What Should You Not Include in an Obituary?

Published July 9, 2020
senior man reading the newspaper

An obituary is an announcement released, typically in a local or national newspaper, that shares the loss of an individual with their community. To write a meaningful obituary, there are a few tips to keep in mind for what to say and what not to include.

What Not to Include in an Obituary

While an obituary is intended to announce the passing of a community member, they may also provide clues to individuals looking to take advantage of the situation. In order to prevent identity theft and property theft, it's a good idea to not include:

  • The deceased individual's date of birth
  • The deceased individual's home address

Is it Appropriate to Include Jokes and Personal Stories in an Obituary?

Typically, obituaries don't include jokes and personal stories, however if you'd like to write a unique one, you can certainly include something lighthearted. If you are considering adding in a touch of humor to the obituary you are writing think about:

  • How your jokes will come across to those viewing the obituary without being able to note your tone of voice or see your facial expressions
  • If your jokes or sarcasm comes across as mean spirited or hurtful- it should be clear that what you're saying is lighthearted
  • If the personal story you've selected captures something the deceased individual would be comfortable with you sharing

What's Included in a Eulogy and Not an Obituary?

The eulogy often includes anecdotes, special memories, and attempts to capture the deceased individual's personality. One of the main differences between a eulogy and an obituary is that a eulogy is read aloud, meaning that jokes, and anything sarcastic is easier for the guests to understand. Eulogies tend to include more personal details and be longer, while obituaries may include facts, and a few personal details about the individual who passed away in a concise manner. In writing an obituary versus a eulogy, try to avoid:

  • Writing as if the obituary is a speech that will be read aloud; obituaries are printed for reading.
  • Writing long, drawn out stories; instead try to capture your loved one's personality in shorter anecdotes if you'd like to include one.
  • Including too many personal details; while you can include some personal details in an obituary, keep in mind that the length tends to be significantly shorter than a eulogy,

What to Avoid Writing if You Had a Difficult Relationship With the Deceased

If you had a strained or estranged relationship with the deceased individual, but you are writing their obituary, try to avoid:

  • Using the obituary to vent your feelings about the relationship
  • Over-sharing personal stories that shift the focus to you, rather than the deceased individual
  • Sharing anything rude, even when said in jest

If you can't think of anything neutral or kind to say in the obituary, stick to the facts. This means focus on their career, their hobbies, any awards or accomplishments, as well as any survivors if they are comfortable being mentioned.

Obituary Writing Pitfalls

Writing an obituary can be very challenging, especially if you've never written one before. Whether you are writing one for yourself or a loved one, try to keep in mind:

  • Be sure to proofread your work to ensure that everything is grammatically correct.
  • Keep the focus on the deceased individual as much as possible.
  • Try to avoid cliches and other overused phrases, and think of different ways to phrase sentiments.
  • Write the obituary in third person.
  • Do not reference the deceased in ways the reader would not understand (Mom, Dad, Aunt, Uncle, etc.).

Should My Ex-Partner Be Mentioned in an Obituary?

Obituary etiquette notes that you may or may not want to include your ex-partner as a survivor depending on your current relationship with them. If you have a friendship with them, and/or have children with them, you may want to consider including them in your obituary. Keep in mind, this decision is totally up to you. If you do opt to include them as a survivor, you can note that they are an ex-partner or former spouse. If you're not writing your own obituary ahead of time, let your children or survivors know your wishes.

How to Write an Obituary

Whether you are writing an obituary for yourself, or for a loved one, there are some guidelines to keep in mind. If you are struggling to write the obituary, it's totally okay to enlist the help of other loved ones, as well as the funeral director for some extra guidance.

Examples of Obituaries

Reading some sample obituaries can assist you with formatting. Keep in mind that whether you are writing an obituary for yourself, for a father, a mother, a sister, a brother, or anyone else in your family, the format will typically stay the same. What makes each obituary unique is how the writer highlights each individual's distinct story, accomplishments, relationships, and values. If the deceased individual enjoyed poetry, you may consider also including an obituary poem in your tribute.

Hand writing on paper

Obituary Template

Using a basic obituary template can help guide your writing process. In general, you will want to think about including:

  • The announcement of the passing
  • Life details, events, awards, accomplishments, and significant moments
  • Surviving family members and pets if they were an important aspect of the deceased individual's life
  • Funeral and memorial information
  • Donation and/or flower information
  • An optional photo to include

How to List Survivors in an Obituary Example

Survivors may include parents, spouses, children, siblings, as well as ex-partners, and any other family member who you think are relevant to include. Some obituary survivor examples include:

  • (Deceased individual's name) is survived by his/her spouse (insert spouse's full name), their daughter (insert daughter's full name) and husband (insert daughter's husband's first name), and grandchildren (list grandchildren's first names).
  • (Deceased individual's name) leaves his/her son (list son's name) and his spouse (list spouse's name), and granddaughter (list granddaughter's name). (Deceased individual's name) was preceded in death by his/her spouse (list spouse's name), who passed away in (list year of death).

Keep in mind when listing adults, it's best to use first and last names, and with children, it's okay to just list their first name. When coupling partners together, list the first and last name only of the individual who is related to the deceased, and just write the first name of the spouse if they share the same last name. If partners don't share a last name, you can include the non-related spouse's last name as well.

How to Write an Obituary With No Service

If you or a loved one has opted not to have a funeral service, there are a couple options you can choose when writing the obituary. You can include a simple sentence explaining the reason why there will be no service, or choose to leave out the information regarding why the service isn't happening and focus on the deceased individual's life in a sequential manner.

How Do You Write a Good Obituary?

Writing an obituary is a wonderful way to honor a deceased loved one. Knowing what to include and what not to include in an obituary can keep the tribute meaningful and focused, while also helping to prevent identity and property theft.

What Should You Not Include in an Obituary?