How to Write a Great Obituary: Guidelines, Template & Tips

People often write an obituary after the passing of a loved one. These pieces can be shared online or published in the local paper. If you have never written one before, you may wonder how to write an obituary that best describes the person. Here is a useful guide to help you get started.

Please note that an obituary is not the same thing as a death notice. See our article on the differences between a death notice and an obituary for more details.

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Writing an Obituary

The purpose of an obituary is to announce that a person has passed away and provide details about their funeral and/or memorial service arrangements.

If you’re looking to write an obituary, then you should start by gathering as much information as you can about the deceased. This is easier if you knew them well, however, if you need assistance then be sure to ask other family members, friends or even coworkers of the deceased to help outline what you’d like to mention about them.

What should be included in an obituary?

When writing an obituary, you are painting a brief picture of the deceased to showcase to the public. This is difficult since you’re trying to capture who they were as a person and what their life was like within a few sentences.

Be sure to include the following for the deceased:

  • Their name
  • Their age
  • Where they were born
  • A personalized summary of their life
  • Who they’re survived by

The obituary summary is where most people struggle. It does not have to be very detailed, but it’s a good idea to highlight key life events and call out any major accomplishments that the deceased had.

Make sure to add a personal touch and mention hobbies. Were they a marathon runner? Did they foster kittens? Were they an amateur astronomer? These details will help you connect with the reader.

You can also include short and/or funny anecdotes if any have been shared with you by family and friends who knew the deceased. 

Lastly, you may want to create a list of relatives who survive the deceased at the end of your summary. Obituaries often include the full names of any children, siblings, parents, and/or spouses. For grandchildren, you can state the total number if the list is too long. Also, when listing spouses or partners of children, you should write their first name in parentheses. 

What should not be included in an obituary?

Don’t include the deceased’s home address. Excluding it can help prevent property theft and unwanted visits from strangers.  

For those who may have had a complicated relationship with the deceased, you should avoid expressing any regrets, sorrow or anger in your obituary. If there is nothing neutral or positive to say, then you can stick with simple, factual information.

You should also be careful with the type of humor you use. Do not make any rude or inappropriate jokes about the deceased or their family. Instead, stick to lighthearted and endearing humor. 

How long should the obituary be?

The length of a printed obituary varies based on what local newspaper you choose to publish it in. Each publisher has its own word length requirements and pricing. You may use the table below as a general guideline:

Type of ObituaryWord Length
Short Obituary40 – 100
Full Obituary100 – 500
Detailed Tribute500+

If you plan to create a printed version of an obituary or detailed tribute, make sure to check the publication’s requirements. 

With online publication gaining popularity due to becoming more accessible, you may want to publish the obituary online as well. There are no word limits if you plan to post it on a personal website or as a social media attachment, though keep in mind certain platforms, such as Twitter or Instagram, may not be best-suited for this type of post.

More obituary writing tips

One way you can make a great obituary is by using the present tense when creating a draft. It will help you feel connected to who you are writing about, and readers will sense this. Remember to change the obituary to the past tense later on. 

Throw in a bit of humor and wit into the obituary. Doing so will help the loved one’s personality shine. 

Try to tailor the obituary to fit the person. Some people may benefit from a more humorous one. You are not obligated to provide any funny moments if the loved one was a more serious person. It is okay to make it short and to the point if necessary. 

Standard Obituary Template

Now that you have a better idea about how to write an obituary, you begin to plan one out. Below is a standard template that you can tailor to your needs: 

[Full Name], [Age], passed away on [Date of Passing]. 

[First Name] was born on [Date of Birth] to [Parents] in [Place of Birth]. [He/She] had [Number of Siblings], and [Insert a Positive Statement by a Relative]. 

[He/She] graduated from [College] in [Graduation Year]. [First Name] studied [College Major] and had a successful career in [field]. [He/She] enjoyed [Hobby]. [Short Anecdote About the Person]. 

[First Name] was predeceased by [Family Members Who Have Passed Away]. [She/He] is survived by [Names of Living Family Members].