Writing your loved one’s obituary may break your heart and really challenge you. After all, how do you sum up a life well lived in a few hundred words?
We’ll help you learn how to write an obituary by giving you a sample outline to fill in with your loved one’s specific information. Since you can approach obituary writing in a variety of ways, we include six sample obituary outlines to consider.
Jump ahead to these sections:
Even though most obituaries read like a newspaper account of a person’s death, that doesn’t mean that they need to be completely devoid of emotion. Consider how you can personalize your loved one’s obituary to tell others that someone special has died.
Obituary Outlines for a Newspaper
Most newspapers charge a per-word fee to print an obituary. They may also charge more if you choose to have a photograph printed with the obituary. For this reason, some families choose to have two different versions. They print a shorter version in the newspaper to inform community members about the death and let interested parties learn the service details. You may want to publish the longer one on the funeral home’s website or share it in the funeral program.
Read through our three sample outlines for a short obituary.
1. Chronological obituary
Many obituaries tell the chronological story of the person who died. Read our simple outline of this type of obituary.
[Identification of the deceased]: Identify the person who died. Give as many details as possible to identify the person so that readers won’t confuse your loved one’s death with someone who has a similar name.
Many obituaries include the deceased’s full name, maiden name, nicknames, age, and city of residence, like this: Gabriella “Gabby” Michelle (Ruiz) Smith, 83, of Omaha, died in her home on Monday, December 14, 2020.
[Early life]: You may consider including details of your loved one’s early life in the obituary including place of birth, parents’ names, and siblings.
[Education and/or training]: To help identify the person who died, you may consider including the name of the educational institutions they attended. You may also include information about your loved one’s brief time in military service in this section of the obituary.
[Marriage]: You may consider including the deceased’s marriage details. Give the name of the spouse and the date of their marriage. You may choose to include details of marriages that ended in divorce or you may decide to leave this information out.
[Children]: Include children’s names at this point in the obituary or they may be listed later as survivors (or those who preceded your family member in death). Some families lump all of the children in one category, while others may choose to label certain family members as stepchildren.
[Occupation]: If your loved one’s career was a central focus of her life, this section of the obituary might be rather lengthy. Most people do not choose to write a full list of jobs but may make a general statement on how the deceased earned a living.
Remember, you are not writing your loved one’s resume. Still, you may want to include any service awards or honoraries earned in the course of your loved one’s career.
[Organizations and memberships]: How did your loved one spend her free time? Write about the organizations, clubs, or groups that they belonged to during her life. You may also want to include hobbies and interests in this section of the obituary.
[Survivors]: Include a list of people (usually the spouse, children, grandchildren, and siblings) who survived the deceased.
[Funeral service details]: Give the details of the funeral service. Include the day, date, time, and address. You may also give specific requests in this section of the obituary, such as what organizations your loved one wished to support as a part of her memorial fund.
2. Interest or special skills obituary
Some families choose to write more about their loved ones’ personality traits instead of their education or careers. Here is an outline for this type of obituary.
[Identification of the deceased]: Identify the person who died in as much detail as necessary. Some people choose to include the cause of death, while other families do not disclose this information.
[Brief biographical information]: Include a brief account of the deceased’s city of residence, profession, and marriage details.
[Description of interests or special skills]: Include exciting information about your loved one’s hobbies or special skills. Maybe your loved one was an avid baker, a rock climber, a member of a cover band, or a poet. Maybe this wasn’t how your loved one earned a living, but it was how they liked to spend their free time.
[Survivors]: You may also include family members who preceded your loved one in death in this section of the obituary.
[Details about the funeral service]: Include all the details for the funeral service open to the public. Do you want all the funeral attendees to wear a specific color to the service? Include those instructions in this section.
3. Obituary that focuses on the personality of your loved one
[Identification of the deceased]
[Brief biographical information]
[Description of the personality of the deceased]: Was your dad the life of the party? Was your mom passionate about saving stray pets? Perhaps your loved one lived a life of service or was an avid traveler and adrenaline junkie. Include details about what made this person special.
Obituary Outlines for a Website or Social Media
Obituaries on funeral home websites may be longer than those printed in the newspaper, but other than that, they are often very similar. Read through some sample outlines of obituaries published on social media pages or funeral home websites.
You may also search for websites that will publish your loved one’s obituary for free, especially if the funeral home you chose does not provide that service.
4. Death announcement on social media
[Explanation of your relationship with the deceased]: When people announce a death on social media, they often lead with how they are related to the deceased. Sometimes this is followed with a link to the obituary published in a newspaper or funeral home website.
[Special memories of your loved one]: When writing about a loved one’s death on social media, you may choose to share unforgettable memories of your loved one. You may even decide to write it in the first person or say how you feel as a result of the death.
[Funeral details]: Your close friends and family members will want to know the details of your loved one’s funeral services. It is appropriate to share those on your social media page.
5. Funeral home website obituary
The funeral home that publishes the website may ask that you write the obituary in a specific format or they may provide an obituary writing service for you.
[Identification of the deceased]
[Funeral details with special requests]
[Early life of the deceased]
[Marriage and children of the deceased]
[Memberships and organizations]
[Other interesting information about the deceased’s interests, hobbies, or personality]
6. Biographical sketch of the deceased
Some people choose to throw out the rule book when writing about their loved ones. Instead of writing an account of their loved one’s life that reads like a typical newspaper article, they may write a biographical sketch of the person, using specific examples of things their loved one said or did. They may also write about how the person made others feel.
Your social media account is a perfect platform for this type of writing. You may also consider writing a more personal statement on the life of the deceased to share with family members and close friends without the help of social media.
This type of obituary may feel a bit more like a eulogy. Consider using this outline example:
[Introduction]: Although you can format your biographical sketch any way you want, you might begin the essay with your purpose for writing it. You may want to write about your loved one so that you don’t forget the details that made the person special. You may also want to write about a deceased family member so their descendants will understand what made them so special.
[Personality trait No. 1 (with examples)]: Describe your loved one in your own words, but then give examples and stories to make this person come alive in your writing.
[Personality trait No. 2 (with examples)]
[Personality trait No 3. (with examples)]
Look at Obituary Examples Before You Write One for Your Loved One
As you sit down to write your loved one’s obituary, spend a few moments looking online for obituary examples.
Which ones appeal to you? Do you like the obituaries that describe the person’s personality or ones that read like a newspaper report of a person’s death?
What formats would work best for your loved one? Does it make sense to write in chronological order or would you rather begin the article in some other way?
When writing an obituary, the most important thing to remember is to have someone else who knew your loved one proofread your writing for factual errors and grammatical mistakes.