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Writing an obituary is no small task. How do you sum up someone’s entire life accurately and respectfully? It’s such a complex art form that there are people who have made whole careers out of obituary writing. Learning how to write an obituary takes time, and you want to be sensitive to the information surrounding the deceased.
An obituary is a formal death announcement. It usually appears in a newspaper or on an online memorial page. While they might be intimidating to write yourself, an obituary doesn’t have to be a somber read. It’s a celebration of someone’s life and accomplishments.
Tip: Writing an obituary is just one of the tasks you might be responsible for after a death. If you need help figuring out what to do next, check out our post-loss checklist.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Should You List How the Person Died?
- Is It Necessary to List Their Age?
- What’s the Order for Survivors or Predeceased Family?
- Do You Have to Publish the Location of the Memorial Service or Funeral?
How do you know what exactly to include in an obituary? How do you list key information in a way that honors the deceased? There’s such a thing as proper etiquette to obituary writing. It isn’t something you’re likely to know about if this is your first time writing an obituary.
In this guide, we’ll answer all of your obituary etiquette questions so you can write a shining announcement for your loved one. Like most things in life, it’s important not to get too distracted by the details. Always follow your best judgment and the deceased’s wishes when writing an obituary.
Should You List How the Person Died?
There is no single “right” way to pen an obituary. However, one of the biggest questions is whether or not to list how the person died. As you might expect, there are a lot of different opinions about whether this should be included.
The cause of death is not legally considered private information, and it usually is found on the death certificate. However, the death certificate doesn’t give a full picture, and many people might wonder how the deceased came to his or her end. Because of this, many families choose to include it in the obituary.
Sharing this information can help distant friends and families know the cause of death, aiding the grieving process. It also shields the family from having to repeatedly share the cause of death to extended family and acquaintances. Finally, how the person died is a part of his or her life story. Since death is a part of life, it’s understandable why many don’t shy away from including it.
On the other hand, many families prefer to focus exclusively on the life of their loved one. The obituary doesn't necessarily need to include the cause of death. In some cases, the cause of death could harm the reputation of the deceased or the family. It also might not be an accurate representation of a life well-lived. Whether you list how the person died is a personal decision that’s left to the family.
If you do choose to share how the person died, it’s common to list the date and city of death. You might also include whether they died in a hospital or medical center. This information is included first, and it’s followed by his or her accomplishments.
» MORE: Create a free online memorial. Honor your loved one, share funeral details, and collect memories and tributes.
Is It Necessary to List Their Age?
Another common question is whether it’s necessary to share the age of the deceased. This is a customary part of obituary etiquette that helps readers put the person’s life in context. The age is usually listed with the date of death next to the first name and any nicknames, if applicable.
While listing the age is common, it’s not a requirement. If it’s not an important part of the deceased’s story or against their wishes, it doesn’t need to be in the obituary.
Finally, it’s common to list the birthdate of the deceased. Again, it’s all about sharing a full story of a loved one’s life. The age at the time of death tells a lot about a person’s life in many instances.
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What’s the Order for Survivors or Predeceased Family?
For obituaries, it’s etiquette to list survivors or predeceased family members. A survivor is a relative of the deceased who is still living. A predeceased family member is a relative who has already passed away.
There’s a bit of confusion around who exactly is included in the definition “survivor.” Most think this refers to closest kin, but that’s still not always clear. In the case of blended families and ex-partners, it’s at the discretion of the writer. Often, it will come down to the relationship the deceased person had with his or her ex-partner.
How should you include survivors or predeceased family? What’s the order? Again, there are no set-in-stone rules. However, there is an order in which to include key family members. Because there can be limited space in your publication, sometimes you need to prioritize according to relationships.
In general, you list the closest members of the family first. Start with the spouse. Next, list children in the order they were born as well as any of their spouses. Here is where you might include ex-partners, especially if they had children with the deceased. Then, list any additional family in order of birth such as parents, grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, nephews, or nieces.
Because all of that can be hard to follow, here’s a simple breakdown:
- Spouse: The spouse or partner is always listed first, along with the city where the spouse lives.
- Children: After the partner, children’s names are listed along with any of the children’s spouses. If the children are with an ex-partner, the ex’s name might also appear depending on the relationship.
- Parents: Parents are also prioritized, especially if the deceased person did not have kids or a spouse.
- Extended family: Next, if space allows, include additional family members such as grandchildren, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and so on.
- Friends: It’s increasingly common to see close friends listed on obituaries. They would be after the family.
- Pets: Finally, pets often feel like family to many people nowadays. If the deceased was fond of his or her pets, write them into the obituary as well.
It all comes down to the individual, their relationships, and the amount of space available to write the obituary.
» MORE: Our story doesn't end at the grave. Honor your loved one with a free online memorial.
Do You Have to Publish the Location of the Memorial Service or Funeral?
Obituaries published in a newspaper, online, or on social media typically have information for the memorial service or funeral. If the service will be open to the public, it’s normal to publish the location and time.
When publishing the location of the memorial service or funeral, include the name of the person who will be officiating the service. Write if the funeral will involve an open casket or viewing. Include contact information for the funeral home for more information or special arrangements.
If the memorial service or funeral is going to be a private affair, it doesn’t need to be published with the obituary. However, it’s customary to include how the service will be “private” or “for immediate family” in the obituary.
Master Obituary Etiquette
Most people don’t have extensive experience reading or writing obituaries. Because of this, it can be confusing to know the right way to present information. Whether you’re writing an online memorial or publishing an obituary in a local newspaper, you should honor the deceased with the proper format.
The obituary tells the story of someone’s life, so make sure to present the full picture. This often includes listing the cause of death, age, relatives, and funeral information. Now that you know what’s expected, you’re ready to master obituary etiquette.
How do you include predeceased in an obituary? ›
The term “predeceased” has the same meaning as “preceded in death.” You could say that the subject of the obituary was predeceased by his parents, and it would be perfectly correct. However, most people opt to use the phrasing “preceded in death” instead. It sounds more formal and less clinical.Do you list survivors or predeceased first in an obituary? ›
Another common section of the obituary is the predeceased family members' names. These names are typically listed before or after the list of surviving family members.Do you include estranged family members in an obituary? ›
Make sure to include the whole life in the obituary, including: Multiple spouses. Estranged siblings (there's no need to mention they're estranged)What should you not put in an obituary? ›
Don't put too much personal information in an obituary. Leave out details that could be used for identity theft, such as the deceased's date and place of birth, middle name, maiden name and mother's maiden name. Don't include the deceased's home address.What order do you put preceded in death in obituary? ›
Start the paragraph with the deceased's first name, and then “was preceded in death by:” followed by the list of names. The appropriate immediate family members like wives, husbands, brothers, sisters and parents are customarily listed, but you can add as many names as you wish.What happens if beneficiary is predeceased? ›
In such a case, the beneficiary's gift may lapse and be distributed to other beneficiaries. Unless the will says otherwise, the beneficiary's share of the estate usually passes to the beneficiary's estate. That is, the gift to the beneficiary would become part of the beneficiary's estate.What does predeceased mean in an obituary? ›
For obituaries, it's etiquette to list survivors or predeceased family members. A survivor is a relative of the deceased who is still living. A predeceased family member is a relative who has already passed away.What does predeceased by his parents mean? ›
If one person predeceases another, they die before them. [formal] His wife of 63 years, Mary, predeceased him by 11 months.Should ex wife be listed in obituary? ›
There are no rules that are set in stone. This means you can always use your own judgment whether or not you include ex-spouses in an obituary. According to traditional obituary etiquette, it's common to include any predeceased or surviving relatives in an obituary.How do you list a blended family in an obituary? ›
You may want to simply list out the different family members and their relationship to the deceased. For example: Marie is survived by her husband, Alexei; step-children, Sam and Theo; father, Alexander; grandchildren, Mona and Kerren; and many loving uncles, aunts, and friends.
What does it mean when a name is in parentheses in an obituary? ›
If the spouse or partner's surname is different, include their surname in the parenthesis along with their first name (ex: Tom (Sarah Williams) Johnson).Who should be listed as survivors in an obituary? ›
List the spouse first, include the town or city where the spouse lives, children in the order of when they were born and their spouses, if any, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, in-laws, nephews or nieces, all listed in birth order.What is the order of family in an obituary? ›
When you list the survivors, make sure that you list them in order of closest relation to the deceased: spouse, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, parents, and siblings. When you are listing a relative, make sure to include their first name, their spouse's first name in brackets and then their last name.What is the best obituary ever written? ›
The obituary of 82-year-old Connecticuter Joe Heller, penned by his daughter Monique Heller, was praised as the “best obituary ever” by The New York Times, which also profiled Heller's “wacky” funeral, a casual affair that saw his coffin carried off in a vintage Mack fire truck.Should estranged children be listed in an obituary? ›
Most families have at least one relative that is avoided or estranged. There is often a tendency to exclude these relatives, but this is a decision that causes many families pain once the obituary is published. If you're writing an obituary that mentions survivors, try to list them all so no one feels left out.What order to do things after someone dies? ›
- Obtain legal documentation of death.
- Notify necessary parties.
- Make arrangements for the body.
- Make arrangements for children and pets.
- Secure assets & carry out other related tasks.
- Carry out decedent's wishes.
- Make funeral plans.
- Settle the estate.
“Predeceased spouse” is a term found in probate law. The term refers a person who has died before a spouse they were still married to that held a valid will.Who preceded her in death? ›
As the obituary comes to a conclusion, the names of the surviving family members will be included. The obituary will also indicate the deceased was "preceded in death" by certain people. This simply means the listed relatives died before the deceased.What if my beneficiary dies before or at the same time I do? ›
What happens if your beneficiary passes away before or at the same time you do? If your beneficiary dies before or at the same time as you, then the death benefit either goes to a contingent beneficiary or is paid to the estate. If the beneficiary dies first, then it is paid to the estate of the policy owner.What is the share of predeceased son? ›
A predeceased son survived by a widow or son or daughter shall be allotted a share equal to a living son. Out of the portion allotted to the predeceased son his widow and living sons and daughters will take equal portions with respect to each other.
How can I leave money to my son but not his wife? ›
Set up a trust
One of the easiest ways to shield your assets is to pass them to your child through a trust. The trust can be created today if you want to give money to your child now, or it can be created in your will and go into effect after you are gone.
to die before someone else: Her husband predeceased her by five years.What is another word for predeceased? ›
1. predecease. verb. die before; die earlier than.What is a predeceased person? ›
Predecease means either to die before another person does, or to fail to survive another person. It is significant within the field of estates and trusts law when someone who is intended to be included as a beneficiary in a will predeceases the person drafting that will, the testator.What is the legal term predeceased? ›
law formal or specialized. /ˌpriː.dɪˈsiːs/ us. /ˌpriː.diːˈsiːs/ to die before someone else: Her husband predeceased her by five years.Who is son of a predeceased son? ›
In this case son is died before the death of the father, so when son is dead only the live sharers will get share in the father's property.Is an ex wife still considered family? ›
If you're going through a divorce and have children, you're still going to be a family. Divorce is not the end of the family.Is a deceased husband called an ex husband? ›
In television, movies, or books, you might see a deceased partner referred to as an “ex-husband,” “ex-wife,” or “former spouse." But in real life, describing your departed spouse as your “ex” or even “former” isn't accurate, and it can feel like a betrayal.Where does an ex wife sit at a funeral? ›
In general, since you are no longer part of the close family, you should sit towards the back in the friend section. The only exception to this is if you have shared children with your ex. In this case, you might need to sit with your child in the close family section. This is especially true for smaller children.Should step siblings be listed in obituary? ›
Either way, do not exclude step-siblings unless they remained on the periphery of the deceased's life or were a negative influence. Avoid long lists of names: If the deceased had many friends, or if there are relatives who will be offended if they are not included in the obituary, give fewer details.
How do you address a blended family? ›
It might look weird to write "Dear Ms. Smith, Bob, Ben, Amy, and family", you would have to judge whether you like that style. If you have to stay formal, then "Dear Ms. Smith and family" might be your only option apart from "the Smith-Martin-Jones family".Where does the maiden name go in an obituary? ›
Immediate family such as a spouse and children are listed first followed by other close family members. Family is listed first name then last name with maiden names in parentheses followed by their place of residence.Do you put mothers maiden name in obituary? ›
The first of the details when writing an obituary would, of course, be their full name. If she was a married woman, you'll want to include her maiden name and if he or she was commonly known by a nickname, you may want to add that as well.How should an obituary end? ›
The obituary should end by naming your loved one's surviving family members, then giving information about the funeral or memorial service, if the family is making those details public, as well as information about any memorial funds or charitable organizations that people should send donations to.What are key survivors in an obituary? ›
Key survivors (spouse, children) and their names. Time, date, place of memorial or burial services (if you want the public invited)Do you mention cause of death in obituary? ›
To reiterate, no, you do not have to include the cause of death in an obituary. The choice is entirely yours, and it's important to weigh the pros and cons of including or excluding this information. To help in your decision, we've listed a few pros and cons for including the cause of death in an obituary below.Do you mention pallbearers in obituary? ›
The obituary's traditional purpose is to list survivors either related through the bloodline or marriage. Additional information such as where the body will be laid to rest and any pallbearer's names or names of honorary pallbearers may be mentioned.Is it morbid to write your own obituary? ›
Above all, writing your own obituary can take on any tone you'd like, and you can feel free to touch on anything your heart desires. Writing your obituary can be therapeutic and provide some perspective on life as a whole.How many days should you run an obituary? ›
For both online and newspaper obituary posts, you should try and publish within a week after the death of your loved one. If the obituary has funeral notifications such as the location and timing of the funeral, you should post at least three days prior to the funeral.What is the average length of an obituary? ›
The average length of an obituary is approximately 200 words, but some publications may accept obituaries as long as 450 words or as short as 50 words.
Do you mention friends in an obituary? ›
Typical obituary etiquette for who to include lists the following folks in an obituary: spouses or significant others, children, parents, extended family, friends, pets, and in some cases, ex-spouses (especially if they are the parents of the children).Should an ex daughter in law be included in an obituary? ›
Generally, an ex in-law would not be considered a survivor for obituary purposes unless the relationship remained good or the rest of the family felt it was appropriate to include the individual. If there are children of the ex sister-in-law that need to be included, you could list survivors this way: “Surviving are……Do you mention stepchildren in obituary? ›
Many people are raised by non-biological parents. Unless the relationship was contentious, step-parents and adopted parents belong in an obituary just as much as a biological parent.How do you use predeceased in a sentence? ›
to die before someone else: Her husband predeceased her by five years.What do names in parentheses mean in obituaries? ›
If the spouse or partner's surname is different, include their surname in the parenthesis along with their first name (ex: Tom (Sarah Williams) Johnson).How do you list a deceased ex spouse in an obituary? ›
Example for a loved one with multiple ex-spouses
He is predeceased by his former wife Jane Smith, and he is survived by his former wife, Angie Smith, and their children, Archie and Mary Smith. His family is holding a service in his honor this weekend at the family's home.
“Predeceased spouse” is a term found in probate law. The term refers a person who has died before a spouse they were still married to that held a valid will.