise the obituary you’re writing.
  • Personalise it. Don’t forget to adapt the message in the obituary so it’s unique to the person who passed away. You can add a quote or poem dedicated to them. Or you can tell a story about a specific event in their life. It’s up to you how you personalise it.
  • Ask for help. Other family members and friends may want to contribute to the obituary. This will help you come up with ideas. But also lean on them for help when it comes to checking the obituary for any mistakes or spelling errors.

Do you have to write an obituary?

No, you don’t have to write an obituary. But it’s a good way of letting people know that someone has died. If getting an obituary published in a newspaper doesn’t feel right consider writing a short online obituary instead. This could be on a social media account or it could be part of an online memorial you’ve made.

Need more help writing an obituary?

If writing an obituary is still overwhelming don’t be afraid to ask for help from a funeral director. They’ll be able to help you put an article together that’s fitting for your loved one.

Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.