Tips on Writing an Obituary

Updated August 24, 2016
writing obituary in journal
    writing obituary in journal
    Thatsaphon Saengnarongrat / EyeEm / Getty

An obituary is a notice of a person’s death in the newspaper. Writing an obituary can be a very personal moment that allows survivors to express their grief through writing, or it can be a straightforward announcement of someone’s passing and funeral services. In either case, keep reading for tips on writing an obituary that will be published in the paper.

Obituary Writing Tips

An obituary is one of the last things that will be read about a person who has died. But what should you include in an obituary – and what should you leave out? Here are some tips to get you started.

Essential Information for an Obituary

There are two audiences for an obituary: those who knew the person, and those who didn’t. The information in an obituary should make both sets of people feel like they knew the person you’re writing about. You might want to include:

  • The person's full and complete name. If the person had a nickname, place it in quotation marks as a reminder to those who called him or her that particular name.
  • Their date of birth and date of death. This commemorates the years of life lived by your family member or close friend.
  • Names of surviving family members. This can include names of the person’s spouse, siblings, and children. If the person had a large family or many grandchildren, you can list the number of relatives to save writing space.
  • The funeral arrangements. This lets family members, friends, and the community know where and when everything will be. People want to know this information because they will want to pay their last respects to the family and the dear friend they knew and loved.

If you’d like to make the obituary more personal, consider adding the following details:

  • Where he or she went to school and graduated from
  • Notable accomplishments during life, including professions, publications, discoveries, etc.
  • Passions in life, including philanthropic and charitable causes
  • Cause of death, especially if the person wished for donations to a relevant organization instead of flowers

Some newspapers will have a limited obituary word count or space amount for an obituary. Therefore, knowing what the word count or size of the space is important as to not get any of the information you are putting in the obituary left out.

console person on death in family
    console person on death in family
    SDI Productions / E+ / Getty

Information to Avoid

Unfortunately, not everyone reading your obituary is interested in the person’s life. It’s a sad reality that obituaries are common targets for identity thieves and scammers. They use details from obituaries to open new accounts, create false identities, or deceive grieving family members into giving them money.

Avoid these details to keep scammers away from your loved one’s identity:

  • Their mother’s maiden name
  • Their home address
  • Their birthplace
  • Details about charitable giving or investments
  • Overly specific details about previous jobs, education, and relationships
  • Names of pets or high school
  • Their first job or car

These are common questions asked to retrieve passwords and start accounts. If possible, close the person’s credit card accounts and notify their banks of their passing before the obituary is published. Keep in mind that many phone scammers use names and details from an obituary to convince family members to give them money, so stay alert of any strange phone calls in the weeks following the obituary’s publication.


A Genealogical Record

An obituary is often used by genealogists to capture information about a specific person. It is often easier to find an online obituary which was printed by a newspaper than it is to find the actual legal documents such as a birth or death certificate. The details included in the obituary can serve to honor the deceased today and provide information for current friends and relatives, and the details can provide a permanent record that may be of genealogical help.

Working Through the Grieving Process

The weeks after a loss can be overwhelming when it comes to estate details and planning sessions. You want to remember your loved one in the perfect way, but words don’t often come easily. For more help through the grieving process, read an article that contains both common and memorable epitaph examples.