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Are Obituaries Required by Law?

Obituaries are a common way of remembering people who are no longer with us. We are often left to wonder what they were like, how their life was lived, and what legacy they left behind. While obituaries are important, you may find yourself questioning whether they're required by law. What if you don't want to write one? What if the deceased didn't want one? Will you get into legal trouble? Let's find out.

Do you have to put an obituary in the paper?

Publishing or placing an obituary in the newspaper is not a requirement, nor is it even the best way to share an obituary for many people. The newspaper used to be the only method of sharing news widely that someone had passed away, but this is no longer the case. When it comes time for you to publish an obituary, it’s often better to publish the obituary online (even if you would also like to publish a version in the newspaper.

Publishing an obituary online is easy, free, and fast. It also gives you the ability to edit the obituary, which you don’t get when submitting to a newspaper. If you publish an obituary on Ever Loved, it’ll come with a lot of useful additions, such as:

  • Easy to set up and use
  • Ability to post unlimited photos
  • Fundraising capabilities
  • Set up events and collect RSVPs
  • Collect memories and condolences
  • And much more!

Placing an obituary in the paper is costly (usually a couple hundred dollars) and won’t reach as many friends and family members. However, if you do want to post an obituary in your local paper, we have a guide to help you do so here.

Does an obituary have to be published?

Obituaries do not have to be published and can remain private, depending on where you post it. Of course, if you publish an obituary in the paper, it’ll be publicly available. If you post an obituary on Ever Loved, you have the option to keep it unpublished so that only you (and other managers) are able to see the obituary.

An unpublished obituary is useful in cases where you aren’t quite sure on what you’d like to write, are still working on the obituary, and in cases where you simply want a private obituary that only you have access to.

Additionally, if you have a Premium Ever Loved memorial website, you’ll be able to publish a password protected obituary that only you and those you share the password with are able to see. You’re also able to unpublish a published obituary at any time with a free memorial website on Ever Loved.

Do you legally have to have an obituary?

Legally, it is not a requirement to have an obituary. There is no law that requires you to publish an obituary or submit any type of obituary in the paper.

Are death notices required by law?

Death notices are different from obituaries and are used to announce a death. They usually include only important biographical information and are published in papers and online. It might be a legal necessity to publish a death notice if there is a need to distribute assets or alert unknown heirs to the settling of an estate.

If you’re unsure if this is required in your case, it’s highly recommended that you consult with the probate court or an estate attorney. The probate court may also suggest posting a legal notice of death as an alert to creditors who can then use the death notice to file a claim if the deceased has outstanding debt.

You’ll want to make sure you’re following your state’s laws when it comes to posting a death notice if there’s an estate as it can be time sensitive and something that may need to be posted multiple times to ensure all heirs have the opportunity to engage. This is an important step to investigate and not something to make assumptions about since your state or your probate court may require you to publish a death notice to notify any creditors that want to make a claim. If you do not investigate this or consult with the probate court or a probate attorney, you may face issues with settling the estate.

Can anyone publish a death notice?

Anyone can publish a death notice; a death notice does not need to be published by the family. If you’re trying to submit a death notice to the newspaper, they may require verification of the death by the funeral home handling the services, so try to have that information handy when submitting it to the paper.

Do you have to publish an obituary? Are obituaries required?

Now that you know you don’t have a legal requirement to post an obituary, you may be wondering whether or not you have to publish one at all. The short answer is no. You are under no obligation, legal or otherwise, to publish or post an obituary after someone passes away. That being said, there are many reasons why posting an obituary is an excellent idea and is still something that the majority of people do after someone passes away.

Obituaries are important in that they share the story of a loved one’s life, something that most individuals don’t get to share during their time on earth. It’s a time to share the biggest accomplishments, important moments, personality traits, difficulties, and relationships that made your loved one special and unique. Obituaries also help some people feel a sense of finality and closure when it comes to losing a loved one and posting one will help you avoid folks questioning you about why there’s no obituary.

I’ve never written an obituary before, where do I start?

If you haven’t written an obituary before, there’s no need to worry. Most people haven’t written an obituary when they’re tasked with writing one for the first time. Obituaries can be as short or as long as you’d like them to be, especially if you’re publishing an obituary online. Obituaries that are written for publication in the newspaper should keep length in mind since newspapers generally charge by the line (which can get really pricey, really fast). In general, you’ll want to include the following information in an obituary:

  • The full name of the individual
  • Their date of birth and date of death
  • Where the individual was born
  • Where the individual made their home
  • Information about their career, their educational pursuits and accomplishments, and their family
  • Description of the type of individual they were and some important personality traits
  • How the person passed away (if you want to share this information, it’s not required)
  • When and where the services will be held
  • Where flowers can be sent, if you’d like them
  • Where donations can be made, if you’d like them

Once you have that information lined up, check out these templates for guidance on how to list that information in an obituary format.

Looking for real life examples? Read this article on obituaries that are well written by real people on Ever Loved.

If you’re ready to post and publish an obituary online, get started with a memorial website. Memorial websites are simple, easy to use, and absolutely free. They also come full of other features to help you and yours after experiencing a loss.

Publish an obituary

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Last updated July 6, 2022
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