How to write an obituary

If you have been asked to write an obituary for a family member or close friend, this step-by-step guide explains how to write an obituary and the details you’ll need to include about your loved one.  

What is an obituary?

An obituary is a short news article, or notice, that announces the death of a loved one. It usually includes a brief overview of their life – think of it as a mini biography – and the details of their memorial or funeral service. Obituaries are traditionally found in local papers but an online obituary, particularly on social media platforms like Facebook, have become more popular. Obituaries are not a legal requirement but they can be a good way to share the news with lots of people.

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

A death notice will typically include key facts such as name, age, date of birth and date of death. In contrast, an obituary will have these facts plus more details about the person’s life and achievements.

How soon after the death should an obituary be published?

There is no set time but most people will try and publish the obituary within a week of their loved one’s death, especially if it’s going to include details about the funeral or memorial service. This applies for both print and digital obituaries.

Who writes an obituary?

An obituary is very personal and includes details about your loved one’s death and their life. For that reason they are usually written by a family member or close friend.

Does the funeral home help with the obituary?

Your chosen funeral home or Funeral Director should be able to offer you advice when it comes to writing the obituary for your loved one.

How to write an obituary

  • Check if there is a word limit – some newspapers charge per word so it’s worth checking before you start writing. If you plan to publish the obituary on social media, such as Facebook, then word limit isn’t an issue. Read our guide to announcing a death on social media.
  • Read other obituaries for inspiration – you can find helpful sample obituaries online.
  • Write down the key facts – this is to give you a starting point and will help you think about what you want to include.
  • Make it personal – the best obituaries will capture the personality of the person who has passed. To help inspire you, ask yourself questions like: How would you describe their personality? What are some of your favourite memories of them? What were they most proud of? What were their hobbies and interests? How would they want to be remembered?
  • Take your time – an obituary represents your loved one so try not to rush it, this is when you’re most likely to make mistakes.
  • Be respectful – use your own judgement about what sounds right, but remember it doesn’t have to be traditional and serious. You can use humour or a light-hearted tone if you feel it’s more fitting to your loved one’s life and memory.
  • Proofread – online obituaries are easy to amend but if you’ve chosen to print your loved one’s obituary in a newspaper then mistakes can’t be corrected. So make sure the details are correct and the names are spelled right.

What to include in an obituary

When it comes to what to include, a traditional obituary will have the following:

  • Announcement of death – the deceased’s full name, age, location of death, date of death, cause of death (optional).
  • Details about their life – date and place of birth, hometown, qualification and degrees earned, hobbies and interests, military service and rank, place of worship, organisations they were a part of, and personal characteristics.
  • Surviving family members – you can list close family members including, a spouse, children and their spouses, grandchildren, great grandchildren, parents, and siblings.
  • Charity donation – some bereaved families ask people to make donations to a charity, usually one close to their heart, instead of sending flowers.
  • Choose a photo of your loved one– this will sit alongside the obituary.
  • Details about the funeral or memorial service – such as when and where the service will be held. Please note, only include this information if you want to make it public.

How do you list family members in an obituary?

It’s common to mention the close family members who have survived the deceased:
John is survived by his wife Karen, 56, and his daughter Kate, 21.
Some people will also include immediate family members who predeceased their loved one:
Sarah is preceded in death by her older brother James, and her beloved niece, Lisa.

If you’d like more guidance on what to write in an obituary, please contact your local funeral director for further advice.

How to pick a funeral director

You can be assured that every funeral home that is part of the Funeral Partners family will provide outstanding client service.

Documents and certificates

Certificates you will need to enable you to start arranging the funeral and sorting out the affairs of the person who has died.

Letting people know

Picking up the telephone to tell close family or complete strangers such as an employer about the death is usually difficult.

Further Reading: Arranging a funeral

Read about how funerals are arranged and what services you can expect to get.