Obituary writing can be tough. Often the writer only has a few days to pull the information together and may be feeling a lot of pressure to properly honor the deceased’s life. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about obituaries and tips on how to write one that family and friends can be proud of.
Do people still write obituaries for deceased family members?
Yes, if they have the funds. This study, completed in 2016 by AdPay and Legacy.com (a website that works with 900+ newspapers and is the largest provider of online memorials), found that “88% of respondents said they would place an obituary if a loved one died.”
Obituaries are commonly published online (often through the funeral home’s website) and in local newspapers to serve as a public death notice and to memorialize the life of the deceased. They often serve as the announcement to the public of any funeral services the family.
Obituaries can be considered legal documents and become a piece of history—many rely on obituary records for family history information that may have been lost through the years. For these reasons, some newspapers will only work with a licensed funeral home or require some additional legal documentation from the family.
How much does it cost to publish an obituary?
It depends on where you want it published and how long the text is, but often $200-$500. Contact your funeral home and/or local newspaper to inquire about the specifics.
Typically a newspaper will charge by line and the cost will depend on the size of the newspaper. The 2016 AdPay study found the average obituary cost in a small town was $113 and $326 in a major metropolitan area. Other funeral home directors surveyed said they often saw ranges between $200 and $500, with costs increasing if the obituary was longer and included a photo (source).
Some funeral homes will host an obituary on their website for free or for a nominal fee. Ask your funeral home if they offer this service and, if so, how long they will keep the information online.
What is the process for submitting an obituary?
- Decide where you want the obituary published. Online only? In the local newspaper?
- Contact your funeral home to ask if they provide assistance for obituary writing and, if so, how much they charge for this service. Many funeral homes may charge a fee for hosting an obituary on their website and another fee for working with the local newspaper to get it published.
- If you want to get the obituary published in the local newspaper and will not go through the funeral home, contact them directly to inquire about pricing and deadlines. You can try searching for your newspaper name + “obituary” to find instructions. Legacy.com is the chosen provider for 900+ newspapers in the US, you can check this site to see if your local newspaper is listed. Here is an example from the Houston Chronicle.
- Consider having two versions: a longer, extended version on the funeral home website if it is less expensive (and you are not charged by length) and a shorter version with just the basic facts published in the newspaper.
What are the pieces of information to collect before writing the obituary?
Ultimately this is your story to tell. If a piece of information does not feel relevant or you do not have that information, move on!
Some of the most common biographical details weaved into an obituary:
- Name of the deceased (including maiden name and nicknames)
- Dates and locations of birth, marriage, and death
- Schools attended
- Place of employment and position held
- Military service and status
- Organization affiliations or membership (religious, civic groups, etc.)
- Interests, hobbies, passions
- Cause of death (if the family wishes to include this information)
- Family members who are predeceased; names of surviving loved ones (typically immediate family only)
Other important pieces of information:
- Funeral service details, especially those open to the public (date, time, location)
- 1-2 charities people should donate to in honor of the deceased instead of sending flowers (if you wish). Alternatively, if necessary, you can request donations be made directly to the family: “In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting financial assistance for the services” and consider including a short link for donations.
- Special messages: a meaningful line from a poem, a bible verse, a thank-you to medical professionals who took care of the deceased towards the end of their life, etc.
- Photo: while including a photo often adds to the cost of the obituary, it may help the reader recognize the deceased and read further. If you wish to include an older photo, consider also including a more recent photo so readers recognize the person.
How do you write the perfect obituary?
- Every word counts, you may need to make several revisions to trim the length and make sure only the most important details are included. Ask others to proofread and revise.
- Focus on the person’s life, not death. An obituary may be the only public record of the deceased’s life, create a story that reflects your loved one.
- An obituary does not have to be a chronological biography; tell a story of the deceased with the most important details first.
- Do not make a comprehensive list of accomplishments, focused on the most important and give anecdotes, quotes, or examples that help the reader know how special this person was.
- Do not be afraid to a little humor, especially if the deceased had a great sense of humor!
- Avoid clichés.
- Write the obituary in third person. “She will be missed” instead of “we will miss her.”
How do I list family members in the obituary?
- From The Remembrance Process: we list survivors first, starting with the closest relations: spouse, children, grandchildren, great and great-great grandchildren, parents, and siblings. If any of these relations are nonexistent or have died, skip and move to the next relation. Nieces, nephews, in-laws, and cousins are usually left out, or simply numbered unless they were close to the deceased. Grandchildren and greats are often numbered too, and if you not sure you have all the names, use a number or say ‘many grandchildren’ to avoid leaving anyone out. List relatives with their first name, spouse’s first name in parenthesis, then surname. If the spouse’s surname is different, or the couple is not married, include the partner’s surname in the parenthesis along with their first name.
- List family members who have preceded the person in death after the living members in the same order, i.e., spouse, children, grandchildren and more.
- More on getting creative about who to include in the obituary: “Whom to Include in the Obituary” from Legacy.com
Example Obituaries for Reference
- Traditional and standard: “Example of Obituary for a Loved One” from YourTribute.com
- Personal and creative: “Truly Personal Obituaries” from the FamilySearch Blog
- Humorous and memorable: “10 Incredible Obituary Examples That Will Make Your Day” from Frazer Consultants
To learn more:
- Overview of the history of obituaries and more tips: “Writing Obits” from the Funeral Consumers Information Society
- An article from The Atlantic about the importance of obituary writing: “What’s an Obituary For?”