How to Write an Obituary — Easy Templates & Creative Examples (2024)

So you have to write an obituary?

Don’t worry if you’re not a writer. It’s not as hard as you may think, and we have templates to make it easy, although you may be surprised to find that the more effort you put into writing an obituary, the more cathartic it can feel.

Obituaries are an act of remembrance, and they include memories, facts of someone’s life, and details on a service.

Beyond those basics, an obituary is a chance to put down in writing the very essence of who someone was.

You are shaping how people will remember someone — their final story. One that future generations, perhaps hundreds of years down the line may read one day.

That’s an inspiring thought, but it’s also a bit daunting.

And while you don’t have a ton of space to memorialize them with, effectively using the words available to summarize someone’s life and personality is what makes a good obituary.

Before we get into details, let’s talk about how long an obituary should be.

How long should an obituary be?

The average obituary is 200-300 words, with some going way beyond that, and others being as short as 50 (essentially a death notice).

Just know that the longer your obituary, the more expensive it will be to publish.

Paying hundreds of dollars for 1,000+ words is an option for some people, but for most of us it isn’t. The difference between a 200 hundred word obituary and a thousand words could be an extra few hundred dollars, if not more, so keep that in mind.

And remember: no one person has to write an obituary. It can be a collective effort. You can even hire someone else to come in and write it.

How to Write an Obituary (Step-by-Step Breakdown +Example)

Step #1 —Start with the basics: announce the death

You'll want to include these details at the beginning:

  • Full name
  • Age
  • Date of Birth, and where they were born
  • Date of death and where they passed
  • Where the deceased lived
  • Cause of death (if desired)

Example:

Jill, known affectionately by her devilish grandkids as “G-Ma JJ”, left to give her late husband Joe a piece of her mind on June 4th, 2023. She passed her in sleep, surrounded by the very people she watched over with incredible care for so many years.

Step #2 —Create a summary of their life

There is no one way to do this section, but you should try to create a complete snapshot of someone’s life. Just start writing and don’t stop yourself — you can always edit and trim down later.

Include things like:

  • What they were like growing up (tying threads to their adult self)
  • Defining moments in their lives (military service, notable professional achievements, when they met their future spouse, etc.)
  • Things you know they cared about. If you know they didn’t care about their job but spent more time outdoors than anyone you knew, talk about their favorite trips and experiences. That’s more true to them.

Example:

Jill was a witty firebrand whose dramatic entrance (a whopping 30 hours of labor) in 1944 would be indicative of her electric life. She graduated top of her class in high school despite “always fending off attention from those Catholic boys” and went on to become a prominent (and rare) female war photographer during the Vietnam War, portraying humanity in an environment where often the very worst, but sometimes the very best, examples of it existed. After the war she continued her journalistic photography and met Joe, a quiet professor in Brooklyn at a book club, and they spent three long decades together before Joe passed away from lung cancer.

Step #3 — List relevant relatives

Include:

  • Full names of siblings, parents, children, and the spouse (living and deceased).
  • You can also mention any grandparents, uncles, and other relatives you’d like to include.
  • Number of grandchildren and descendants

Example:

Jill was predeceased by both of her parents (Richard and Ethel), her brother Jack, leaves behind two loving daughters (Sarah and Victoria), one son (Brandon), and eight vivacious grandchildren.

Step #4 — Add funeral or Memorial Details (if desired)

List the time, day, date, place, and location of whatever end-of-life service you have, assuming you would like the public to attend. You can also include any relevant information on what to wear to the funeral or what to bring.

Example:

Jill always preferred a party to more solemn displays of community, which is why we will be having a celebration of life instead of a funeral. You are hereby invited to bring the casual shirt you think you look the best in, your favorite Jill Story, and your favorite thing to cook to St. Joseph’s on June 20th, 2023 at 3PM.

Step #5 — List a way to give

Giving flowers is still common but so is accepting donations to the charity or memorial fund. You can list your online website or physical location to send money or any other gifts in lieu of flowers that are more beneficial to the family.

Example:

As some of you know, Jill thought flowers were pointless — “they die anyway, what’s the point?”. So instead of flowers, we are accepting donations to cover the costs of the funeral and will be donating any additional funds to the Young Women’s Photography Association in her honor. Please visit memorialforjill.com to donate online or send donation directly to 1356 Hillhouse Lane.

Step #6 — pick a photo

Try and pick a photo you think represents their personality!

  • Estate: - A collective term for all of the assets someone left behind.
  • Affidavit - a written statement confirmed by oath or affirmation and used as evidence in court.
  • Executor: - The person appointed to settle an estate/handle the probate process; also Executrix: (if female).
  • Personal Representative: - A collective term for all of the assets someone left behind.
  • Decedent: - A collective term for all of the assets someone left behind.
  • Will/Testament: - A collective term for all of the assets someone left behind.
  • Letters Testamentary: - A collective term for all of the assets someone left behind.
  • Letters of Administration: - A collective term for all of the assets someone left behind.
  • Beneficiaries: - A collective term for all of the assets someone left behind.
  • Inestate: - A collective term for all of the assets someone left behind.
  • Petition for probate: - A collective term for all of the assets someone left behind.

Full Obituary Example

In summary (with a few extra edits!), that givesJill, known affectionately by her devilish grandkids as “G-Ma JJ”, left on June 4th, 2023 to give her late husband Joe a piece of her mind for leaving her so soon. She passed in her sleep, surrounded by the very people she watched over with such incredible care and ferocity for so many years.

How to Write an Obituary — Easy Templates & Creative Examples (1)

Jill was a witty firebrand whose dramatic entrance (a whopping 30 hours of labor and a month early) in 1944 would be indicative of her electric life and personality.

She graduated top of her class in high school despite “always sneaking off with those Catholic boys” and went on to become a prominent (and rare) female war photographer during the Vietnam War, portraying humanity in an environment where the very worst, but sometimes the very best, examples of it existed.

After the war she continued her photography work and met Joe, a quiet professor in Brooklyn at a book club. She described him affectionately as a “an entirely bookish and dreary geek who I couldn’t get enough of for some reason”, and they spent three long decades together before Joe passed away unexpectedly from lung cancer. She never remarried and devoted her life to her community instead, working tirelessly in local elections and teaching community photography classes.

Jill was predeceased by both of her parents (Richard and Ethel), her brother Jack, leaves behind two loving daughters (Sarah and Victoria), one son (Brandon), and eight vivacious grandchildren.

Jill always preferred a party to more solemn displays of community, which is why we will be having a celebration of life instead of a funeral. You are hereby invited to bring the casual shirt you think you look the best in, your favorite Jill Story, and your favorite thing to cook to St. Joseph’s on June 20th, 2023 at 3pm.

Jill thought flowers were pointless — “they die anyway, what’s the point?”.

So instead of flowers, we are accepting donations to cover the costs of the funeral and will be donating any additional funds to the Young Women’s Photography Association in her honor. Please visit memorialforjill.com to donate online or send donations by mail directly to 1356 Hillhouse Lane.

That’s nice, right?

And it’s only 360 words — you can definitely do something like that!

Generalized Obituary Templates

If that still seems like a bit much, here are some more basic obituary templates to get you going.

Remember you can adjust these however you see fit — they’re just to use as a jumping off point!

How to Write an Obituary — Easy Templates & Creative Examples (2)

Basic Obituary Template

[name of deceased, [age], passed away on [date] at [location]. [he/she/they] was/were the [wife, husband, partner] or widow/widower of [name]. They [insert length of marriage or relevant detail here] (e.g. spent 24 long years together in the phoenix heat).

Born in [location], [deceased] was the son/daughter/child of [names of parents]. They attended [school] and [list educational accomplishments]. After graduating, they [major workplace/professional accomplishments].

[Name] was involved in the [organization, church] and was known for being [insert personality traits]. Their favorite thing to do was [favorite hobby/habit], and He/she/they will perhaps be remembered most for [memory, trait, specific act of love, things you loved].

Donations or gifts in lieu of flowers can be made online at [memorial website] or mailed directly to [recipient address], and the funeral/memorial service/celebration of life will be held at [date] at [time] inside/outside the [venue]. Please wear [clothing recommendations] and bring [guest guidelines].

How to Write an Obituary — Easy Templates & Creative Examples (3)

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How to Write an Obituary — Easy Templates & Creative Examples (4)

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Obituary Template for a Mother

[First and Last name], [age], of [city of residence], passed away on [date of passing] after [brief description of death].

[First name] was born on [date] in [city] and was raised by [parents/guardian]. She attended [high school name] and pursued [college or career] afterward.

After a few years [early adult life anecdote], she met her future partner [name] at [location of meeting]. They married on [date of marriage] and went on to [do x & y anecdotes], including having [number of kids] children, [names of children].

[First Name] was a great mother, working tirelessly to build a home and environment that were safe and loving for her family. She was deeply proud of her work with [organization, church, group] and spoke often of her children.

Outside of work and family, [Name] was a passionate [name of hobby] and frequented [favorite locations].

If you were lucky enough to know her, you’ve probably experienced one of her [typical acts of love]. [Name] was predeceased by [other family members who have passed]. [list of family members still alive] and other surviving family members will keep her in their memory.

Donations or gifts in lieu of flowers can be made online at [memorial website] or mailed directly to [recipient address], and there will be a [type of service] on [date] at [time] at [location].

Obituary Template for a Father

[First and Last name], [age], of [city of residence], passed away on [date of passing] after [brief description of death].

[First name] was born on [date] in [city] and was raised by [parents/guardian]. He attended [high school name] and pursued [college or career] afterward.

After a few years [early adult life anecdote], he met his future partner [name] at [location of meeting]. They married on [date of marriage] and went on to [do x & y anecdotes], including having [number of kids] children, [names of children].

[First Name] was a great father, working tirelessly to build a home and environment that were safe and loving for his family. He was deeply proud of his work with [organization, church, group] and spoke often of his children.

Outside of work and family, [Name] was a passionate [name of hobby] and frequented [favorite locations].

If you were lucky enough to know him, you’ve probably experienced one of his [typical acts of love]. [Name] was predeceased by [other family members who have passed]. [list of family members still alive] and other surviving family members will keep him in their memory.

Donations or gifts in lieu of flowers can be made online at [memorial website] or mailed directly to [recipient address], and there will be a [type of service] on [date] at [time] at [location].

Obituary Template for a Pet

[Pet’s full name], lovingly known as [nickname], liked nothing more than [habit #1], [habit #2], and was quite possibly the cutest [animal] seen in [city]. But, then again, we are biased.

Born in [year] in [location], [name] found her home one fateful day after being seen at [first contact location].

When [owner] first saw [name’s] [main feature #1], [main feature #2], and adorable paws, [he/she/they] [was/were] charmed.

And upon bringing [name] home, they were instantly a part of the family.

Every day was an adventure with [name], and that includes the day [funny anecdote].

[He/She/They] was/were taken too soon, as most pets are. [name] will be sorely missed and forever loved.

13 Pro tips for writing a good obituary

The best obituaries leave someone, even if they didn’t know them, feeling like they knew exactly who they were. That can only come from an honest portrayal.

That doesn’t mean it has to be funny, although it can be.

Here’s a list of recommendations taken from various professional obituary writers and some of the best obituaries of all time.

#1 Start by listing what you know HAS to be in the obituary

Start small. Expand from there. Refer to the basic template above for everything you need, but get your details down first, then decide what else you want to include.

#2 Write the obituary in present tense first, and then change it to past later.

Sometimes writing about a person as if they are still here makes them feel more alive. Start describing the person as if you were telling a close friend who they are, including all the silly anecdotes that come to mind.

#3 Ask your friends and family what they remember

Think of the first words and phrases that describe someone, and don’t question them.

Whether it’s “silly”, “grumpy as a dog who had his bone taken”, or “deeply curious about space and time and… the Kardashians.”, take those phrases and/or words, and ask family members what they remember about those qualities.

You’ll be surprised by what stories come up that you can incorporate into your obituary.

#4 Ask yourself these questions

Here’s a short list of questions you can use to get your mind rolling:

  • What do people say the most about them?
  • What are your favorite memories of that person?
  • What did they love the most? Hate?
  • What weird quirks or habits did they have?
  • How did they want to be remembered?
  • How would you sum up their personality?
  • What were they most proud of?
  • What was the most frustrating thing about them?
#5 Check your facts

Remember that future generations may be reading this — take some extra time to verify any anecdotes and do a little family research.

#6 Write the obituary in third-person, so don’t say “I”.

The obituary should be written about the person and from a third-person narrative perspective. So instead of saying, “I will miss him”, you say something like “George will be missed by many.”

#7 Add a quote if it makes sense to

Quotes can be a great way to bring a bit of personality into an obituary. For example, if Aunt Jane burned the guest preacher once by saying he was “drier than a New Yorker in Death Valley”, include it!

#8 Get someone else to proofread it

Again, obituaries are important! Ask a friend or relative to take a look for any obvious errors.

#9 Tie it to historical events

Adding in historical events is a wonderful way to bring more context to an individual’s life.

For example, “Bill was born in the unsteady year 1939, at the dawn of World War II, which may explain his consistent desire to shake up his life in dramatic ways.”

#10 Ask for help if you need it

You don’t have to do this alone! Plus asking friends and family for help is a good way to connect during a hard time.

#11 Write the rough draft, edit, and then proofread it.

Don’t edit every line you write. Just get out as much as you can — you can always cut it down later. Just write as honestly as you can, and then edit and proofread later!

#12 Don’t overthink it

There is no perfect way to write an obituary, so write what feels honest and don’t question it. I’m sure your loved one wouldn’t want you to stress over this!

#13 Let yourself be creative

What sounds more interesting?

“Jerry served as a navigator in WW2 and was nicknamed Blue Hawk during his time in the military. He took that same devotion to service and applied it to his family. He will be missed.”

Or…

“With striking blue eyes and the intelligence to match, Jerry was known in his WW2 battalion as “Blue Hawk” — a name given for his almost superhuman ability to spot enemy aircraft in the poorest of weather conditions. He applied that same degree of perception to helping his family and friends navigate their own lives, and his sage advice and unlimited empathy will be sorely missed by anyone who knew him.”

The point? Don’t assume there is a right way to do this. Write what feels honest, and chances are you’ll end up with something better than if you put yourself in a box based on what you think an obituary should sound like.

Examples of Famous Obituaries

👉 Joe Heller

Dubbed the greatest obituary in history, notice how his daughter instantly makes you feel like you know Joe Heller, from the very first paragraph:

“Joe Heller made his last undignified and largely irreverent gesture on September 8, 2019, signing off on a life, in his words, "generally well-lived and with few regrets." When the doctors confronted his daughters with the news last week that "your father is a very sick man," in unison they replied, "you have no idea."

The whole obituary is a joy to read, including sly pranks from the hopelessly frugal and clever Mr. Heller, such as naming his dog Fart so his mother would have to yell “Fart” loudly across the neighborhood.

👉 Mary A. “Pink” Mullaney

This is a lovely obituary composed mainly of advice and quirky habits we could all emulate from “Pink”, like letting the unhoused use your car during winter mass and loving as hard and as often as you can.

👉 Harry Stamps

Another example of an absolute firecracker of an obituary not holding anything back.

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Where to Publish an Obituary

First of all, you should know that there is no legal requirement to publish an obituary. It is simply a custom — a way to memorialize someone.

If you do, however, there are two things to think about when determining where to publish an obituary:

  • Where the most people you care about will see it
  • What your budget is

Here are your options:

In a local newspaper

Typically $200+. The longer it is, the more expensive it will be.

Obituary sites

Obituary sites like legacy.com are cheaper alternatives/options than a newspaper.

Funeral home or church website

If a funeral home or church offers a posting, it is usually covered in the general price of the funeral or is free.

Work-related publications

If they had a strong professional community, you could consider posting it there.

Community publications

The same goes for any other publications that fall outside of newspapers.

On social media (free)

You can repost your obituary on Facebook and other social media sites for free.

Obituary FAQ

What should be included in an obituary?

At the most fundamental level, an obituary should have:

  • Full name + any nicknames they were known by
  • Where they were born and where they passed, including time of death.
  • Where they lived.
  • List of relevant surviving family members
  • A brief description of their life
  • Any memorial service details if necessary
  • Directions on where to send donations to relevant charities or memorial funds
Should the cause of death be in the obituary?

Not necessarily. If the family wants it to be, then sure. If not, then you can sidestep it with “passed away unexpectedly” or simply not mention it at all.

How much do obituaries cost?

Costs to publish vary by publication, but the average is $450 and can range between $200 for shorter obituaries all the way up to $1,000+ for full pages in a newspaper [*].

You can also hire a writer to write an obituary from a few hundred dollars on the low end to much higher amounts of longer, more public obituaries.

How do I submit an obituary?

Funeral homes sometimes help with the process and give you an option to add on an obituary service, but you can also submit an obituary directly to a newspaper for a fee. They usually charge by line or word, so the longer it is, the more expensive it will be.

Like any convenience, if you work through the funeral home you will likely pay a higher fee, but it also means you won’t have to contact the newspaper yourself.

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

Obituaries are longer, more detailed, and story-oriented. Death notices are simply that — the briefest way to explain that someone has passed. Death notices are required if the deceased’s estate has creditors or beneficiaries who need to be notified.

Do obituaries count as filing notice to creditors?

No, unless you were to include extremely specific language, but it’s best to do them separately.

Notice to creditors are usually published in a newspaper and follow a particular legal format — some states have a form to be filled out, others just provide language in the code statutes (laws).

In some states the Clerk of Court (probate clerk) will file it for estates, but in most states the obligation is for the executor/personal rep to file it.

Writing an obituary is one step in hundreds during the post-life process — here’s how to make it easy

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See how we make probate and estate settlement easy

How to Write an Obituary — Easy Templates & Creative Examples (2024)
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