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What Is An Obituary?

Admin and Legal

An obituary is where you announce when someone has passed away. This has traditionally been posted in newspapers and serves to inform the wider community about a death. It does this by providing key information and includes details of a service.

When someone famous dies you'll often see a large obituary giving full details about their life achievements but this can give a false perception. The vast majority of obituaries are small and written in the obituary section of local newspapers.

Why do we have obituaries?

In this modern age, you may be wondering why we still have obituaries. If you think about older times when people didn't have social media or even a telephone, the reasons for an obituary become a lot clearer. An obituary was to let the community know if someone had passed away.

Newspapers were the best way of communication and an obituary would inform old friends and distant relatives that a loved one had died. It would then inform them of the service and ensure that a funeral was well attended.

Do we still need an obituary?

There is nothing mandatory about writing one. If you feel as though everyone who needs to know about the death has been informed then you may feel it's not required. That being said, there are still some important reasons to write one.

Not everyone may know – Despite your best efforts, there may still be people who don't know about the death. An obituary allows you to cover all bases as there are still plenty of people out there who read the obituary section.

Detailing arrangements – If you write to a local newspaper now, most obituaries will be posted in their physical paper and also online. This obituary can be a good reference point for people to double-check the information on the funeral.

Creating a public record – An obituary is your chance to tell the wider community about how important someone was. It's nice to have that little piece of history in their local newspaper detailing their life and how loved they were by their relatives.

Modern alternatives

If you want to be able to write an obituary but see no value in writing a newspaper piece then don't feel obliged to do it.

Social media – The likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram haven't traditionally been places for formal notices but that doesn't mean you can't write an obituary on there. You just have to make sure you include all the required details.

Online memorials – There are a few websites around where you can make a memorial page for your loved one. This can be an excellent way to create something special and unique but without having to pay a fee to a newspaper.

What needs to be included in an obituary?

While an obituary is mainly there to inform people of key details, there is also plenty of room to outline their life achievements and how special they were. A traditional obituary and can be broken down into four segments.


In the introduction you'll be outlining that a person has died. You can include detail about the death if you want but this is up to you. It's important to not leave any doubts about who has died. To ensure this you'll want to put their full name, any nicknames, their age and place of birth. This section is all about identifying the deceased. Including a picture with the obituary can help with this.

Biography snapshot

The detail here is going to be largely dependent on the amount of space you have to work with. While your desire will be to write a full biography, it's worth remembering the funeral is the best time for the celebration of their life.

It's good to think of what the deceased would have wanted you to put. Maybe they were devoted to a sports team, achieved a lot in their work or were a valued member of the community. This section is a short and week reflection on their life.

Surviving family

Another traditional part of an obituary is to mention the family they have been left behind. Here you'll see phrases such as 'loving husband of 30 years to . . .', and 'devoted father to . . .' The family members included will depend on the dynamics of the family.

If you're struggling to include everyone's names in the word count that you have, mentioning numbers with an appropriate adjective will suffice such as 'caring grandfather of eight'. It's important to include all the people that the deceased was close to in some way.

Service details

In this section you need to detail the funeral, making sure that you include the time, place and any additional details. You may also want to add any other special announcements here such as asking for donations to a charity in lieu of flowers.

How to arrange an obituary

If you're going to be doing an obituary in a local newspaper then it's best to give them a call to be able to arrange it. They will often have staggered payments depending on if you want a picture and the number of words you plan on writing.

A few local newspapers will allow you to do this online or via e-mail. If you're struggling with this then many funeral directors will do this for you. Just ask them as they'll be well versed in how to publish obituaries in your local area.

Don't forget they are personal

There is a lot of tradition when it comes it an obituary and as we looked at above, usually a set structure. It's important to remember that these are only guidelines and you're free to write whatever you want to.

If you don't feel an obituary is needed, then that is absolutely fine. While they were a lot more important in years gone by, they still have their place and it can be an honour to write one for a loved one that has passed away.

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