What to write in an obituary

What to write in an obituary

An obituary is an article which includes a detailed biography of a deceased person in order to inform the community of their passing and highlight their accomplishments in life.

It can often be written by staff at the publication which the relatives then ask to publish, but there is an increasing tendency for people to write obituaries for themselves or their deceased loved ones which are then submitted to the press to consider for publication. There are also numerous websites dedicated exclusively to obituaries which are becoming increasingly popular.

In the expat community, local newspapers will generally be open to publishing the obituary of someone well-known, as are social groups, associations and religious communities who can publish them in their newsletters.

They can be quite long, and as well as a memorial about the life of the deceased, it can also include details about when and where the funeral or memorial service will be held. However, remember that there is limited space in a newspaper or newsletter, so having an abbreviated print version and a longer online version ready may save you from having something cut out that you particularly wanted people to read.

Writing an obituary for someone close to you may be difficult, but remember that it expresses your pain at losing them as well as the love and happiness they brought to the lives of those around them. It lets people know of their passing, so they can offer support to the family.

Let’s take a look at what should be included in an obituary:

Basic details

Include the name, age and place of residence of the deceased, as well as time and place of death. Use expressions that you feel comfortable with, you may feel saying “died” is a little blunt, although it is acceptable, so use other words such as “passed away.” You are under no obligation to list the cause of death in the obituary, but if it was a sudden death, writing it here will avoid having to repeatedly tell people later.

Biographical details

Keep to the point and where possible, include date and place of birth, parents’ names, including the mother’s maiden name, date and place of marriage, name of spouse, education, employment, hobbies, places of residence and other milestones, such as military service. Use your judgement to decide whether to include step-parents, divorce or other details. You can include these details either in chronological order or by importance. Include significant contributions and achievements, although if there are too many, choose the most important.

Don’t be afraid to add something that everyone will remember about the deceased, a common saying of theirs, a habit or an anecdote.

Remember you are explaining what was special about the person, not just listing the steps of their life.


You will need to list the surviving relatives of the deceased. Where possible, prepare this in advance, so that no-one is forgotten.

Start with the closest relatives: partner or spouse, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, parents, and siblings. Nieces, nephews, cousins and in-laws are usually not named, and if the deceased had many grandchildren or great-grandchildren, a number can be used or just ‘many’ to avoid forgetting anyone.

Details of funeral or memorial

Include the essentials, the times, dates and places of any events which are taking place to remember the deceased.

Special requests

Also include details about what people can send in lieu of flowers, how to make donations, send thanks to anyone who was involved in caring for the person in their final days or if you want to, something like a quote, passage from the Bible or poem or something along those lines which you think is fitting.


Although this will add to the cost, it is nice to add a photo and may also help people to recognise the deceased. We recommend that you use the most recent, nice photo you have of the person. If you would like to use a lovely old photo that you may have, then include a recent one as well.


With all of this, you will properly acknowledge the passing of a loved one and remember everything that they brought to those around them in life. You can share details from their life that people in the expat community in which they were known may not have been aware of and also express sadness over their loss. Make sure it is from the heart, informative and easy to read.

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Written by

David Arias


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