How to write an obituary

June 2, 2021
10 min.

At some point, most of us will have to consider the obituary of a loved one. What is an obituary? How do you create a suitable tribute and provide the information required from this form of an article?

A lot of people have seen an obituary before, but that doesn’t mean they know how to write an obituary. We provide people with a free editable template and a complete guide to create a suitable piece of writing to act as a fitting tribute.

What is an obituary, and how do you use an obituary template?

An obituary is a document or article to provide an announcement of somebody’s death. It is also designed to serve as a short tribute and must be written in a respectful way. A lot of the obituaries we see are in the newspaper. Famous people are often given professionally written obituaries. A journalist will write a short piece on their life and achievements, which tends to be published. Non-celebrity obituaries may also make their way into local newspapers. It is a convenient way to alert people to somebody’s passing.

The obituary also has an administrative task. It lets people know about the funeral arrangements and any other plans to celebrate that person’s life or pay tribute. These may be public or private. It often depends on the person who has died and their status within society.

Obituaries are usually published in newspapers, but a lot of this can be done online, and there are specific platforms and websites set up specifically for obituaries. If you need to spread the word about someone’s passing, this can be a good method to do so.

Although an obituary doesn’t have a specific convention, there are certain things that are found in virtually every obituary. That’s why downloading a sample or being able to edit an obituary online is such a helpful and positive activity, to give you peace of mind that your writing style is respectful and suitable. Having an obituary template for your writing to download as a PDF means that you can follow this and use it as a guide for format and writing, so you don’t miss anything.

Writing an obituary: obituary examples and advice

When you sit down to write an obituary, it’s easy for your mind to go blank and not to know where to start at all. This is why printable or editable documents and examples can be really helpful. They basically allow you to fill in the details to make sure you don’t miss anything out.

It is a good idea to add a real personal touch to the obituary, but this can be difficult while still sounding respectful and sticking to the conventions of this style of writing. Our obituary template simplifies things.

Start with the facts. Our template encourages you to start with the simple facts of the death. This is what you see in the vast majority of obituaries to provide the context of the document and give the actual announcement.

[Full name (including any nicknames)], [age of the deceased], of [city and state where they passed away], passed away on [date of death], [cause of death] (optional).

Next, it is usually standard to give the notice of funeral arrangements. Our template shows how this should be laid out and all of the information people will need. Who is arranging the funeral, the time and date, and of course where the funeral will take place. People who want to attend and show their respects will then know exactly where they can go.

The funeral service will be held at [time and date of funeral] at [place of funeral]. [Name of minister] of [name of church] will be officiating. Visitation will be held at [time and date of wake] at [name of church or funeral home]. Burial will follow the funeral at [name of cemetery] at [time of burial]. Funeral arrangements are being handled by [name of funeral home].

Next, many obituaries (especially those that are a little longer) go into the history of the person who has passed away. It’s a sort of miniature biography. The document remains factual, and the writing is very simple. You can add information on passions and areas where the individual excelled in early life if you wish. For instance, if he or she was the captain of a local sports team.

[First name] was born in [place of birth] on [date of birth]. [He or she] graduated from [name of high school] and continued on to receive a [type of degree] from [name of school].

Marriage details usually are next.

[First name] was married to [spouse’s name] on [wedding date]; they were married [number of years].

You can then delve into the career and interests they held throughout their life. It’s important that you try to shine a light on the areas where they were passionate and what they did within the community. Any charities or community organizations, or projects can be discussed in this section. This is another factual section, so you shouldn’t give your opinions on the person, but you can use their past to shine a light on the things they were interested in.

[First name] worked as a [type of job] for [name of company] for [number of years worked]. [He or she] enjoyed [hobbies and interests]. [He or she] was also actively involved in [any charities or organizations].

Family members should be mentioned next, those whom the deceased is survived by, and others they are related to who passed first. Again, this basic obituary template focuses mainly on factual information and keeps it all very simple.

[First name] is survived by [spouse, grandchildren, parents, brothers and sisters, children, nieces and nephews], and other family and friends.

[First name] is preceded in death by [names of family that passed away before].

Finally, the memorial details can be mentioned. If flowers are expected, or alternatively if there are different organizations that the obituary wishes to encourage people to donate to.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be given to [name and location to send donations]. The family of [full name] wishes to thank [names of any significant organizations].

This obituary template is a sample, and it doesn’t have to be exactly aligned with this. Always make sure you use positive language, especially if you knew the person well. Think about the following phrases:

  • “They will be fondly remembered by”
  • “A celebration of their life will be held”
  • “They will be sadly missed”

The key is to be respectful, factual and to include all of the information that is needed.

The length of the obituary is also something to consider. If it is being published in a newspaper, you may have a limited word count. Sticking to facts is essential, and keeping the words very simple. In an online obituary, there is a lot more space to leave a tribute, and you can publish far more information and go into more depth with the words you have available. As well as being able to fill in an editable template, you can continue to go into more detail about the individual’s history and what they achieved in their life.

Remember that people tend to have short attention spans in the modern age. Just because you need to be factual and respectful doesn’t mean that you can’t infuse a bit of their personality and the facts about the person’s life. There are some obituaries out there that even include some humor, but you need to be cautious about this, and obituaries are often very emotional.

Make sure that you are sensitive enough to the fact that people will be mourning throughout the document. The tone should be correct but also think about private information. You may not want to include their maiden name, or their home address, or anything that might cause difficulty or privacy issues.

It is traditional to include a photograph of the person, either something within a family setting or a portrait of an individual. Once again, it is a good idea to choose a sensible photo, but also one that shows a little bit of personality. Some people opt for wedding photographs.

If you knew the person well, feel free to add some more information about their personality, such as something that they were known for, what were they fanatical about? Were they known for their love of a sports team, or did they play an instrument to a high standard? These kinds of things can paint more of a picture of an individual.

An obituary can be incredibly difficult to write and emotional for people who knew the deceased. However, following an obituary template can be a way to fill in the details and make sure you have provided the basic information. From here, you can build upon this and start to create a short biography of that person. It’s best if you find a way to infuse the obituary with something that pays tribute to the person, but the key is to get the message and details spread to all who need to know.