When it comes to writing an obituary for a loved one, you may fear that the task will be difficult. This is likely true. However, it’s possible to write a great obituary with the right tools and direction. Depending on where your loved one’s obituary is going to be published, you may also wonder what the correct format is.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Should Be Included in Your Obituary?
- 1. Traditional Obituary Format for the Newspaper
- 2. Traditional Obituary Format for Word or Google Docs
- 3. Obituary Format for Social Media
- 4. Obituary Format for a Funeral Program
- 5. Short Obituary Format
- 6. Long-Form Obituary Format
- 7. Obituary Format for an Online Memorial Page
- Where Can You Submit or Post an Obituary?
Below, we have provided six common obituary formats for a variety of situations. If you’re printing your loved one’s obituary in the newspaper, writing it in a Word or Google Doc, sharing it on social media, putting it in a funeral program, or are planning a short or long format, we have tips and an example ready for you.
What Should Be Included in Your Obituary?
Most obituaries follow a widely understood format and feature some expected information. If you’re writing someone else’s obituary — whether you knew them closely or not — you should be sure to include biographical data, surviving family members or those who preceded in death, as well as a few other elements.
These elements are typically presented in the following order. Of course, if you wish, you have some creative freedom as long as you believe it’s an appropriate and effective way to honor the deceased person and their family.
First, biodata, or biographical information, includes the person’s full name, age at death, date of death, and most likely the location of their death. It’s up to you or the deceased person’s family to decide if they feel comfortable including how the person passed away, as it’s not mandatory.
Next, you should include (if any) the family members who preceded this person in death. This means that they passed away prior. It’s typical to include immediate family here, which would likely be spouses, siblings, or children.
In this area of the obituary as well, you should include who the survivors are of the family — that is, immediate family members who are still alive. This typically means spouses, parents, siblings, children, and grandchildren. You may also choose to include stepchildren or stepsiblings.
The remaining elements of an obituary include a brief summary of your loved one’s life. This can include lighthearted details, like a favorite dish or quote, or more serious facts, such as career achievements or contributions. You can of course infuse a mix of both.
After the summary, you can then detail any funeral, memorial, or related plans, depending on how much the family wishes to divulge (as well as who the obituary will be viewed by).
Legacy plans are generally the final bit of information. This will involve whether or not the family is accepting flowers or if donations can be made in the deceased person’s name to a cause important to them.
1. Traditional Obituary Format for the Newspaper
When you’re dealing with loss, it’s understandable that a task like writing an obituary can seem impossible. But, even if you’re new to obituaries, they all sort of follow the same pattern and fulfill the same parameters.
Writing a traditional obituary for the newspaper can be as straightforward as it sounds. In fact, you’ll find several great obituary templates here that are ready to be filled in with your loved one’s information.
Since you’re printing this obituary in a newspaper, however, you should be advised that you cannot make edits after the fact. Be sure to check over your work thoroughly prior to submitting your draft and again if someone contacts you to approve it.
“Jean Martinez passed away at her home in Oklahoma City on August 1, 2020, at the age of 92. Jean was preceded in death by her husband, Mario, who passed away 7 years ago at the age of 82. She is survived by her son, Tony, his wife, Lupita, her grandchildren, Nico and Sera, and her best friend, Candy. Jean was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she lived for most of her life. She attended school in New Mexico and later became a teacher after receiving a degree in education… Jean was also a talented jazz singer and loved working in her garden…”
2. Traditional Obituary Format for Word or Google Docs
Even if you’re not sharing your loved one’s obituary in a manner that’s as traditional as a newspaper, a Word or Google Doc will still likely require a lot of the same content. After all, obituaries are meant to be public death announcements that provide a few key types of information.
Be sure to include:
- Biographical information
- Surviving family members or family that preceded in death
- A brief summary of your loved one’s life
- Any funeral, memorial, or related plans
- Legacy information
If you’re unsure what any of these aspects are, we’re sure to discuss them at some point in this article. You may also be interested in this post about choosing a proper obituary photo.
“Wendy Parker passed away on August 2, 2020, at the age of 67. She is survived by her two children, Thomas and Louise, who both live in Pasadena, California. Thomas and his wife, Susan, are expecting their first child at the end of this year. Louise is also planning to adopt in the near future. Wendy’s children are devastated that their mother never got to be a grandmother, but they are grateful their children will have such a powerful angel in heaven…”
3. Obituary Format for Social Media
When writing an obituary for social media, this doesn’t necessarily mean all of the rules are out the window. However, you should find some comfort in knowing that social media often allows you to edit posts as-needed. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t worry about making mistakes, however, but, as things happen, you’re more able to change them.
Creating a post on social media also allows you to share it with your friends and family freely. You can also include photos, videos, and other relevant content directly from your post. You may also be interested in reading this post about announcing a death traditionally and with social media.
“[INSERT PHOTO/VIDEO/ART] Joe “Grandpa Joe” Sargioli passed away on July 30, 2020, at the age of 81 and will be deeply missed, especially by his many grandchildren, both related and not. Joe lost his wife, Maria, four years ago at the age of 76. Joe is survived by his five children, Tony, Marco, Bobby, Marie, and Risa. Tony and his wife, Gina, live in Brooklyn, NY, with their children… Joe often made the news for his funny antics as dressing up as Santa Claus as seen in this article [LINK]...”
4. Obituary Format for a Funeral Program
Much like printing an obituary in the newspaper, it’s important to fact-check and edit your draft for a funeral program carefully. Printing an error or mistake may even be more obvious, as everyone reading the obituary will know your loved one personally. Though you shouldn’t fret if something is incorrect — mistakes happen — you’ll likely be much more at ease and able to heal if things like this are avoided.
When formatting an obituary for a funeral program, you’ll also likely have a great point-of-contact at the funeral home to help you through the process. He or she should be able to give you more direction about how long your obituary has to be as well as any other details.
“John Edmonton passed away at the age of 72 on July 29, 2020, after a long battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife, Josephine, and his son, Ryan. Ryan and his wife Crystal are expecting a son later this year and plan to name him John… John was born and raised in Utah before attending college in Michigan where he met his wife, Josephine. The duo met out dancing… On behalf of John, his family would appreciate donations to be made to the Utah Children of the Arts Program in Salt Lake City…”
5. Short Obituary Format
If you’d prefer to write a short obituary or you don’t have unlimited free space, this doesn’t mean that you have to skimp on details about your loved one. This simply means that you’ll have to be more creative in what you say and in fewer words. To save space, for example, you may choose to make your loved one’s list of family a bit briefer. These lists can get very long and complicated, but, granted, some people don’t have much of a choice.
On the other hand, if you’re choosing to print your loved one’s obituary, you can also offer a longer version via social media or in a Word or Google Doc for your friends and family to read another time.
“Angie London passed away at the age of 50 on July 28, 2020, in Denver, Colorado. She will be deeply missed by her family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. She is survived by her husband, Steve, her daughter, Chrissy, and her son, Luke… Angie attended Colorado State University where she studied to become a physical therapist. She was beloved by all of her patients and fellow staff. A funeral service will be held for Angie at St. Matthew’s Church on Tulip Lane on Saturday, August 22. All are welcome. In lieu of flowers, Angie’s family is requesting…”
6. Long-Form Obituary Format
To write a long-form obituary, you have more freedom and flexibility to include more information. You may choose to detail more about your loved ones predeceased family members, surviving family members, summary or life story — or any of the aspects we discussed above. You may also be interested in checking out this post about the difference between eulogies and obituaries.
“Daniel Simpson passed away in his home in Boston, Massachusetts, at the age of 99 on August 1, 2020. Daniel is survived by… Daniel is also survived by his two best friends from childhood, Mark Delaney, 97, and Bob Sevila, 96. The two are surprised that Daniel was the first to go, but they plan to continue their weekly tradition of drinking a beer at their local pub… Daniel was born in Amsterdam and later traveled to the U.S, with his mother, Lydia. He later attended Boston University and received his master’s degree from Harvard in physics… His family is holding a memorial service on Saturday, August 15, 2020, at their home in Cohasset. In lieu of flowers, Daniel’s family is requesting that donations are made to the Greater Boston Food Bank…”
7. Obituary Format for an Online Memorial Page
Online memorial pages can include newspapers, social media sites, and online memorial forums. Depending on the site or platform, there may be a limit for the word count or specific parameters to follow in terms of how much or what types of media you can include. But, in general, online memorial pages provide you with flexibility. After all, they were created for the exact purpose of memorializing your loved one.
“Jenny Markman passed away in her home in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at the age of 68 on January 1, 2021. Jenny is survived by her sister, Grace Lee, who currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Jenny was preceded in death by her husband, Harrison Markman, who passed away last year at the age of 69. Jenny was born in London, England, and later traveled to the U.S. to pursue a career in chemistry. She later attended Brown University and received her doctorate … Her sister and friends are holding a celebration of life ceremony on Saturday, February 15, 2021, in Chattanooga. Further details about the event can be provided upon request. In lieu of flowers, Jenny’s family is requesting that donations are made to the National Parks Conservation Association…”
Where Can You Submit or Post an Obituary?
In addition to your funeral home of choice or social media, you may feel that you need to share your late loved one’s obituary in other places. There are some other options for where to post an obituary online that are also free and easy to set up.
Other common places for posting an obituary are newspapers, online memorial sites, and other online publications. You may choose to post the obituary on one type of site and then share it on Facebook or vice-versa. Some online memorial sites make the sharing process, as well as making donations in your loved one’s name, really easy.
You may also want to keep in mind these tips for how to find an obituary online or offline.
If you’re trying to save money for your loved one’s funeral planning, keep in mind that a newspaper obituary won’t be free. In fact, depending on the content (word count, images), obituaries can range in cost from about $200 to $1,000 or more.
However, the process for how to submit an obituary to a newspaper is fairly simple, but not quite as easy as sending it to a funeral professional or posting it on social media.
Be sure to ask if an online post is included and how long it will remain available on the newspaper’s website, as you can share this link on other sites.
Online memorial site
In addition to social media sites like Facebook, there are many dedicated online memorial sites to choose from. Online memorial sites have many benefits, but be sure to discuss with your loved ones which ones are most important to you.
It may be easier to make a decision depending on whether you’d like a free platform or you’re OK with paying a small fee.
For example, online memorial sites may allow the post to stay up longer — even forever — when compared to a newspaper obituary section. Many online memorial sites also give you more control over the content, like Facebook, rather than having to work with someone else, which you and your family may appreciate.
Other social media sites
Other social media sites like Instagram and Twitter can also be an easy way to help your loved one’s obituary reach more people. That being said, however, if you and your loved one don’t have a strong presence on these sites, it may not be worthwhile.
Like on Facebook, you can edit posts on Instagram even after you share them. If you choose to share the obituary on Twitter, remember that you cannot edit the content.
If you have a private Instagram or Twitter account, keep in mind that only your followers will be able to see your post. On Facebook, you can make the post shareable and public.
An alumni bulletin may be another way you can submit an obituary online for free. If your loved one was especially involved in his or her college, high school, or trade school, posting their obituary here will help let other classmates know of their passing and lend support.
An alumni bulletin can help you reach friends of your loved one you may not know already. Consider adding your contact information to the post, such as a personal email address, if you’d like these individuals to reach out to you to share stories about your late loved one, for example.
Church or club websites
If your late loved one was a member of a local church or social club, these are also important places to share their obituary. You can likely email or call the office for how to make a post request. That being said, you should only do so if the organization’s website seems up to date or if there’s a specific location for posts like this.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Writing an obituary after a loved one’s death is never an easy thing to do. If you’re ever unsure about the formatting of your loved one’s obituary or the contents of it, don’t be afraid to ask for help from another loved one or a professional.
There’s likely a group of people out there who would love nothing more than to support you during one of the most difficult times.
If you're looking for more obituary writing resources, read our guides on what née means in an obituary and short poems for obituaries or death announcements.