12 questions and answers to help you write a good obituary

Do you have questions about how to write an obituary? Here are some of the most common obit questions and answers. If you need help, go to our resource page, How to Write a Good Obituary

What is an obituary?

An obituary is an announcement of a person’s death. It includes the day a person died, a recent photograph, a short biography of their life, information about family members, and details about the funeral or memorial service. Write it like a news article. Publish it, for a fee, in the local newspaper where your loved one lived. 

What’s the difference between an obituary and a death notice?

An obituary is a longer announcement of a person’s death. It provides information about the day they died, a short biography of their life, surviving family members, and details about the funeral or memorial service. A death notice is a very short announcement. It states the name of the deceased and details about the funeral or memorial service. A death notice has fewer words. It typically costs less money to publish a death notice in a newspaper. 

What’s the difference between an obituary and an eulogy?

An obituary is an announcement of a person’s death. It includes the day he or she died, a photograph, a short biography of their life, information about family members, and details about the funeral or memorial service. You write a eulogy like a speech to praise someone’s life and accomplishments. You deliver eulogies at the funeral, visitation, or other memorial service. 

What’s the difference between an obituary and an epitaph?Old white tombstone in a cemetery.

An obituary announces a person’s death. It includes the day they died, a recent photograph, a short biography of their life, information about family members, and details about the funeral or memorial service. Epitaphs are short phrases written in memory of a person and inscribed on a tombstone or grave marker. 

Who should write the obituary?

Someone who loved and admired the deceased person should write it. A family member, or group of family members, typically writes it. But anyone who can add loving memories and thoughtful details about the deceased person’s life can write one. Before turning this important job over to a stranger, consider writing it yourself. You can do it! If you need help, visit the How to Write a Good Obituary page or purchase our Obituary Kit.

Do you legally need an obituary?

An obituary is not a legal document and is not required by law (at least according to the research I did). However, state law requires a death certificate to be filed. The funeral home helping you with arrangements can help you through the filing process. 

How much does it cost to publish an obituary in a newspaper?

The cost to publish will vary based on the size of the newspaper. Smaller, weekly community newspapers may charge $50 to publish a full obituary and photo. A large, daily metropolitan newspaper may charge you $500 or more. Larger newspapers charge by the word, so longer obits will be more expensive. If you cannot afford to publish it, consider writing a death notice instead. You can publish the obituary on your funeral home’s website and distribute it at the funeral or memorial service. 

Who do you call to write an obituary?

Any close relative or friend can write it. Many funeral homes offer this service as well. However, before you ask a stranger to write the final story about your loved one – consider writing it yourself! You knew this person; you loved and appreciated them. You’re the one who should write a tribute to them. 

Are obituaries mandatory?

Obituaries are not mandatory. They are not required by law to be written or published. But … if you’re considering skipping it because it’s too overwhelming to write, please reconsider it. This is the final tribute to your loved one. It’s the final loving gesture you can give them to ensure the world remembers their contributions. 

How do you write an obituary with blended families?Family tree diagram

It is very common to have blended family members and it is important to include everyone in your loved one’s obituary. For stepparents, write: [Name] was raised by his/her mother [name] and stepfather [name], along with his/her father [name] and stepmother [name].

To write about stepsiblings or half-siblings, use this formula: [Name] is survived by siblings [list all their names] and stepsiblings (or half-siblings) [list names]. If it is a particularly complicated family and you don’t know how to handle all the survivors, you can simply write: [Name] is survived by a host of loving relatives and friends. 

What’s the correct way to write someone’s maiden name in an obituary?

When writing about a woman who had a maiden name, simply write her first name and then in parentheses write her maiden name and then her married last name. For instance, Laura (Ingalls) Wilder, Marie (Sklodowska) Curie or Julia (McWilliams) Childs. 

What’s the correct way to write someone’s nickname in an obituary?

The correct way to write someone’s nickname is to write the first name, then the nickname in quotes, and then the last name. For instance, Theron “Pud” Barnett or George “Babe” Ruth or Henry “Hank” Aaron. For a woman, it can be a bit trickier if you need to list a nickname and a maiden name. The format of a woman’s name would be: first name, nickname in quotes, maiden last name in parenthesis and then married last name. For example, Vanita “Maxine” (Drake) Barnett.

Have a question that’s not in this article? Check out our Obituary FAQ page for dozens of more frequently asked obituary questions and answers.

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Dwayne Hanson of Nevada, Iowa, sitting in a recliner.