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How to Write a Memorable Obituary

Sharon has been an online writer for over eight years. Her articles focus on everything from cooking recipes to creating family traditions.

Greenwood Cemetery, Jackson, Mississippi

Greenwood Cemetery, Jackson, Mississippi

What Is an Obituary?

First, may I say, if you have found this page because you recently lost a loved one, I am so sorry for your loss. My hope is that the tips and advice in this brief article will make this process the easiest it can be for you.

To begin, an obituary is an article written for publication in a newspaper to notify readers of someone’s recent death. Nowadays, obituaries are also published online.

Obituaries are a way to celebrate and honor the life of the deceased. They typically include a brief account of the person’s life as well as information on funeral or memorial services.

Obituaries are often called “obituary notices” or “death notices.”

When an obituary notice is published in a newspaper, they are usually handled by the Classified Advertising Department because they are published as a “paid listing.” This type of obituary is usually written and paid for by the family of the deceased. Many funeral homes will assist in the creation of an obituary. Death notices, on the other hand, are usually shorter in length, may or may not be paid for by the family, and published as a legally required public notice.

Did You Ever Wonder?

How does the media compile information about the death of a famous person so quickly?

Many obituaries are often pre-written as well as pre-edited video files. For example, the famous actress Elizabeth Taylor passed away in 2011. The Los Angeles Times began researching information for her obituary in 1999, and then continued to update it for the next 12 years.

What Should Be Included in a Traditional Obituary?

  • Photo of the deceased
  • Full name of the deceased (including nickname, middle name and maiden name if appropriate)
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Date of death
  • Place of death
  • Age at death
  • Marriages
  • List of survivors in order of birth and their place of residence if preferred: Spouse/significant other, children, siblings, parents, grandchildren, great grandchildren, other family, other friends
  • Names of family members who preceded the deceased in death
  • Military service
  • Place of interment
  • Dates, place, times and details of services
  • Name of funeral home, if applicable, in charge of arrangements
  • Where to call for more information
  • Donations/contributions in lieu of flowers
Sample Obituary. Note that this is not a real obituary.  It is a mock-up created by Sharyn’s Slant.

Sample Obituary. Note that this is not a real obituary. It is a mock-up created by Sharyn’s Slant.

Other Things You Can Include in an Obituary

  • Reference to length of illness or cause of death
  • Where deceased was raised
  • Schools attended
  • Degrees obtained
  • Places lived
  • Work history, employers
  • Achievements and special recognition
  • Special pets
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Key events
  • Church/religious activity
  • Groups/clubs
  • Significant attributes
  • Favorite charities
  • Favorite saying or quote
  • Special "thank you" notices
Note: This is not a real obituary. It is an example of ways to incorporate different topics in an obituary.

Note: This is not a real obituary. It is an example of ways to incorporate different topics in an obituary.

Writing Your Own Obituary

Many people choose to write their own obituary before they leave this earth. Some think it’s strange. Others may think it is morbid. But, if you really think about it, who knows you better than yourself?

An Obituary Can Be Many Things in One

There really is no “right or wrong” for what should and should not be included in an obituary. An obituary is not only a notice of death, but it can also be a compilation of one’s life beautifully crafted into a keepsake or memoir for the family and generations to come. It’s also an opportunity to record the family genealogy of the deceased.

If you are the person responsible for writing an obituary, take your time. It is not an easy task to accomplish. Ask for help if needed. Proofread. Be sure that what you have printed in an obituary is accurate to the best of your knowledge.

Just a few last tips:

  • Obtain a copy of the newspaper where you will be placing the obituary to get an idea of how they are formatted.
  • Obituary notices can be quite expensive. If necessary, set a limit or budget for yourself.
  • Take care of yourself during this difficult time.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on April 16, 2018:

Hi Alice,

I'm so glad you found this helpful. I find it special that you feel compelled to write something extremely memorable for your mother. Best wishes to you!

Alice on April 16, 2018:

Thank you. I want to write my mother’s memorable myself. She will be 90 years old May 2. No simple fill in the blank could possibly show our love as I feel in me. This is helpful. I want to have it ready for when God calls her home.

Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on July 16, 2015:

Hi Ms. Lizzy ~ many funeral homes do "fill in the blanks" for you but to me, that is very simple and not as memorable as it can be. But it is a very difficult time and I'm sure some families would rather someone else do it for them. Thanks for stopping by!


Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on July 16, 2015:

P.S. As it turned out, neither my mother nor I had to do much of the actual writing. We simply supplied the information, and the funeral home just plugged it into a standard format for publication. The difficulty was in trying to think of everything we wanted included when our emotions were raw.

Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on July 15, 2015:

I agree Jack! An obituary that encompasses accomplishments with personal, meaningful qualities is quite memorable and touching. Thanks so much for your feedback!

Jack Hagan from New York on July 15, 2015:

An obituary is the perfect way of expressing your care and affection for the departed. In my opinion, an obituary must be written as a mixture of the professional and personal qualities of the deceased if possible.

Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on March 09, 2013:

Hi Shasta ~ As a genealogist, I bet you've read plenty of obituaries. And definitely, getting the facts right is so important. And it helps future generations to keep records on their correct family tree too. I appreciate you stopping by and leaving such insightful feedback. Thank you,


Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on March 09, 2013:

Hi MsLizzy ~ It is tough to be responsible for writing an obituary. I hope because you mentioned identity theft that it did not happen to you. There are so many ways for people to get our "information" besides an obituary. It's sad that we have to worry about such things.

And yes, I do think it would be a tough task to write your own obituary yet I believe more and more people have done it ahead of time. I laughed out loud about the "cats got 'em." Too funny. Thanks so much for your feedback.


Shasta Matova from USA on March 09, 2013:

Great information here on how to write an obituary Sharyn. This will be very helpful when I need to write one. Voted up.

I haven't had to write one, but I have read quite a few as a genealogist. I love it when they include the parents' names and date and place of birth on the obit.

As you said, getting the facts right is very important. I read one obituary that was about the wrong person. Apparently, there were two people with the same name, and the person writing the obit wrote about the older one when it was really the younger one who had died!

Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on March 08, 2013:

Hi Audrey ~ I know, it's a difficult subject but hopefully this will help others who are at a loss for words. Thank you so much for stopping by.


Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on March 08, 2013:

My mom and I had to deal with this when my father passed, then I had to repeat the process when she herself passed. It is tough.

Ironically, though, despite the video's warning to "avoid including sensitive information to prevent identity theft," that's not so easy. Sadly, just the usual details are enough for a skilled and determined ID thief to use.

An even tougher task, one that we were assigned in college (still tough for me, even though by then I was a mid-life student), is "write your own epitaph." I don't remember what I put at agd 40-something; but my husband and I now jokingly say that both of ours will read, "The cats got 'em."

Very interesting and useful--so voted.

Audrey Howitt from California on March 08, 2013:

I hate to think about it, but it is useful--and a great article on it!

Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on September 08, 2012:

Hello blessed365 ~ Thank you so much for stopping by to read and comment. Very much appreciated.


Vicky C. from New England on September 07, 2012:

Very thorough and useful.

Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on September 05, 2012:

Aw, thanks Glimmer for such kind feedback. I always appreciate you stopping by to read and comment.


Claudia Porter on September 05, 2012:

Another really useful hub Sharyn! Your layouts are great and you always give the reader so much pertinent info. Great tips for a difficult time.

Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on September 05, 2012:

Hi Tammy ~ Hmmm, that's interesting about the death notice. I'm used to (sometimes) long obituaries. I'm sure there are many factors including which newspaper and the cost. I know it can get very expensive to place an obituary. I would also want something thoughtful written about me too. Thanks so much for your feedback!


Tammy from North Carolina on September 04, 2012:

I have been fortunate to never have had to do this, but I am sure one day I will. Most people in my area just have a "death notice" in the paper with little information. I would personally want someone who cared about me to take the time to write something thoughtful like this. I love the comforting touch you added at the beginning. Wonderful hub and advice!

Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on September 03, 2012:

Hi Michelle ~ Yup, it is a sad topic but one we may all have to face. Trying to make it the easiest possible for others. I appreciate you stopping by. Thanks for sharing and voting!


Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on September 03, 2012:

Hi Kel ~ it is a difficult thing to think about writing an obituary. Though, most people will be involved with it in some way in their lives. I do think that writing our own obituary could be very interesting. Some people think that it's a bad idea, that once they would write it, something bad is going to happen. That can't be true. Just like it is a kind gesture letting family know what your detailed wishes are for when you pass away, it's a loving thing to do to take some of the burden off the family. I appreciate your feedback always.


Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on September 03, 2012:

Hey Joseph ~ It isn't the most pleasant thing to think about but usually necessary at some point in our lives. I appreciate you stopping by! Thanks,


Michelle Liew from Singapore on September 03, 2012:

Sharon, these are useful tips. I agree with Audrey, sad, but something we've all got to face!! Shared, voted across.

Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on September 02, 2012:

I hope I never need to refer back to this but I am glad it is here in case I need to. I do not ever know what to write for a sympathy card! I would actually have fun planning my own obit though - great idea!

Thanks for another sensitive and useful hub:)

Joseph De Cross from New York on September 02, 2012:

Great tips for Obituaries. Hate to think about it but someone has to do it! Thanks!

Sharon Smith (author) from Northeast Ohio USA on September 01, 2012:

Hi Audrey ~ it is sad to think about having to write an obituary. Yet when it is necessary, someone has to do it. I hope it will be helpful to many. Thanks for stopping by!


Audrey Howitt from California on August 31, 2012:

Sad to think about --but a necessary thing!