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Writing Obituaries – Complete Guide With Examples


Writing can be intimidating. And words may be especially hard to find in times of grief.

But writing an obituary can be a comforting and cathartic process.

It will give you the chance to reflect on a loved one’s life and sharing their story is one of the best ways to honor their memory.

This article is a step-by-step guide to craft words of remembrance that will capture the essence of your lost loved one. If you don’t know where to start, let the obituary examples act as your guide.

What Information Should Be Included in An Obituary?

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An obituary contains important details about the death of a person. It is meant to serve as an announcement and a short biography of your loved one. 

You’ll start with the basic facts surrounding death.

Then, the obituary can tell the story and timeline of the person’s life. To capture the essence of your loved one, it helps to add details such as their passion, hobbies, and other characteristics that made them unique as a person.

There are two types of announcement of death: a death notice and an obituary.

A death notice is brief and only announces the death and details for the memorial service and other arrangements. An obituary is longer and more detailed, containing the story of a person’s life and biographical information.

How and what you write will depend on where you plan on publishing the obit.

Obituaries that are published in newspapers, are usually short because of space restrictions. Here is what to include in an obituary for a local paper:

  • Name of the person who died
  • Date of birth and birthplace
  • Date and place of death
  • Place where the person resided
  • Surviving family 
  • Date, time, and place of the memorial or funeral service
  • Date, time, and place of the burial service
  • Charity information where memorial contributions can be made in lieu of flowers
  • Photo

If you wish to write a longer obituary, you can add more details in addition to the list above. More detailed obituaries are suitable when posted in the online edition of a newspaper, a website, a funeral home, or anywhere else.

Here are more details to include:

  • Cause of death
  • Education
  • Religious Affiliations
  • Professional memberships
  • Participation in local or national organizations
  • Military service
  • Occupation and employment history
  • Accomplishments, achievements, awards
  • Publications
  • Hobbies or activities
  • Acts of humanitarianism

What Are the Goals of Writing an Obituary?

The main goal of an obituary is to announce the death of a person.

Most importantly, you want to present the information accurately and completely. It is also good to make the obituary compelling so that the readers get a sense of the deceased even if they don’t know them personally.

Here are some things to keep in mind while writing the obituary:


It is important to get the information as accurate as possible. Check with friends and family for accurate facts. Common mistakes include omitting important details, getting dates wrong, and misspelling names and places.

We recommend having it proofread by a family member. Having another set of eyes can help with spelling and other errors that you might miss, as well as in making sure that everyone has been included.

Make It Joyful

An obituary does not have to focus on sorrow and grief.

Sometimes the author of an obituary is consumed by sadness and loss. In this case, it may help to collaborate. This way there will be more than one perspective.

Circumstances and the personality of the deceased will also contribute to what is most appropriate.

Maybe the best way to remember your loved one is to celebrate their life and the way they lived.

Where to Publish An Obituary

Most commonly, individuals will submit an obituary to the local newspaper. They will publish it online, in print, or both.

Use this resource from Legacy.com to search 900+ local newspapers.

How To Write an Obituary

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After following the steps in this guide, you can browse through the obituary examples below for inspiration.

Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Understand the guidelines
  2. Research and list the important facts
  3. Start by announcing the death
  4. List the surviving family
  5. Add other important details
  6. Tell the life story of the deceased
  7. Provide details for the service and other arrangements
  8. Conclude with the address to send flowers or memorial contributions

After the template we provide more details for each of the steps above—reference them if you get stuck.

Obituary Template

No template obituary will fit the complex, beautiful person who you will honor. Use this to get started, but don’t let this guide constrain you. Tell the story of your loved on.

Obituaries are written for individuals; we include the pronoun “they” singular for those who identify as non-binary.

Announcement of Passing (Paragraph 1)

[Full Name] died passed away on [Date] at the age of [Age] in [Location].

Survived By (P1)

[First Name] is survived by his/her/their parents, [Full Names]; spouse, [Name]; children, [Names]; siblings [Names]; [Other Close Relatives].

Birthday (P2)

[First and Last Name] was born on [birthday] in [City, Region/State] to [Parents, Full Names]. 

Education (P2)

[He/She/They] graduated from {optional [High school] in [year] and} [College] in [year] with a degree in [Area of Study]. [First Name] went on to earn a [Further Degree] in [Area of Study] in [Year].

Marriage (P2)

[He/She/They] met [Spouse] in [Year] and they married in [Year].

Employment, Interests, and Family (P3)

{Name} was an excellent [Skill Or Talent] and often [Example]. [He/She/They] was a [Adjective], a [Noun with Adjective; true friend, generous mentor] who loved [Area of Interest] and who was passionate about [Hobby, Passion, or Interest; opportunity for some humor]. [He/She/They] was an active and dedicated member of the [Church, Community Group, or Organization] and often volunteered for [Non-Profit].

Funeral (P4)

A funeral is scheduled for [Time and Date] at [Address], with a reception to follow at [Address]. All are welcome to attend and celebrate [Full Name]’s life.

Flowers or Donations (P4)

Please send flowers to [Funeral Home or Residence of Family] at [Address].


In lieu of flowers, please send donations to [Charity, Hospital, Organization, or Other Memorial Contribution] at [Address].

Condolences (P4)

Condolences can be sent to [Link, Funeral Home, or Residence of Family].

Obituary-Writing Guidelines

1. Understand the Guidelines

Before writing the obituary, a good place to start is to contact the newspaper or point of publication where you want to have it posted. This information is normally displayed on their website, but don’t be afraid to call or email them for more information.

By doing this, you make sure of the requirements such as word count, format, and other limitations. It’s also a good time to check cost.

If you don’t know where you plan to publish the obituary yet, use this search tool.

2. Research and List the Important Facts

List the important facts about the death. You can use the checklist provided above to compile information from friends and family.

As you start to gather details the obituary will start to take shape. At this point you can see what information is missing and reach out to people for help.

3. Start by Announcing The Death

Start the obituary by including the full name of the deceased, date of death, and where they died. You may also include the age and cause of death.

These details are usually read in the first few sentences of an obituary.

4. Other Key Details

After the first sentence announcing their death, you can now add the date of birth and birthplace of the deceased. Include the names of the parents as well.

These are the facts so double-check names, dates, locations, and spellings.

5. Tell the Life Story of The Deceased

This will be the longest part of the obituary.

One way to structure the obit is to present a chronological account of their life.

You may Include childhood, education, career, and retirement. Add in relationship details including marriage and children.

You may also highlight any special accomplishments and/or achievements. 

Overall, try to capture the essence of your love one. What meant the most to them? How did they spend their time? What defined their life? What is it about their personality that you will miss?

Answering these questions will convey the unique traits and characteristics of your lost soul.

6. List the Surviving Family

The surviving family may be listed directly after death information or after the life story.(personal choice). Usually start with next of kin and proceed chronologically.

The list is not exclusive to family members only. It can also include closest friends, relatives, caregivers, and even pets.

7. Provide Details For the Service and Other Arrangements

Obituaries are typically published before the memorial, funeral, and burial services. This notice will help provide needed information for mourners and guests who want to pay their respects.

The information regarding services should be clear and easy to understand. Make sure to indicate whether the service is private or open to the public.

8. Memorial Contributions

Many families choose to request memorial contributions or donations in lieu of flowers.

If you request donations, make sure to provide the name of the charity, as well as the address and website where mourners can send their donations. 

If the foundation or charity was important or closely related to the deceased it might inspire people to know. 

Examples of Obituary

An obituary may be written in a traditional style or in a unique manner. A traditional style is usually “matter of fact” and follows the obituary template given above. 

Sometimes, it is more appropriate to incorporate humor or a unique point of view. For example, this is my favorite obituary.

For inspiration and ideas, see the examples below.

Traditional Obituary Sample

Here is a sample obituary from ObituariesHelp.org written in a traditional style:

Northborough — John Ross Milton, 86, died Sunday, June 8, 2008 at the Overlook Masonic Health Center in Charlton following a brief illness.

He leaves his wife of 65 years, Shannon (Jacobs) Milton; his son, Robert Milton and his companion, Sadie Strong; his daughter, Pamela Milton; his cousin, Raymond Milton; two grandchildren; and many close friends.

Born and raised in Worcester, the son of Carl and Helene Pauline (Preston) Milton, he was a lifelong resident of Northborough.

In his early years, Mr. Milton would help sell milk for the family’s business, Milton Milk. After graduating from North High School in 1941, he attended Clark University, graduating in 1945 with a bachelor’s degree in Economics. He met his wife, Shannon Jacobs, at church and they were married in 1944 at Wesley United Methodist Church. In 1945, he joined the U.S. Coast Guard, where he was a Seaman, First Class.

After serving with the Coast Guard, Mr. Milton had the opportunity to join the Traveler’s Insurance Company in Worcester. In 1948, he started the John Ross Insurance Agency, a partner of Insurance Services of Worcester. He not only took pride in his business, but truly relished the friends he made during his time in business. Over the years, his insurance expertise and reputation led him to be named the top Life Insurance Agent for Traveler’s Insurance Co.

Mr. Milton had a passion for animals and was the head dog trainer for Shrewsbury Dog Training Club. For years, he would enroll his award winning German shepherds into dog shows, where he won numerous ribbons and awards.

An avid golfer, he was a longtime member of Worcester Country Club, the Worcester Club and the infamous Pinehurst Country Club in NC. He served on the board of directors for Worcester Country Club and First United Methodist Church of Westborough.

A funeral service was held June 12 from Hays Funeral Home of Northborough, with private burial.

Notice how the first sentence was concise in announcing the death of the person. The first part will be the most important part because it serves as the formal announcement. The above example mentions cause of death which is optional.

While this sample provides the list of the surviving family immediately after the first sentence, you can also choose to include it towards the end.

Notice how the life story of the deceased was presented in chronological order. It showcased the education of the person, as well as the highlights of his career. His passion and hobbies were also featured.

In this obituary, the funeral service has already ended. The obituary was posted after the services since the family opted for a private burial. 

Unique Obituary Sample

Obituaries do not have to follow any traditional style.

Maybe it is more fitting for your loved one to be remembered in a light and heartwarming, or humorous way. Ultimately, the obituary should capture the personality of the deceased.

You might take inspiration from this viral obit written by Jane Catherine Lotter for her late grandmother.

If you’re about to throw away an old pair of pantyhose, stop. Consider: Mary Agnes Mullaney (you probably knew her as “Pink”) who entered eternal life on Sunday, September 1, 2013. Her spirit is carried on by her six children, 17 grandchildren, three surviving siblings in New “Joisey”, and an extended family of relations and friends from every walk of life. We were blessed to learn many valuable lessons from Pink during her 85 years, among them: Never throw away old pantyhose. Use the old ones to tie gutters, child-proof cabinets, tie toilet flappers, or hang Christmas ornaments.

Also: If a possum takes up residence in your shed, grab a barbecue brush to coax him out. If he doesn’t leave, brush him for twenty minutes and let him stay.

Let a dog (or two or three) share your bed. Say the rosary while you walk them.

Go to church with a chicken sandwich in your purse. Cry at the consecration, every time. Give the chicken sandwich to your homeless friend after mass.

Go to a nursing home and kiss everyone. When you learn someone’s name, share their patron saint’s story, and their feast day, so they can celebrate. Invite new friends to Thanksgiving dinner. If they are from another country and you have trouble understanding them, learn to “listen with an accent.”

Never say mean things about anybody; they are “poor souls to pray for.”

Put picky-eating children in the box at the bottom of the laundry chute, tell them they are hungry lions in a cage, and feed them veggies through the slats.

Correspond with the imprisoned and have lunch with the cognitively challenged.

Do the Jumble every morning.

Keep the car keys under the front seat so they don’t get lost.

Make the car dance by lightly tapping the brakes to the beat of songs on the radio.

Offer rides to people carrying a big load or caught in the rain or summer heat. Believe the hitchhiker you pick up who says he is a landscaper and his name is “Peat Moss.”

Help anyone struggling to get their kids into a car or shopping cart or across a parking lot.

Give to every charity that asks. Choose to believe the best about what they do with your money, no matter what your children say they discovered online.

Allow the homeless to keep warm in your car while you are at Mass.

Take magazines you’ve already read to your doctors’ office for others to enjoy. Do not tear off the mailing label, “Because if someone wants to contact me, that would be nice.”

In her lifetime, Pink made contact time after time. Those who’ve taken her lessons to heart will continue to ensure that a cold drink will be left for the overheated garbage collector and mail carrier, every baby will be kissed, every nursing home resident will be visited, the hungry will have a sandwich, the guest will have a warm bed and soft nightlight, and the encroaching possum will know the soothing sensation of a barbecue brush upon its back.

Above all, Pink wrote — to everyone, about everything. You may read this and recall a letter from her that touched your heart, tickled your funny bone, or maybe made you say “huh?”

She is survived by her children and grandchildren whose photos she would share with prospective friends in the checkout line: Tim (wife Janice, children Timmy, Joey, T.J., Miki and Danny); Kevin (wife Kathy, children Kacey, Ryan, Jordan and Kevin); Jerry (wife Gita, children Nisha and Cathan); MaryAnne; Peter (wife Maria Jose, children Rodrigo and Paulo); and Meg (husband David Vartanian, children Peter, Lily, Jerry and Blase); siblings Anne, Helen, and Robert; and many in-laws, nieces, nephews, friends and family too numerous to list but not forgotten.

Pink is reunited with her husband and favorite dance and political debate partner, Dr. Gerald L. Mullaney, and is predeceased by six siblings.

What makes this obituary lovely is that it has the basic information of a traditional obituary, but it is full of character.

This is proof that obit writing does not have to focus on sadness. And notice how the reader gets a sense of the deceased and the impact of her life just by reading the obituary.

Gather stories, anecdotes, and tales from family and friends. Each will have unique experiences to share that others might not be aware of. Collectively it can help complete a fitting tribute.

A Few More Notes

Tea Lights Candles

Don’t feel compelled to write outside of your own style in order to capture the personality of the deceased. It doesn’t always work.

What is most important is to convey the announcement. It’s fine if you want to keep the obituary short and straightforward. Present the facts with just a few details about the remarkable impressions that the person left behind.


How do I list the survivors in an obituary?

There are no hard rules regarding the order to list surviving family members in an obituary. But you can start by including the closest relatives first. Start with the parents if they are to be included. Then the name of the spouse followed by the children and their spouses. List the children according to age. If there were ex-partners, especially if they had children, list them next. Then siblings, and lastly, any other close family members you would like to add. You can list them individually or group them together (use semicolons, like “spouse, [Name]; children, [Name] and [Name]; …”).

How to start an obituary?

Begin the obituary by announcing they key facts regarding the death. These include, the full name of the deceased, date of death, and where they died. You may also include age and cause of death. The first part of the obituary can be presented as a straightforward announcement of the facts or you may choose a unique style, but this will set the tone. Look at our template for examples.

Is an obituary the same as a death notice?

No. A death notice is written for the purpose of announcing the death and details for the memorial service and other arrangements. An obituary has the same information included but it is more detailed and has other biographical information. A death notice is a brief announcement while an obituary is usually longer and contains more personal information.

Are there other uses for an obituary aside from publishing in a newspaper or website?

Aside from being published in local papers and websites, an obituary can also serve as readings at funeral services, can be framed for a photo, or even just be kept as a keepsake for the family.

Should I be concerned about identity theft while writing an obituary?

Yes. You must avoid scammers stealing the information of the deceased. This is the risk of publicly sharing personal information. You can avoid identity theft by taking care of the financial and credit issues of the deceased before publishing the obituary. You can do thing by closing their accounts and credit cards first, as well as notifying banks, creditors, and agencies of the person’s passing.


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