What is an Obituary?

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

An obituary is a formal written statement of a deceased person's life. Obituaries are usually published in local newspapers shortly before the funeral is scheduled. Sometimes, portions of an obituary are also read during the funeral service as a way to remember the deceased person.

An obituary offers information about a death, and it should include information on where funeral services for the deceased will be held.
An obituary offers information about a death, and it should include information on where funeral services for the deceased will be held.

It is becoming more common for people to prepare their own obituaries as part of their funeral planning efforts. This can be very helpful since it takes some of the stress off the surviving members of the family during what is sure to be a very difficult time. If an obituary was not prepared in advance, however, a friend or close relative is usually charged with the task of preparing the article and making sure it is published in all appropriate newspapers.

Obituaries are usually published in local newspapers.
Obituaries are usually published in local newspapers.

If you must prepare an obituary for an upcoming funeral service, it is a good idea to contact the newspapers in which you plan to publish the article before you begin writing. Policies regarding length, proper format, deadlines, and fees can vary somewhat.

An obituary should include the person's full name, date of birth, date of death, and information regarding the time and location of the funeral services. Listing the surviving relatives, including parents, spouses, and children or grandchildren, is also customary. If you are planning to have a memorial fund set up to honor the deceased, including information regarding where to send contributions is appropriate as well. However, don't forget to proofread this information several times before you submit the obituary for publication. You don't want to accidentally misspell someone's name or provide the wrong address for the location of the funeral service.

While death notices are usually rather brief, an obituary generally includes more detail about the deceased person's life. It is common to include where he or she attended school, what degrees were earned, and a short summary of his or her work history. Listing membership in professional associations or describing significant work-related awards may also be appropriate.

Some obituaries include information about the deceased person's community involvement, volunteer work, memorable travels, favorite hobbies, or special interests. This is the part of the obituary where it is acceptable to be creative, so feel free to include whatever information you think is most important to remembering the life of the deceased. If you're having trouble thinking of relevant details to include, try talking to other friends and family members who may have memories they wish to share. Reading sample obituaries, such as those published in The New York Times , may also be useful.

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Dana holds a B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa. She has loved being part of the wiseGEEK team ever since discovering the joys of freelance writing after her son was born. Dana also hones her writing skills by contributing articles to various blogs, as well as creating sales copy and content for e-courses.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


Is there an obituary template that I can use to get some ideas for writing an obituary? I have read a bunch of them, but some how when I sit down to try and write one myself the words will just not come.


@truman12 - My dad actually did the exact same thing. The problem was that he wrote a very colorful and esoteric obituary for himself that the newspaper refuse to print. The obituary did nothing to gloss over my dad's drinking and womanizing and generally wild lifestyle. In fact, it celebrated it.

I was upset at first but I guess I understand where the newspaper is coming from. That obituary would have looked pretty weird next to all the other sober obituaries. I ended up rewriting it myself and they agreed to print it. It is not exactly what my father wanted, but I know that he wanted an obituary, so in the most important way I honored his wishes.


This may sound kind of morbid but I plan on writing my own obituary. I wish more people would make this choice. I think it just makes sense.

Why would you want to leave someone else, often times a stranger in charge of writing the biography that will present you to the world? In many cases this could be the most definitive biography of your life that ever shows up in print.

Post your comments
Forgot password?