Obituary vs Death Notice: What is the difference?

Have you ever wondered what the differences are between an obituary and a death notice? Are they the same thing or two completely separate listings with completely different purposes in your newspapers?

A death notice is a simple announcement while an obituary is a summation of the person’s life-story that can either be written by the newspaper staff or by family and friends. One is formal and one is personal. The differences are in the details. 

Death NoticeObituary
Required?No No
Who posts it?Family, local probate court, estate attorney or estate executor.Family
PurposeNotify community of someone’s passing.Notify community of someone’s passing & honor someone’s life.
What’s contained inside?Brief description of facts (Name, address, date, time and cause of death, name of close surviving family)Announcement of death. Important details and life events. Surviving family members. Funeral/memorial visitation times. Flower or memorial donation information.

What is a death notice?

A death notice is a short, formal, and official announcement that can be written by you or the newspaper staff before being printed on the days that you have chosen (some days are more expensive than others). You should not need a death certificate to begin the process. 

The purpose of the notice is to announce your loved one’s passing publicly so that old friends, colleagues, and distant relations may learn of what happened and have the choice to attend the appropriate memorials out of respect and to say their goodbyes in the way they see fit.

The notice states the name of the deceased, their birth and death dates, and information on any specific public memorial services planned to honor this person. Details on where to send flowers or donations could also be included briefly as well. 

Newspapers usually charge a fee for the service which is sometimes included in funeral packages to lessen any burden on you. A Death notice is cheaper than an obituary as it takes up less space.

Many newspapers will print a small picture with the notice at your request. Make sure to check what format they would like those pictures to be in as technology is moving quickly and some may only take digital images in lieu of printed photographs. 

In many places, death notices appear before obituaries as the obituaries may take slightly more time for some families to collect data or choose to write them themselves.

Legalities Of Death Notices

Sometimes newspapers are legally required to publish a death notice, much like they legally have to report bankruptcies and divorces. If a person died without a will or inheritors, then the law dictates that a notice must be published to allow anyone who may have a claim to any assets to step forward. 

Posting this notice also shows creditors that they can no longer collect a debt from this person and must also petition the state for a claim. If the decease was in legal trouble, being sued, for example, the city or state may request such public notice. 

You do not have to have a death notice unless you fall into the above categories. You can choose one or the other, both or neither. People do consider it good manners to have at least one of the options published.

What is an obituary?

An obituary is much denser than a notice. It contains all the information mentioned in the notice but also shares a biography, contemporary family tree, and even professions of love and loss from family. There is a sufficient and effective standard formula one can choose to use when writing them, but some families choose to deviate from the pattern. 

The purpose of an obituary is to honor your loved one in a more personal way. It is time to tell their story and brag about their accomplishments. An obituary highlights the personal touches, such as your loved one’s adorable mischievousness or their famous addiction to diet sodas, for example. What would your loved one enjoy being remembered for?

Newspaper offices will have a form for you to fill out with the standard information if you would much rather have an editor or writer complete one for you. Many full-service funeral homes may also include the obituary in their list of services.

An image usually accompanies the obituary and it is usually the one from the notice, if it included one. Keep in mind that obituaries are more expensive than death notices. They are always longer and usually contain a picture that takes up space and ink on printed media. 

Many newspapers have become much more lenient with the structure of obituaries. Sometimes people had time to write their own, a letter of goodbye to everyone, while other people use the space to publish their loved one’s poetry or political opinions.

Newspapers have are becoming more and more lenient when it comes to obituaries which gives you more freedom to say what you would like to say.

But, it doesn’t matter what option you choose. Everyone is different and maybe an obituary seems right for one person, but a notice may be sufficient for another. It is most important that you honor your loved one and their wishes in the best way you can at this time.