A Comprehensive Guide to Writing an Obituary in 2021

Guide to Writing an Obituary

A death in the family is a somber affair. Losing a loved one is never easy, and often people find it challenging to come to terms with it. The process of grieving is long and somewhat confusing but one that becomes relatively easier with the support of friends and family. This is when writing an obituary helps. An obituary not only notifies friends and extended family about the demise of their loved one but also provides all the details regarding the wake, the final rites. It invites people to come and pay their respects to the dead and support the family through this difficult time.

Writing an obituary for a loved one gives us a coping mechanism. We can recognize their passing, commemorate their life no matter if it was lived long or cut short, share eventful instances, and express the sadness of our misfortune. An obituary acknowledges their demise and honors their life.

Writing an obituary can be disheartening for the person-in-charge of writing it, especially if that person was close to the person who passed away. It is important to write a meaningful obituary that is eloquent, well thought out, and easy to go through. But fret not, for this article aims at providing a detailed and step-by-step guide on writing an obituary. Read on to find out what to include in an obituary, how to write it, along with an example of what a well-written and meaningful obituary will look like.

What is an Obituary?

What is an Obituary?
What is an Obituary?

An obituary is a declaration printed out in newspapers or issued on social media on the occasion of a person’s demise. It acts as an announcement of death and mentions particulars about the date and the time of the memorial service, visitations, and the funeral.

An obituary is much more than a basic declaration of demise, though. In the space of a few words, we try to celebrate a cherished one’s life by talking about the life they lived. It offers tribute to them, and through this tribute, they live on for eternity.

One may do it in various ways by sharing noteworthy instances from their lives, talking about their dreams and desires, interests, hobbies, achievements, etc. In short, we should try to give a summary of their life. A well-written obituary commemorates a person’s life and legacy. This article will provide you with an idea about how to write an obituary for your mother, father, siblings, spouse, or any other loved one.

Writing an obituary: A Step by Step Guide

Writing an obituary: A Step by Step Guide
Writing an obituary: A Step by Step Guide


Before beginning to write an obituary, you need to understand how important it is to compose a meaningful obituary. Not only is this obituary meant to inform friends and acquaintances of the deceased of their demise, but it will also be a document everyone will remember them by. Some funeral homes offer to compose an obituary for the deceased, as it is a part of their package. In that case, you just need to give them the details of what you want the obituary to include and how to write it. These people are professionals and will compose a suitable obituary based on your preference. If the funeral home of your choice doesn’t provide this service, or if you prefer to write it down by yourself but do not know where to start, here are a few directions to help you give an idea about what to include in an obituary: 

1. Collecting all the information:

The first step is to note down all the necessary information we need to include in the obituary. This includes personal information of the deceased, information about the family, along with the details of the wake and funeral. It gives us an idea about what we want to include and guarantees that we do not miss any critical information. It will make it easier for us to write the obituary.

  Necessary details we need to include are:

· Full name

· Date of birth

· Date and time of death

· Spouse or partner’s name, if any

· Children’s name, if any (grandchildren’s name, if any)

· City of residence

· Organization affiliation (job), if any

· Honors and awards received if any

· Interests and hobbies

· Address of the Funeral home

· Day(s) and time of visitation

· Date, time, and address of Memorial service

· Date, time, and address of the Funeral Service

2. Gathering details about posting the obituary in the newspaper:

The next step is to find out about the process of submitting the obituary in the newspaper. Before you compose an obituary, check in your regional newspapers (or national dailies, based on how many people you need to inform) for any print-related queries concerning the obituary’s length and the amount it will cost. This will affect the size of your obituary. Make sure you know about the line rate before you start composing.

The easiest way is to contact the newspaper office over the phone or by e-mailing them. Some newspaper agencies provide this information on their websites. These newspapers accept obituaries through their web portals or by e-mails. Check their website for the prerequisites and the format you should follow. Go through the obituaries in the paper in which you need your obituary to be printed. Pay attention to the layout to tailor your composition more readily, so you don’t make your obituary excessively long or excessively short.

If you’re inquiring about this over a phone conversation or via e-mail, here’s a list of inquiries you need to make:

· What amount do they charge? By and large, newspapers charge per inch, so think about the word count, font style, and font size, along with the width of your piece. Ask about the number of characters contained in an inch. Furthermore, ask the amount they charge for a photograph and if they require the picture in a specific size. Ask if they do colored prints for obituaries and how much they cost compared to black and white prints.

· Find out about the deadline to submit the obituary to the newspaper. You need to send it in before the deadline, so it gets printed. Usually, 5:30 pm is the print deadline for most newspapers. You may get it printed even if you send it in after the deadline. However, if you submit it late, keep the content short because the editor-in-chief might not have a lot of time left to proofread it.

· Inquire as to whether they can oblige you on the date you need it published. Compose it and send in the obituary to the newspaper as quickly as possible, so everyone who needs to know is informed about the demise, time and place of the memorial service, and the funeral to pay their condolences.

· Call the paper on the off chance that it has a cross country flow. If the person who passed away is somewhat well-known across a bigger region or has friends in numerous other cities, contact the newspaper to ensure it has a nationwide circulation, or contact other newspaper agencies from related cities to get the obituary printed on them in time. Another way to ensure that a large number of people get the necessary information is to seek permission to publish the obituary from a national daily.

3. Working on a Format:

Before writing an obituary, it is essential to have a format in mind. A simple method to build this format is to prepare guide questions about the deceased. Some of these guide questions are as follows:

· How would you describe your loved one’s personality?

· What were his proudest accomplishments?

· What were his hobbies and special interests?

· What are the unique personality traits of your loved one?

· How would he like to be remembered?

This is all you need to know before writing a good obituary. Let us move on to find out how to write an obituary through an example.


You can compose two versions of the eulogies: the abridged version for the newspaper based on the line rate and a more extended, more detailed version of the same for online forums like the funeral service website, your social media accounts, or other in memoriam websites. The shorter one should ideally just contain the announcement of death and the funeral and memorial service information. The longer one can hold a summary of the life they have lived: their achievements, their hopes and aspirations, likes and interests, etc. One can also include personalized messages from the loved ones of the deceased. Use third-person narration and first-person narration as the obituary is about the deceased and not about the family members.

These are steps you need to follow while writing obituaries:

1. Announcing the Death:

This is where the information you collected in the step above will be of help. In the opening sentence, start the obituary by mentioning the full name of your loved one. Mention the fundamentals about the deceased, which include their complete name (first, middle, and last name) along with prefixes like Mr. or Mrs. and suffixes like Jr., Sr., III, etc. Also, mention their pet names, if they had any. The inclusion of pet names gives a more personal touch. Next, mention their age, along with the time and the place of death. Keep the initial sentence brief and precise.

An example:

On the night of January 21, 2021, at about 9:20 pm, Mrs. Natalie Johnson of Dallas, Texas, passed away in her sleep at the ripe age of 87 years.

The use of “died” should be avoided as it might appear to be too blunt or in poor taste. Instead, you can go with the expression “passed away” or “departed”. You can also use “went with the Lord” or “left for a heavenly abode” if they were religious. Use whatever you think the deceased would’ve wanted.

Mentioning the cause of death is not mandatory. You don’t have to include it if you prefer not to, yet mentioning it in the opening paragraph can serve a few purposes. The cause of death is something everyone is curious about. Also, it might save you from offering repeated explanations about the cause of death over and over again to friends and grievers.

2. A short summary of their life:

            In the next paragraph, include a summary of their life. An obituary isn’t a memoir. However, you can mention the significant occasions in their lives. Use the note you made (as was advised in one of the steps before) of the important experiences in your loved one’s life so you can access the various events and make choices about what to include. You can do a chronological rundown of life events, e.g., mention their birth, followed by school achievements, successful endeavors in their careers, marriage, the birth of a child, etc. Otherwise, you can list them by significance by choosing to mention what they were most proud of, like being a loving father or being a punctual worker. Remember to not make it too long for the newspaper, as you will get all the space you need when you post it online.

Include a few important achievements, contributions, and acknowledgments, but pick carefully. It would be best to have a clear idea about what you want to include and what you do not. Make an outline, especially if the deceased is associated with numerous social organizations, multiple workplaces, and a variety of hobbies and interests.

Remember that this is one of those instances where less is more, so do not write a lot, or people will indeed skim through it and probably miss reading the highlights. Use few words to make the obituary precise yet impactful by mentioning only the most important events.

For example (cont.):

Natalie’s parents are Craig Johnson and Sarah Johnson. She came into this world in 1934. She graduated top of her class in 1956 from UT Austin in computer engineering and started work at Bell Textron right after college. Eventually, she dropped out to start a Software Solutions company with her father and brother Neil Johnson, both software engineers, and worked there for a long time. In 1960, she got married to her high school sweetheart John Cyrus, and they brought up three kids, Noelle, Monica, and Angela.

Likewise, you can incorporate a few lines about personal interests and hobbies. Mentioning these details will reflect their character, so readers will see how they lived their life.

For example (cont.):

In her spare time, Natalie loved to paint. When she wasn’t busy with work, she used to go to the orphanages and paint with young kids. She was well-known for her focus on women’s rights and education for the underprivileged.

Remember these crucial pointers as well:

· Try not to list specific details like the deceased’s mother’s maiden name or their birthday in the obituary to avoid fraud and identity thefts. Some deceitful individuals may attempt to use your loved one’s identity to access individual credit and bank accounts. Millions of people suffer every year because of this.

· An obituary isn’t a legal document so that you can mention their step-parents as their parents, and you don’t have to specify divorce if they were separated from their spouse. Most prefer not to.

3. Mentioning Family Information:

Include information about the predeceased members and the surviving members in the next paragraph. It is common to mention family members who now survive the deceased. Use “survived by” to list all relatives still living. For family members who died before them, use the term “preceded in death by” to list the relatives who are now dead. An appropriate format to list the survivors in an obituary is as follows:

· Parents

· Partner/Spouse

· Children (with their partners’ names noted in brackets, if any)

· Adopted children

· Stepchildren

· Siblings and half/step-siblings

· Grandchildren

· Surviving in-laws

Only include the immediate family by name. For the extended family, you can just use a number to point out how many. Make use of the list you made before the remaining family members to ensure you did not miss anybody. It can be hurtful for someone if we accidentally forget to mention their names.

Mention family members by their first names, their spouses’ first name in brackets, followed by their surnames. If the couple is unmarried, include the partner’s first name and surname, both in brackets. Consider people most important to the deceased like uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins, and dearest friends. Even if they are not related by blood, like adopted children, step-siblings, or friends, you must include them because they were important to the deceased. Nowadays, obituaries mention life-long acquaintances and even pets.

4. Information Regarding Funeral and Memorial Service:

If the memorial service and the funeral are public affairs, you can give the necessary details. If you are conducting a public ceremony, including the time, date, and funeral home location. Make sure to be specific about the details so people who were close to the deceased will know where to come or send flowers.

For example (cont.):

A public service will be held at 11:00 am on January 29, 2021, at St. Thomas Community Church.

If it is a private service, do not provide funeral or memorial information. You can mention that it is a private service and ask people to send flowers and visit your family at your house or the graveyard instead. Other information to include:

· Time, date, and place of the visitation

· Time, date, and location of memorial service with the name of the deceased person

· Time, date, and place of the funeral

5. Including Personalized Messages:

Towards the end of the obituary, you can include a request for donations towards a particular cause that was important to the deceased. You can mention organizations or charities that your loved one was attached to. This will help carry their legacy forward, and through this donation, the deceased can continue doing good, even in death.

You can also include a special message for the deceased, like a lovely poem, lyrics to their favorite song, or just a few lines about how they lived an incredible life and that their death is a loss to this world. Make sure you save this for the longer piece, as you cannot include this in the newspaper due to space constraints.

6. Attaching a Picture:

A photograph distinguishes the deceased and permits readers to identify your loved one from the other obituaries. Pick a picture that reflects your loved one’s nature. An image where they’re doing something they like or where they look happy works best. In case you’re struggling to choose one photograph for the newspaper, remember that you will have the option to include more pictures and even video recordings on the online version of the obituary.

This concludes the “while writing an obituary” section. Finally, we move on to the final section to discuss what steps to follow after writing an obituary.


1. Revising the Obituary:

After you finish writing an obituary, read it aloud so you can spot errors, if any. Go over your rough draft to make sure there aren’t any mistakes in the spelling or grammar. Read the obituary thoroughly to catch a few sentences that are inaccurately phrased. Check and review your errors. Once you are happy with your copy, make a family member read it to spot the mistakes you accidentally overlooked. They can also tell you if you missed to include any data. It is always better to get an alternate point of view. Let them read through and inquire whether there is anything they would like to add or want to omit. Please take a note of their recommendations and use them as the revised edit copy of the obituary.

If you find it difficult to alter and edit your obituary as you’re a close family member of the deceased, and are thus lacking objectivity, ask a relative or a close family friend to fact check and point out incorrect details. Editing helps avoid errors in your obituary piece and lends the objectivity it requires before it goes to printing. Make sure to thoroughly and cautiously review the obituary since you cannot alter it once you print the obituary. Try to make it precise if this is the version you have to post in the newspaper. You’ll get all the space you need when you post it online.

Compare your copy with the printed obituaries in the paper. Check the most recent obituaries published in the newspaper you want to submit to. Check their format and modify the copy you’ve composed accordingly.

2. Submitting the Obituary:

The final step is to send in the obituary to the newspaper(s) of your choice. Just make sure you’re aware of the format used in that newspaper. Please make sure you send it in before the deadline. Make sure you send in the obituary 2-3 days before the memorial service so people can make the necessary arrangements to be at the memorial service. Keep in touch with the newspaper agency so they can inform you if your obituary needs any changes.


People make sure that they save a copy of obituaries as a piece to remember their dear ones by. We should ensure that the final copy is a commendable thing worthy of a scrapbook and honors your loved one’s memory. This is the only thing people will remember them by for years to come. So you need to make sure it’s meaningful to the deceased and their loved ones.

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