Savvy Senior: How to Write an Obituary for a Loved One | News, Sports, Jobs

Dear accomplished senior,

Do you have any tips on how to write an obituary? My father, who has terminal cancer, has asked me to write his obituary, which will be published in the bereavement program and in our local newspaper.

— Not a writer

dear need,

I am very sorry to hear about your father’s prognosis. Writing your father’s obituary would be a nice way to honor him and summarize his life, not to mention avoiding possible mistakes that sometimes occur when obituaries are written in a hurry at the time of death. Here’s what you should know, along with some tips and tools to help you write.

Contact the newspaper

Before you begin writing your father’s obituary, you should first check with the newspaper in which it will appear. Some newspapers have specific style guidelines or length restrictions, some only accept obituaries directly from funeral homes, and some only publish obituaries written by newspaper staff.

If your newspaper accepts family-written obituaries, find out if they have a template that can guide you, or contact your father’s chosen funeral service provider. Most funeral homes will provide forms for basic information and will write the full obituary for you as part of their service.

You also need to be aware that most newspapers charge inches per word, line or column to publish an obituary, so your cost will vary depending on your newspaper’s tariff and the length of your obituary – most are between £200 and £200 600 words.

Also note that many newspapers also offer free public service obituaries, which include only the name of the deceased along with the date and place of death and brief details about the funeral or memorial service.

obituary content

Depending on how detailed you want to be, the most basic information in an obituary will usually include your father’s full name (and nicknames if relevant), age, date of birth, date of death, where he lived when he died, significant other (living or dead) and details of the funeral service (public or private). If public, indicate the date, time and location of the service.

Other relevant information you may also want to include: cause of death (optional); place of birth and names of his parents; his other survivors, including his children, other relatives, friends and pets, and where they live; family members who preceded his death; high school and colleges he attended and earned degrees; his work history and military service; his hobbies, achievements, and awards he has received; his church or religious affiliation; all clubs, civic and fraternal organizations to which he belonged; and any charities that are close to his heart and that he would like to donate to people in addition to or in lieu of flowers or other gifts. You must also attach a photo of your father.

Do you need help?

If you need help writing your father’s obituary, you can turn to free online resources such as for tips and articles at -to provide -obituary. Or check out the 25-page e-book, Writing an Obituary in Four Easy Steps, available at for $5. This guide will help you gather the details of your father’s life so you can write an obituary that reflects his personality and story.

online memorials

Many families today are also choosing to post their loved ones’ obituaries online and create digital memorials. Some good sites that offer this are MyKeeper, GatheringUs, and EverLoved, which provide a central place for family and friends to visit to share stories, memories, and photos to celebrate your dad’s life.

If your father used Facebook, you can also turn his profile into a memorial (you must provide proof of death) that family and friends can visit and share at any time.

Submit your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, PO Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today Show and the author of The Savvy Senior.


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