An obituary is many things in one: a notice of a death, a story of a life, a record of the extended family, information about a funeral service, a thank you to those who helped out, a request for memorial donations. The basic information must be covered accurately and completely.

The most important part to writing an obituary is to make it lively. We often find ourselves reflecting on a relative or friend in a somber, mundane matter. Instead, focus on honoring the life and legacy of the individual and reflect on what they meant to others and the good memories. When possible show, rather than tell. Show characteristics rather than listing facts. Show that the person was charitable by actual examples, rather than just saying he was “charitable.” Show with interesting stories, rather than telling with just dry facts.

“Summing up a life is an awesome responsibility,” points out newspaper obituary writer Alana Baranick. Therefore, write an interesting and compelling obituary – focus more on the life lived than on the notice of the death. An obituary can help those in the family and other people know more about one of their own members, themselves, and the community in general.

Accuracy and completeness are very important. This sounds obvious, but it is not easy. Errors can slip in, names can be misspelled, dates can be wrong, information can be missed. The best way to ensure accuracy is to proofread, and then to proofread again. A good way to catch errors is to set the obituary aside, and then look at it another day – another reason to plan ahead so you have the time to do it right.

Below is a sample format. It is meant as a general guide to help in deciding what to include in an obituary. Make sure that you have considered everything that is usually covered, then select what you would like to include, and also decide what order you would like to use.


  • Full name of the deceased, including nickname, if any
  • Age at death
  • Residence (for example, the name of the city) at death
  • Day and date of death (remember to include the year)
  • Place of death
  • Cause of death


  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Names of parents
  • Childhood: siblings, stories, schools, friends
  • Marriage(s): date of, place, name of spouse
  • Education: school, college, university and other
  • Designations, awards, and other recognition
  • Employment: jobs, activities, stories, colleagues, satisfactions, promotions, union activities, frustrations,
  • Places of residence
  • Hobbies, sports, interests, activities, and other enjoyment
  • Charitable, religious, fraternal, political, and other affiliations; positions held
  • Achievements
  • Unusual attributes, humor, other stories


(Decide how many family members to include. How many generations do you want to go back?)

Family – Survived by (and place of residence):

  • Spouse
  • Children (in order of date of birth, and their spouses)
  • Grandchildren
  • Great-grandchildren
  • Great-great-grandchildren
  • Parents
  • Grandparents
  • Siblings (in order of date of birth)
  • Others, such as nephews, nieces, cousins, in-laws
  • Friends
  • Pets (if appropriate)

Family – Predeceased by (and date of death):

  • Spouse
  • Children (in order of date of birth)
  • Grandchildren
  • Siblings (in order of date of birth)
  • Others, such as nephews, nieces, cousins, in-laws
  • Pets (if appropriate)


  • Day, date, time, place
  • Name of officiant, pallbearers, honorary pallbearers, other information
  • Visitation information if applicable: day, date, time, place
  • Reception information if applicable: day, date, time, place
  • Other memorial, vigil, or graveside services if applicable: day, date, ime, place
  • Place of interment
  • Name of company in charge of arrangements
  • Where to call for more information (even if no service planned)


  • Memorial funds established
  • Memorial donation suggestions, including addresses
  • Thank you to people, groups, or institutions
  • Quotation or poem
  • Three words that sum up the life

Due to the concern of identity theft, consider preparing a shorter public obituary without crucial information, and a longer more complete one for family records and future genealogical research. Also, be careful not to print house addresses in an obituary as these can be a clue to an empty home at the time of a funeral. Being prudent is obviously in order, and everyone will have to find their own balance between completeness and caution.

For many people, their obituary may be just about the only thing that is ever written about them in their whole life and death. The obituary can be a defining statement about the person for the family, friends and community. An obituary can be read now and saved for generations…all the more reason to make it lively and significant!

Reprinted with permission from