Death Notice vs. Obituary? What’s the Difference?

When someone dies, their death notice is usually published in a timely fashion in the newspaper, and/or published online on websites dedicated to death notices and obituaries. The funeral home this family is working with often will post a death notice for the family, without them needing to write a single word.

Death Notice vs. Obituary?

Death notices are very basic and simple. They state the name of the deceased individual and their dates of birth and death. They may include the logistics of the funeral services such as when and where the public is welcome to come to pay their respects. Some people call anything with more details than that an obituary. Death notices are brief, typically only one or two paragraphs. They serve as a public service announcement, and sometimes people do choose to list the names of every person in their immediate family, noting them as who the deceased was survived by. This helps the local community realize who exactly is now mourning a loss of a family member. Workplaces sometimes require seeing the death notice as proof the person really did have a death in the family before they take Bereavement Leave to go to their grandparents’ funeral, for instance.

Sometimes, people choose to add a few words in tribute to who the person was and how they lived their life. When it’s quite short and covers mostly simple biographical details about the person’s school(s) they attended or workplace, it becomes the murky gray area between what is considered a death notice versus an obituary.

Obituaries include biographical details. They often list out the person’s career path, notable accomplishments, interests, hobbies, and how much the person was loved and specific ways he or she will always be remembered.

You might find an obituary on the funeral home’s website or on an obituary website. is a free option for posting a loved one’s obituary, and so many paid options exist. Death notices and obituaries in newspapers are typically fairly short, as they often charge by the word, or even by the character. Local papers tend to be more affordable to publish an obituary in, but larger papers reach more people and have more readers. Sometimes the entire state (e.g. Maryland) is likely to read one newspaper (e.g. The Baltimore Sun), and if the person who passed away knew many people spread throughout the state, it may make sense to spend a few hundred dollars on getting their obituary published in the newspaper.

You don’t want to forget to include the life they lived in between their date of birth and their date of death when you are writing an obituary. It can get confusing, when many people call death notices “obituaries” these days, and the term death notice has fallen out of fashion in colloquial use. Additionally, some people do publish an obituary that is so sparse it is barely distinguishable from a death notice.

Lengthy Biography Obituaries

Some people lived particularly notable lives, perhaps because the person was a well-known politician, a celebrity, or a very accomplished professional in their field. Sometimes full New York Times’ articles are written about a person after they die, or full articles in a number of different newspapers and magazines. This person’s death isn’t just news, but also the life they lived is worth honoring in a robust way with a thorough written tribute to the life that was lived, complete with photographs to illustrate the piece.

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