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Who’s Responsible for Writing Obituaries?

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When someone you love passes away it is difficult to know what to do. Organizing a funeral and giving yourself time to grieve requires a lot of time. You may want to announce the passing of your loved one with an obituary, rather than by contacting people individually.

An obituary is a type of death announcement. They’re usually printed in a newspaper, but they can also be published online. An obituary shares details about the life of the deceased. It also includes the details of the funeral or memorial service.

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But, who writes the obituary? Unless the deceased was well-known or influential a newspaper won’t write one. The responsibility will fall to the deceased’s family. Undertaking this task can be a challenge. Writing an obituary for someone you love can be difficult, especially when you’re in mourning. You’re dealing with your grief and managing the details of the funeral and burial. And you now have to sum up someone’s life in just a few paragraphs. That is a lot to ask, even under the best circumstances.

If you’ve been asked to write the obituary, you might feel overwhelmed. Few people know how to write an obituary. It’s easy to feel like you aren’t qualified. There are a lot of things to worry about. You have to convey a lot of information in a limited space. And it has to be easy to read and understand. Luckily there are resources and options to help you. Learn more about them below.

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Write Your Own Obituary

The concept of death is not widely discussed. Talking about and planning for it can make people uncomfortable. Many people don’t prepare for death until they are middle-aged, or even retired. Preparing for the eventuality of death can be challenging.

Especially if you are young, it might not seem like something you need to worry about. But taking a few steps to prepare can make things easier. Consider drafting a will. Or compile a list of bank account and insurance information for your next of kin. Writing a draft of your obituary is also worthwhile. 

Most of the time when you write an obituary for yourself, it’s because you are sick. You may know your time is limited. But you don’t have to be sick to write your obituary. And you don’t need to wait until you’re older to start it. You can write one and keep it on your computer. Make sure you update it periodically, so it stays current andshare the location with a trusted family member or friend. 

For some, writing your obituary is an act of kindness. It shows your loved ones that you care about them. It will relieve them of the burden of writing one while they are mourning you. It also allows you some control over the story.

You can talk about the things that matter the most to you. You’ll be able to include the parts of your life that you’re most proud of—maybe you rescue cats or that you can eat an entire pizza in under five minutes. Whatever your quirks are, writing your obituary means they can be included. 

A Loved One Can Write Your Obituary

Having to write an obituary for a family member or close friend can be difficult. When you’re in mourning, writing an obituary is likely the last thing you want to do. It can make you dwell on your grief and pain. But, writing an obituary for a loved one can also be a healing project.

Obituaries aren’t really about a person’s death: they’re about a person’s life. You don’t have to delve into the circumstances around their death. Instead, focus on their talents, passions, skills, and accomplishments. If you’re writing about your daughter, write about her love for dance and the classes she took.

If you’re writing about your spouse, tell stories about what an incredible father he was. If you’re writing about your mother, talk about the sacrifices she made for her children. Focus on the things you loved about the deceased. And what made them unique. Honor their memory by sharing a holistic picture of their life. 

Again, remember that obituaries can be written before a person dies. If someone you love is terminally ill, ask them how they would feel about you writing an obituary for them. If they’re comfortable with the idea, write a draft. You can have them look it over to make sure nothing is missing.

Newspaper Staff Can Write an Obituary

In the past, newspapers used to run obituaries written by their editorial staff as a matter of course. Starting in the 1990s, papers in bigger cities started doing away with this practice. A lot of papers still have obituary sections, but the obituary is usually written by the family of the deceased, and newspaper obituaries come with a cost. If you want a newspaper to run an obituary, you’ll likely have to pay per word.

There are exceptions to this. Some small-town newspapers still run obituaries of prominent local figures. If your loved one had a big impact on their community, the paper might run a posthumous profile on them. Reach out to the paper to see if they’re planning anything. Even if they aren’t, you may be able to convince them to. 

Having a newspaper write your loved one’s obituary can be helpful. And it will save you the burden of writing it yourself. But there is a downside: you lose editorial control. A reporter digging into a story, even for a simple obituary, may find information you’d rather not be included.  You won’t have any say on whether they include it. Make sure you are comfortable with that before reaching out. 

Hire a Professional Obituary Writer

Some funeral homes offer obituary services. They can help with writing, editing, and submitting obituaries to your local newspaper. There is also a director of writers published by The Society of Professional Obituary Writers. Each entry includes a description of the writer and their area of expertise. 

You can pick the writer that offers the services you’re looking for. Some will want to interview you to get a complete picture of the deceased. Others will do their own research on the deceased and find information that you don’t know. And some will simply have you email information to them.

Regardless of how they gather information, they’ll write an obituary for you. Rates will vary from writer to writer, so be sure to discuss that with them in advance.

Consider Your Options

Writing an obituary is hard. You may struggle to find the right words, but there are options available to you. Whatever you decide, know that you're honoring your loved one. 


Sources

  1.  “The Society of Professional Obituary Writers Member Directory.” societyofprofessionalobituarywriters.org, The Society of Professional Obituary Writers, 2019,www.societyofprofessionalobituarywriters.org/member-directory.html