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A Guide to Obituary Etiquette

When someone dies, writing an obituary is one of the tasks families maybe unsure how to handle. Writing an obituary doesn’t have to feel like a chore – it’s an opportunity to share your loved one’s life with others, reflect, and celebrate their life. Here are some tips on how to make sure you’re following the expected rules of obituary etiquette. It’s good to keep in mind that while this guide references traditional obituary etiquette, obituaries do not have strict rules or guidelines surrounding them. You can write anything you’d like if these rules don’t work for you and your family.

What kind of information is typically shown in an obituary?

An obituary is essentially a brief overview of your loved one’s life. Most obituaries include important biographical information such as date of birth, date of death, career information, military information, and information on the family. Newer obituaries tend to include information on the deceased’s hobbies, passions, personality traits, favorite things, and way of living or approaching life. For examples of what an obituary includes, check out these obituaries that have been posted to Ever Loved.

Should you share how the person passed away in the obituary?

One of the first decisions you have to make when writing an obituary is whether to share how the person died. This is a personal decision that should be based on what the family feels comfortable with. Some families choose to share this information while others prefer to keep it private. If you do decide to share how the person died, keep in mind that you don't have to share every single detail of the death, especially if it was traumatic. Some folks may feel uncomfortable sharing certain types of death (such as suicide or overdose) and may choose to refer to this vaguely or choose to omit the cause of death entirely; other families and individuals may choose to include these types of death as a way of being transparent and even destigmatizing the nature of these causes of death. In any case, it's generally recommended to stay clear of too many gruesome details when sharing the cause of death. Phrases such as "passed away after an accident", "died from an accidental overdose", or "lost their battle with cancer" are common phrases when listing out causes of death in an obituary.

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Is there information you shouldn't share in an obituary?

There are certain bits of information that you generally shouldn't share in an obituary. This includes things like the person's Social Security number, address, or other personal information. Identity theft is an issue families can run into after someone passes away and you want to avoid making this easier for any bad actors.

You also don't need to list out every single relative the deceased had. If there are too many to list, focus on the closest and most important relatives and consider using phrases such as, "and many more loving aunts, uncles, and relatives".

If the deceased had a difficult or troubled life, it may be worth consulting with family before including this type of information in the obituary. At the same time, if they were proud of their struggles and overcoming difficulties, it can be genuine to include this in the obituary.

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Should some family be left out of the obituary?

In some cases, it may be necessary to leave out certain family members from the obituary. This usually happens when there is bad blood or estrangement within a family. In these cases, you should generally consult with the surviving spouse or closest relatives before making a final decision on who to include in the obituary. Typical obituary etiquette for who to include lists the following folks in an obituary: spouses or significant others, children, parents, extended family, friends, pets, and in some cases, ex-spouses (especially if they are the parents of the children).

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Obituary etiquette for survivor's names

Including the names of survivors is a common part of obituary etiquette. This includes the deceased's spouse, children, parents, and other close relatives. Typically, the proper etiquette for listing survivors is to list them in the following order:

  1. Spouse
  2. Children
  3. Parents
  4. Extended family
  5. Close friends
  6. Pets

Survivors are typically listed starting with the closest family members and you go from there. Here's an example of what the survivor's section can look like in an obituary:

Tom is survived by his wife, Sharita; children, James and Harry; his parents, Susan and Thom; his grandchildren, Flora, Herald, and Juan; and many loving uncles, aunts, and friends.

For more obituary content examples, check out this article on obituary templates for an understanding of what else is included in an obituary. For examples of real obituaries posted on Ever Loved, read this article.

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Obituary etiquette for predeceased names

Another common section of the obituary is the predeceased family members' names. These names are typically listed before or after the list of surviving family members. Most often, you'll see this list started with some variation of the words, "___ was predeceased by...," and a list of family names will be listed in a similar order to the way you list out survivors' names.

How do you refer to an unmarried partner in an obituary?

Typically, an unmarried partner is referred to as a spouse or simply as a partner. You can also list them as a surviving relative if you feel it's appropriate. The goal is to list them in a way that best reflects the relationship they had with the deceased. When it comes to obituary etiquette and girlfriends or boyfriends, it may be worth referring to them as a "significant other" or "partner" in the obituary.

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How to list a deceased spouse in the obituary

If the spouse was predeceased to the decedent, you should include their name in the predeceased section. This would normally looks as follows:

*"Brian was predeceased by his wife, Janet." *

If the spouse passed away after the decedent, you can use a variant of the following language:

"Brian was married to Janet, who has since passed."

How to list stepgrandchildren and stepchildren in an obituary

For stepchildren and stepgrandchildren, there are a few ways you can consider listing them in the obituary. The first variation is to simply refer to them as children or grandchildren, followed by their names. Here's an example of this:

"Brian is survived by his five children: James, Joyce, Arthur, Fitz, and Marie."

Alternatively, you can include information on the marriages earlier on in the obituary. Here's an example of this:

"Brian went on to have 3 children with his first wife, Clara -- James, Joyce, and Arthur. After 13 years of marriage, Clara and Brian ended the marriage amicably and remained a powerful parent duo to the children for the rest of their days. When Brian met Janice in 2016, he became the proud father of Janice's children, Fitz and Marie."

Stepgrandchildren can be referred to in a similar way, without differentiating between biological grandchildren and stepgrandchildren. If there are a large number of grandchildren (or stepgrandchildren), you do not have to list every single one. You can simply include "and many grandchildren" in the obituary's 'survived by' section.

Should I write an obituary even if the deceased didn't want one?

This is a difficult question that doesn't have a straightforward answer. If the deceased didn't want an obituary, their surviving family members may choose to write one as a way of celebrating their life or remembering their accomplishments. If they explicitly asked for you to not write an obituary, consider just a death notice or brief list of survivors and predeceased family members.

If you do choose to write an obituary against the deceased’s wishes, it's important to be respectful of the type of information they'd want included. This is where consulting with family can help you come up with the content you'd like to release.

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Ready to post an online obituary? Use Ever Loved to get started. Obituaries posted on Ever Loved are easily editable, come with free templates, have unlimited amount of space, and can be shared quickly with your friends and family. In addition, the ability to post an obituary is just one of many perks (such as ability to post event information, share the website, collect memories, raise donations, and much more) that come with a memorial website on Ever Loved -- all for free.

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Last updated June 23, 2022
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