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Tips For Writing Death Notices & Obituaries

In this guide, we break down some tips for writing death notices and obituaries, including a template to help you get started.

When someone passes away, it can be hard to figure out what needs to be done. While you want to focus on grieving and honoring the memory of the person you lost, there are nevertheless some practical items that need to be taken care of. One such item is writing a death notice, should the task fall on you. 

What is a Death Notice?

A death notice is a brief statement announcing someone’s death. In just a few sentences, the notice explains need-to-know details about the death, along with information regarding memorial or funeral services to be held. Biographical details about the individual are typically left out and saved for longer pieces of writing. Momentarily, we’ll explain how biographical details go into obituaries, and not in death notices. You might also hear the term “death announcement,” which is used interchangeably with “death notice.”  

Death notices are one of the most common ways to notify a community about someone’s passing. They can be published in several places, such as print newspapers or journals, online media, or on obituary websites. 

Do You Have to Publish a Death Notice?

Death notices may be published by local court systems and estate executors. This is especially true if beneficiaries and heirs are unknown, so that they can learn about the death and claim any assets that might belong to them.

Death notices are also often published to notify creditors. If the individual who passed away still had any debt, creditors will be able to file a claim by a certain deadline. Any debt is to be paid out of the estate before any assets can be distributed to beneficiaries. 

How to Write a Death Announcement

When writing a death announcement, remember that they are intended to be short and brief. We’re talking about 3 to 5 sentences at most. Limit it so that it includes fact-based information only. Even then, you can leave out any information that isn’t absolutely necessary for the public to know. 

Here are some elements that are typically included:

  • Full name of the deceased

  • State that they have died

  • Date and location of death

  • Funeral and/or memorial date, time, and location

  • Optional information, such as for donations

Death Announcement Template & Examples

To help you get started, below you will find a general template for a death announcement. Of course, you can modify it to fit your own circumstances. 

[Full legal name] passed away on [date] in [location]. They were born on [birthday] in [location.] The [event type] service will be held on [date and time] at [location]. It will be followed by a [event type] at [location]. Donations can be made to [organization name] if you would like to honor [name]’s memory.

Death Announcement Template Examples

Below you will find examples of various death notices. You should notice that they only provide need-to-know information. Family details and biographical information are not included. 

  1. Bob Brown passed away on July 1st, 2021. Bob was born on February 22nd, 1947. Services will be held in private.

  2. Karen Smith left this earth at 4:36 AM on September 3rd, 2020. She passed away at Hillcrest Memorial Hospital while surrounded by family. A public memorial service will be held at Hillcrest Community Church on September 7th at 11:00 AM, followed by a reception. Karen’s family requests that donations be made in Karen’s honor to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, in lieu of flowers.

  3. Tatum Stallworth was surrounded by family when they passed away on Thursday, November 11th, 2019 after battling cancer for 3 years. They were born on April 24th, 1967 in Phoenix, AZ. A public Celebration of Life will be held in the Surprise Community Center on November 15th, 2019 at 5:00 PM. A private memorial funeral will be held for family members only.

What’s the Difference Between an Obituary and a Death Notice?

The key difference between an obituary and a death notice is the length. Death notices are very brief. Within just a few sentences, a death notice describes the need-to-know facts surrounding an individual’s passing. 

An obituary is longer in length, and provides a more detailed announcement. It provides biographical information, accounts of life events, and other details that provide a better snapshot of someone’s life. These are all items that are typically left out of a death notice.

How Do You Write an Obituary?

Obituaries are longer, more detailed accounts of the life of someone who passed away. Although they provide room for heartfelt words to honor their life, they can be much more challenging to write. 

It’s helpful to break down the writing process into steps, rather than trying to write the obituary all at once. Here are some steps that we recommend:

  • Outline the key facts first.

Although obituaries are longform writing, you still want to make sure you hit some key points about the deceased. Make a list of some key facts about their life and death, such as those that you would include in the death notice. Then, you can use these key points and expand upon them by including some more descriptive details. For example, instead of just “Mary Mortenson died on April 9th,” you could say something like “Mary Mortensen died on April 9th at Lincoln Memorial Hospital after a long battle with lung cancer. She was surrounded by family and friends, who say that she passed away peacefully with a smile on her face.” Expanding on each of your key facts can help you come up with a good amount of content.

  • Try drafting the obituary in the present tense first.

Some writers find it difficult to write in past tense. If this is the case for you, try drafting up the obituary in present tense, which can help you connect with who you’re writing about. You can then edit the obituary so that it’s in the past tense.

  • Imagine if you were writing a letter.

Along with trying out the present tense strategy, it might help if you pretended you were writing a letter about the deceased. Deliver it as though the recipient was their partner or best friend. Aim to tell them stories or something positive that they might not have known.

  • Collect stories.

Just because you’ve been tasked with writing the obituary doesn’t mean you can’t have outside help. Reach out to friends and family and ask them to share their favorite stories about the deceased. Any reader can relate to stories that are funny, eccentric or heartfelt. It might even help to host a gathering; one person’s memory will almost always  trigger another person’s memory.

  • Ask yourself questions.

As the writer, you also likely have valuable insights about the deceased. Ask yourself some prompts that’ll help you come up with ideas. How would you describe their personality? What was your favorite memory of them? What were some quirks that made them extra special? Thinking about these prompts with intention will certainly help get the words flowing.

  • Don’t feel forced to pick a certain tone.

Obituaries are often funny, but a funny tone isn’t always appropriate. Pick a tone that feels most natural to you, so that you can write in an authentic way. It could be heartfelt, wistful, clever, or even matter-of-fact. For more inspiration, be sure to check out our article, “10 Funny, Clever, and Heartfelt Obituaries.”

Death notices and obituaries both help announce the event of a person’s passing. However, they serve two different functions. A death notice is a brief, factual statement that announces someone’s death to the public. An obituary also includes facts surrounding a person’s death, but also includes biographical information, stories, and anecdotes to help honor that person’s memory. If you’ve been tasked with writing either type of notice, be sure to use our guide for help and inspiration!

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