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Everything You Need to Know About Obituaries

Last Updated: April 19, 2024

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Key Takeaways:

  • Obituaries inform of a passing, celebrate a life, and are not mandatory but are often still part of estate plans.
  • Include key details in your obituary, proofread, and plan for publication in newspapers or online platforms.
  • Writing your own obituary gives you control and you can share your preferences in your End-of-Life Plan.
Publishing an obituary is an easy way to let others know that someone has passed away. Many people also view it as a message celebrating the deceased’s life. In this post, we will explore the ins and outs of obituaries.
This way, you can feel confident writing an obituary for a loved one or even composing one for yourself if you have chosen to include it as part of your estate plan.

What is an obituary?

An obituary is a brief written summary of a deceased person’s life. It includes a list of surviving family members and is typically found in local newspapers or online news sites. The deceased’s family often crafts the obituary, but a publication’s staff can also complete the task.

Are obituaries legally required?

No, obituaries are not legally required, but many choose to include them in their End-of-Life Plan as a part of their estate plan.

Your estate consists of everything that you own: your house, your car, your bank accounts, your possessions, and your debts.

How much does it cost to publish an obituary?

It can cost anywhere between $200 and $500 to publish an obituary in the United States. This amount varies depending on the newspaper itself and the size of the city you’re in. Newspapers in larger cities will often charge more.
Most newspapers charge by line, so the higher the word count, the higher the price.
However, families and loved ones can save money by looking into online options. Publishing an online obituary costs between $50 and $100 and allows for more opportunities to share it through email and social media.

When do I publish an obituary?

Publishing an obituary is a time-sensitive process–you should try to have it written and posted within a week of the deceased’s passing. This goes for obituaries published both online and in print.
If the obituary includes funeral details, you must publish it at least three days before the funeral. This gives people time to plan to attend, send flowers and gifts, or make charitable donations in the deceased’s name.

Can I write my own obituary?

Yes, you can write your own obituary. Writing your own obituary grants you more control over how you want to be celebrated and remembered. One such case is Sonia Todd of Moscow, Idaho, who passed away at age 38 due to cancer in 2012.
Writing your own obituary also takes some of the pressure off of loved ones by giving them one less thing to worry about when wrapping up your estate.
It’s important to note that you should include your obituary and funeral requests in your End-of-Life Plan, not in your Last Will and Testament, as Last Wills typically do not get read until after the funeral.
Do you want to announce your passing with an obituary?
Document it in your End-of-Life-Plan
LawDepot's End-of-Life Plan is an estate planning tool that asks you questions about your final wishes.

How do I write an obituary?

When writing an obituary, make sure to include the following details:
  • The deceased’s full name, as well as any nicknames that they went by
  • Their age upon passing and date of birth
  • Their birthplace and final place of residence
  • Any surviving family members (i.e., spouses, children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, step-relatives, etc.)
The following details are optional but might add a personal touch to the obituary:
  • Information related to the deceased’s career and education
  • Their personal accomplishments
  • Any hobbies or interests that they had
  • The influence they had on their community

You can conclude the obituary with information regarding the service, where to send flowers or memorial gifts, or where to send charitable donations in place of flowers or gifts.

How do I publish an obituary?

To simplify the process, write a list of newspapers or websites to which you would like to send the obituary. You can send it to multiple publications if you see fit.
Most people submit obituaries to local newspapers, but depending on the deceased’s relationship with their community, you might also consider sending the obituary to:
  • National newspapers
  • Church newsletters and websites
  • Community publications
  • Industry newsletters and websites
  • College or university alumni publications
  • Accounts on social media
If you send the obituary to an online news site, you should be able to visit the website and submit it directly to them.
If asked, most funeral homes will also send the obituary to newspapers for you, though some may charge a fee.

Extra tips for writing obituaries

Here are some extra tips for writing and preparing an obituary:
Gather your information beforehand
Have your notes ready before you start writing. Ensure you have all the key details prepared and fact-check once complete. You don’t want any mistakes or misleading information in the published obituary.
Reach out to family and loved ones
They can help provide more information and insight into the deceased. They’ll likely have a few stories for you. Family and loved ones can also clarify the details you’ve already provided.
Try writing in the present tense first
This could help you build a connection with who you’re writing about. You can change the writing to past tense afterwards while editing.
Check for grammar and spelling
When you’re done writing, ask someone to review your work, or try copying and pasting text into an online tool like Grammarly.
See if you have a photo of the deceased to use
Check to see if you have a photo available to print along with the obituary. Consult to see if it is within your budget first, as including photos in newspapers can also increase the overall cost of publication.

Why might someone not have an obituary

There are several reasons why a person might not have an obituary:
  • Obituaries are not required by law , so the deceased’s family might have chosen to forego publishing one.
  • Publishing an obituary can be expensive , and the funds may be unavailable.
  • The deceased has few family members or friends , so there might have, unfortunately, been no need for an obituary. Obituaries are also written for the living so that they may learn of an individual’s passing.
  • The family might not have a service, so they felt no need for an obituary, as obituaries are often used to provide information on the funeral.
  • The family may have disagreements about what to include in the obituary. This can be anything from the names of those the deceased is survived by to career choices and anything in between.
  • The deceased might have had a complicated past or passed away under violent circumstances due to an accident, suicide, murder, war, or overdose. The family may not want to specify or could have complex feelings toward the deceased.

Life’s last chapter

An obituary is a short article about a recently deceased person that informs others of their passing. It’s also a way to celebrate and tell their life story. If you have any preferences about whether you want an obituary or what you want yours to say, remember to let your loved ones know and include those wishes in your End-of-Life Plan and the rest of your estate plan.