How to Write an Obituary

A step-by-step guide to crafting a meaningful obituary

Woman writing at table
Here are the steps to follow to write a meaningful obituary for a loved one.. Photo © Thomas Tolstrup/Taxi/Getty Images

After the death of a loved one, you might want to write your own meaningful obituary for use on social media sites, or to publish in a local newspaper and/or on a website. This article offers a step-by-step guide to help you write a meaningful, comprehensive obituary for your loved one.

How to Write an Obituary

At a minimum, an obituary informs people of the fact that a death has occurred and of the details concerning the funeral, memorial service and/or interment arrangements.

At its best, however, an obituary can also provide a meaningful summary of a person's life and legacy.

Difficulty: Average to Challenging

Time Required: 1+ Hours

Step-by-Step:

1. After collecting the information you will need for an obituary, use a pen and paper, or your computer -- whichever is easiest for you -- to list and organize the important facts and information you want to include.

2. Start with the full name of the deceased, his or her date and place of birth, the date and place of death, and his or her age at the time of death. Also note where the deceased lived at the time of his or her death. If you wish, you can include the cause of death.

3. Provide a brief summary of the deceased's life, starting from birth and working forward. You don't need to include every detail; just the key facts/information that helps the obituary reader learn more about the deceased and/or helps the reader determine if he or she has a personal connection to the person who died.

Don't worry right now about listing too much information because you can always edit it later.

4. List relatives, both living and deceased. Don't forget to include grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and step-family members. Decide which ones you will include by name and those whom you will include by relation only.



In general, obituaries usually include the full names of the deceased's parents, siblings and children, as well as his or her spouse/partner, but only the total number of grandchildren or great-grandchildren. In addition, the spouses/partners of children usually include only their first name in parenthesis after the child's name, e.g., "Survived by daughter Jane (John) Doe."

5. List the details of the funeral or memorial service and reception, if applicable. Include the name and address (and the website address and/or phone number, if available) of the funeral provider handling the details and where the burial/interment will take place, if applicable.

6. List the charities or memorial fund to which you want donations sent in honor or memory of the deceased.

Additional Obituary-writing Tips:

• Before you write your obituary, check with your local newspaper(s) for any print/online publication requirements concerning the obituary length and the cost involved, which might impact the length of your obituary.

• If you wish to publish your obituary in a particular newspaper, you should review its current obituary section and note what information, and its format, appears in order to help you better tailor your writing so you don't make yours too long or too short. Obviously, if you intend to publish the obituary on a personal website or via social media, such as Facebook, the length doesn't matter.

• Depending upon your chosen newspaper(s), publishing a photograph of the deceased might require an additional fee.

• Ask other family members, friends, coworkers and/or others who knew the deceased well to help you recall facts, dates, proper spelling of names or locations, other important or interesting information, etc.

• Get the names right! Make sure you spell the deceased's name correctly, and that of any other family member or loved one you include. Make sure you also include the middle name or initial, a maiden name and/or any suffixes or titles (Jr., III, M.D., etc.).

• Have at least one other person proofread your obituary for mistakes or omissions. Here's an old proofreading trick: read the obituary by starting at the end/the last word and reading right to left as you work your way back to the beginning. Reading backward forces your eye/brain to see each individual word as it appears rather than a part of groups of words.

Edited and updated by Chris Raymond, February 28, 2016.

Related Articles You Might Find Useful:
Better Ways to Say "In Lieu of Flowers..." in Obits
• How To Write a Eulogy or Remembrance Speech
5 Tips for Writing/Delivering a Successful Eulogy
How to Mention a Funeral or Memorial Donation to a Family
What to Expect at a Funeral Arrangement Conference

Continue Reading