An obituary isn’t a necessity when someone dies, but it can be a good way to tell the wider local community about their death and celebrate their life. But what does ‘obituary’ mean, exactly, and how do you go about creating one? Let’s take a look…


What is an obituary?

An obituary is a written announcement of someone’s death. It usually describes the life and personality of the person who has died, as well as the details of the upcoming funeral service.

Obituaries are typically published in newspapers and on online memorial pages. The famous tend to be given obituaries in the larger newspapers as a matter of course (really, whether they like it or not). For everyone else, it’s far more common for a family member or friend to pay a local newspaper to publish an obituary they’ve written, or to publish it online themselves and share it on social media.


Why publish an obituary?

So, that’s a general obituary meaning covered. But what is an obituary for, really? If you’re arranging a funeral for someone close to you, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to write one at all. An obituary can be useful, however, if you need to:

  • Let the wider local community know about the death. The person who died might have friends and old colleagues you don’t have contact details for. You might not be able to easily reach them another way.
  • Make the funeral arrangements clear to everyone. In one fell swoop. When there are a lot of guests to contact, and you have different people taking care of it, wires can get crossed. An obituary online or in the paper can be an official source they can come back to.
  • Create a public record of the person’s life and personality. Perhaps luckily, most of us will spend our whole lives without turning up in the news. An obituary can be a way to share and celebrate the best of someone with the wider community.

You don’t have to pay the local newspaper to publish an obituary. You can create a memorial page online for free, and simply email a link out and share it on social media sites to spread the word.

What’s the difference between an obituary and a death notice? Both are a written announcement of a death. But a death notice is always paid for and doesn’t have to contain any biographical information. An obituary does need to talk about the life of the person who has died and can be free or paid for.


What is an obituary usually like?

An obituary can have any structure you like, but it will usually cover:

  • An introduction explaining that the person has died, and when
  • An overview of their life and achievements
  • A brief mention of their surviving family members
  • The time, place and details of the funeral arrangements

In the past, a few families have used the obituary to air their grievances with the person who has died. But it’s far more common to be gently positive (or at least neutral) throughout. Some families like the tone of the obituary to reflect the personality of their loved one. Genuinely funny obituaries are rare (and hard to pull off) but do happen.


How to arrange an obituary

If you like, you can make an online obituary for free on the Beyond site. Our uplifting memorial pages allow families to collect memories, photos and videos from friends around the world, raise funds for charity, crowdfund funeral costs and share the details of the funeral arrangements with guests. Unlike a newspaper obituary, the page will always be there: a comforting place to visit and celebrate your loved one’s life for years to come. Find out more here.

If you’d like to publish an obituary in the local paper as well, you can call the paper up directly – or if it’s easier, don’t be afraid to ask the funeral director to do it for you. Find and compare your local funeral directors using our free tool here.

Figuring out what to put in an obituary can be a struggle, especially since you’re likely to be grieving. We have a guide on writing an obituary here to help out. Just remember to take your time, and accept that it doesn’t need to express everything right now – you’ll have a chance to say more during the funeral service.

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