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How to write an obituary or death notice

The term "obituary" generally refers to the notice in a newspaper announcing someone's death. There is a difference between an obituary and a death notice. An obituary is a notice in the newspaper that provides the basic details of the person's life. This is minimal information. The majority of people publish a death notice, although they also appear in the obituary section of the newspaper. The death notice is much more elaborate than the obituary.

When the time comes to write an obituary, it will not be an easy task. Since deaths occur so frequently, there are often staff writers at the newspaper who are dedicated solely to the position. This allows for the obituaries to be written quickly in order to make the newspaper in time. Obituaries contain minimal information including:

  • the deceased's name
  • date of birth
  • date of death
  • place of residence, and
  • sometimes the cause of death.

A death notice goes into much greater detail. Death notices include all of the above information as well as information about the funeral, including the funeral home, time of the service and time of the wake. Death notices will also include such information as the names and relationship of immediate family. The funeral notice is important in order to inform other people who will want to pay their respects.

Who writes the obituary?

Anyone can write an obituary or death notice. Usually it is an immediate family member who puts together all of the necessary information. Once this is done, the obituary can be sent via email or called in to the newspaper for publication. If writing the obituary is too difficult, then someone on staff at the newspaper will be able to write an acceptable obituary using the facts provided by the close family.

It is a good idea to publish a death notice that includes the funeral notice, so be sure to get the name and address of the funeral home and make sure it is spelled correctly. Funerals should be announced so that the family doesn't need to screen phone calls from everyone and relay the information. This can be very difficult to handle.

Where should the obituary be sent?

An obituary or death notice should be supplied to several local newspapers to ensure that as many people as possible who knew the deceased become aware of his or her death. If the deceased lived in a different state, then it would be good to send an obituary notice to that local newspaper as well. Also, there are many websites you can upload the obituary to, and many other genealogical sites to help keep track of family records.

Will there be a fee?

Many local newspapers will publish an obituary for free or for a minimal fee. A death notice will take up more page space and will often cost more. Some death notices will also include a picture of the deceased.

Obituaries and death notices are written as a way to honor the deceased. They share a small amount of information with the public and may also contain a funeral notice so people know where they can go to pay their respects or send sympathy cards or flowers.

A loved one's dying is a very difficult experience. An obituary or death notice is a meaningful way to memorialize his or her life.

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Further sources of information

You may find our other articles in the Practical matters following a death section helpful too.

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