What’s a Death Notice? Definition + Examples

Updated

Death notices aren’t just something you post on social media. This meaningful way to share the news of a death is a part of human history dating back to ancient times. In fact, the first death notices were published in ancient Rome at around 59 B.C.E. on papyrus in a daily newspaper. Still, publishing death notices (often confused with obituaries) didn’t become commonplace until the past 250 years. 

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Though you’ve likely read many death notices, what exactly is a death notice or obituary? Both of these terms refer to specific types of publications designed to share the news of a death with the community. Before the rise of technology, these were traditionally published in newspapers. This might be the only way community members and extended family learn of a passing. 

Whether you’re tasked with writing your own death notice for a loved one or you’re interested in this cultural practice, this guide is for you. We’ll answer the question: What’s a death notice? Beyond basic definitions, we’ll also share clear examples so you can create your own death notice for loved ones. 

What’s a Death Notice?

To begin, what is a death notice? The definition is in the term itself. A death notice is a formal way to “notify” the community of a death. It includes basic, clear information about the loss. It also might share details about any funeral or memorial service, especially if these are open to the public. 

Traditionally, a death notice was paid for by the family for publishing in a newspaper. Today, it’s common for the family to post the death notice online either in place of or in addition to a newspaper publication. Online memorial sites and social media platforms are popular places to share death notices. 

Differences between a death notice or obituary

Though the definition of a death notice is straightforward, it’s easy to confuse this term with an obituary. A death notice is a short publication that offers the details of a death and nothing more. An obituary, on the other hand, provides greater details. It tells the story of someone’s life. 

An obituary template follows a different structure, sharing more detail about someone’s accomplishments, surviving relatives, and legacy. This might also be published in a newspaper, but it’s not required. Because newspapers typically charge by the character count, it’s common to only publish the death notice and use the obituary for the funeral program or another platform. 

What’s Typically Included in a Death Notice?

With that in mind, what’s typically included in a death notice? Writing a death announcement can be intimidating, especially if you don’t know what to include. Like all things, less is more. It’s important to include only the information you feel comfortable with. You don’t have to share personal details or anything that doesn’t fit the simple notice format. 

Here’s what’s usually included in a death notice:

  • Full name of the deceased
  • Place of death (city, state, etc.)
  • Place of birth
  • Date of death
  • Age at time of death
  • Brief descriptors (parent, spouse, friend, teacher, etc.)
  • Memorial information
  • Cause of death

The cause of death is the most controversial element of the death notice, and it’s not required. Some families choose to include the cause of death if it helps limit questions from others. However, this is a highly personal decision. For example, if a loved one passed away after a battle with cancer, this might be shared. 

If you have the space, you might go beyond the basics. Other things you might include in a death notice are:

  • Education
  • Charity for donations
  • Military service
  • Employment history
  • Memberships
  • Religious affiliations

Ultimately, the family can include as little or as much as they wish in the death notice. It often depends on the specific place you plan to submit the death notice, as well as practical character limits.  

Who Usually Writes a Death Notice?

Because death notices are straightforward compared to obituaries, they’re commonly written by a family member. The death notice doesn’t require any complicated writing skills or experience, so it’s a simple task for anyone. It can be written by a parent, spouse, child, sibling, friend, or another relative. 

The funeral home can also assist with writing the death notice. It’s common for funeral homes to have templates families can use to write these simple death notices. The same is true for online memorial platforms and newspapers. In some cases, the newspaper might request specific information about the deceased to share in a death notice. 

Death Notice Examples

Now, let’s explore different death notice examples. These can be used as templates, or they might just spark inspiration when writing a death notice of your own. It can be hard to figure out what needs to be done after a loss. Most importantly, remember you’re never alone. 

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Example for a parent

Candice Smith left this earth on September 24, 2020, surrounded by friends and family. A beloved mother, friend, and librarian, she will be dearly missed. A public memorial service will be held in her honor at Stanford Community Church at 10:00 AM on September 30, followed by a short reception. The Smith family requests donations to be made in Candice’s honor to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. 

Example for a spouse

Jason Brown passed away on July 1, 2009, at age 56. He leaves behind a wife, Karen Brown, and three children, Denice, Zoe, and Mariah. Jason was a cherished father and member of the Cincinnati community. His family will hold a private service to pay respects. 

Example for a sibling

It is with great sadness that the Lauren family announces the death of Jonathan Lauren on March 5, 2008. Jonathan passed away peacefully in his home at age 39 after a battle with cancer. He was a wonderful sibling, mechanic, and friend to all. The family will receive condolences at the Lauren family home on March 10 at noon. 

Example for a loved one without a parent, spouse, or sibling

Elaine Cooper, age 40, died on the 18th of February, 2021 at her home in Macon, Georgia after a short illness. One of the leading lawyers in the Macon area, Elaine was a bright light of positivity and intelligence. Though predeceased by her parents, Dennis and Maureen Cooper, her friends will remember her fondly. There will be a small service in her honor at a later date. 

Where Can You Post a Death Notice?

Now that you know how to write a death notice, where can you post your finished piece? If you’re wondering if you have to have an obituary or death notice, the short answer is no. However, if you do, you’ll want to share it on one of these locations below. 

Newspaper

First, the most common place to post a death notice is in a newspaper. This can be a traditional local paper, or it can be a community or industry publication. Many religious groups, organizations, and so on have their own newspapers or newsletters as well. 

To submit a death notice to a newspaper, you first need to read the editorial guidelines. There are usually limits on the size of the obituary, and you may or may not be able to include images. Lastly, most newspapers charge a fee for printing a death notice or obituary. 

Online memorial website

Next, another alternative that’s becoming more common is to post the death notice on an online memorial website. An online memorial website is a platform designed to hold death notices and more, making it easy to memorialize your loved ones digitally. As people become more familiar with digital legacy, this becomes the new normal. 

Unlike traditional newspapers, you don’t have the same strict limits when posting the death notice on an online memorial website. You can include more information, not worrying about character restrictions. There is also greater opportunity for collaboration from friends and family. 

Social media

Lastly, it’s becoming more common than ever to share a loved one’s death notice on social media. This allows friends and family to comment on the post and share condolences. 

Users can also share the post to their own timelines, widening the spread of the notice. Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms are becoming a powerful remembrance tool in their own rights, and they’re much less formal than newspapers or other mediums. 

Write a Death Notice with Confidence

Ultimately, a death notice differs from an obituary in meaningful ways. Dating back thousands of years, humans are no strangers to using death notices to aid the grieving process. Whether you’re honoring a recently deceased loved one or learning more about remembrance, this is an important definition to know. 

A death notice, at its essence, is a way to honor the dead. It’s a simple way to share the news of a passing with a wider community, making sure the family has the support they need in a time of grief. We all experience loss in different ways. At its core, a death notice is an act of human remembrance and compassion. 


Source:
  1. Roos, Dave. “How Obituaries Went From Dry Death Notices to Tributes to Truth.” How Stuff Works. 2021. HowStuffWorks.com

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