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Obituaries

An obituary is a notice published after your death. It informs people that you have died and provides some biographical information about you. In addition, the obituary may specify the time and place of your funeral or memorial service and include other details, such as wishes for donations to be made in your name.

In the past, newspapers published two types of notices: death notices, which were paid notices supplied by the family, and obituaries, which were statements written by a newspaper's editorial department. Nowadays, the distinction has blurred for many newspapers and both paid and nonpaid statements are often grouped together. We refer to both types of notices as "obituaries."

If you are well known in the community or the field in which you work, a newspaper or other publication will likely publish a detailed obituary or even an article about your life, and there won't be a fee associated with that. Otherwise, the length of your printed obituary depends on the local newspaper's printed obituary policy and fees, your budget, and how much you wish to say.

Online obituaries have fewer length restrictions, are usually less expensive, allow you to share photos and videos, and also provide a place for loved ones near and far to post memories or thoughts. Most newspapers also publish their printed obituaries online through a site like Legacy.com, but you can publish an online obituary, even if you don't go through a newspaper. Most memorial websites allow you to post simple profiles for free, but charge for additional features like unlimited photos or videos. Try doing an online search for "memorial website" to see some examples.

Where Will Your Obituary Be Published?

Think about the places where your obituary might be published— newspapers, newsletters, magazines or online.

You might want to recommend to your survivors that specific publications run your obituary. For example, you might suggest that your obituary be published in newspapers in the various communities where you have lived and worked. If you work for a company or an organization that publishes a newsletter, provide the contact information for the newsletter. If you are well known, you may want to recommend specific magazines or other publications that would be interested in publishing an article about your life.

Many families are also using online obituaries to give word about a loved one's death. Posting an obituary online greatly increases the number of people who are able to view it. And viewers are often able to post comments to the obituary—an effective way for your loved ones to read loving words about you from friends and family across the country or around the globe.

A newspaper usually posts an electronic version of an obituary on its website when you pay to have it printed in the paper, sometimes for an extra fee. Many funeral homes also provide online obituary services to their clients. Or, families can pay to post an obituary on a private memorial website, such as www.forevermissed.com.

Making the Choice

When you make your final arrangements document, you can state that:

  • you have already written an obituary that you would like your survivors to publish
  • you have not written an obituary, but would like to leave some guidelines for your survivors
  • you do not want your survivors to publish an obituary, or
  • you have no preferences for the publication of your obituary.

If you anticipate that your family will publish only a brief death notice, you may want to indicate that you have no preference and leave the decisions to them. But if you know that any source—be it a newspaper, website, organizational newsletter or church bulletin—will want to publish information about you after your death, it will help your survivors to know what these sources are and what you do or don't want your obituary to say.

Leaving Instructions

If you prefer to draft your own obituary, we will ask you to state where it is located, so your survivors can easily find it when they need it.

If you don't want to draft a full obituary, you can provide some guidance about what you'd like your survivors to include in your obituary and where they should publish it.

When deciding what to include, you may want to consider the following topics:

  • where and when you were born
  • family information, including the names of your spouse or partner, children, grandchildren, parents and siblings
  • where you went to school
  • information about your work
  • military service
  • community or recreational organizations
  • awards or achievements
  • special interests or hobbies
  • whether or not you want people to send flowers in your name
  • whether or not you want people to make donations to a particular charity or organization in your name, and
  • anything else you'd like others to know or remember about you. You may also want to select a photograph to include with your obituary.

Your instructions can state which photograph you prefer and where your survivors can find it.

Following are a few sample obituaries to help you draft your own obituary or leave instructions for your survivors. For more examples, look at your newspaper or its website. This should give you many ideas for structuring your obituary.

EXAMPLE 1: Paul Ralph Dillon, 67, 12 Sunset Lane, Mill Valley, died Thursday, October 5, in San Francisco. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Grace Cathedral Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

EXAMPLE 2: Paul Ralph Dillon, 67, 12 Sunset Lane, Mill Valley, died Thursday, October 5, in San Francisco. A native of Springfield, Massachusetts, and a graduate of the Stanford Law School, Mr. Dillon worked as a patent attorney and was a founding partner of Dillon & Winkler, a San Francisco patent law firm. He is survived by his wife, Margaret Evans-Dillon of Mill Valley and two sons, Mark Dillon of Los Angeles and James Dillon of Sacramento. Services will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Grace Cathedral Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

EXAMPLE 3: Margaret Evans-Dillon, 71, 12 Sunset Lane, Mill Valley, died Friday, January 11, in Mill Valley. A native of Pleasanton, Ms. Evans-Dillon was an ardent supporter of environmental causes in Marin County and one of the founders of the Marin Environmental Education Program, a series of programs that integrate environmental concerns into local class studies. In 1998, Ms. Evans-Dillon created Mill Valley Waterkeepers to preserve Mill Valley's watershed and plant and animal life. Ms. Evans-Dillon also served on the Board of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust.

Ms. Evans-Dillon was the daughter of Grace and Woodward Evans of Pleasanton. Her father, Woodward Evans, served as city manager and city attorney for Pleasanton. Ms. Evans-Dillon attended San Francisco State University and received paralegal certification from the University of San Francisco. She worked for twelve years as a paralegal in San Francisco, specializing in patent and copyright law, before marrying Paul Dillon in 1973. Paul Dillon passed away in 2005.

She is survived by two sons, Mark Dillon of Los Angeles and James Dillon of Sacramento. Services are at 12 noon Sunday at St. Anselm Church in Ross. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be sent to the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, P.O. Box 809, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.