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Placing a Notice of Death vs. Obituary

Tamsen Butler

Unlike an obituary, which acts as a biographical tribute to the deceased, a death notice simply states the fact of the person's death without delving into historical details about the life of the deceased. Oftentimes the death notice is designed to alert creditors and beneficiaries to make a claim on the estate.

Obituaries Tell a Story of a Life

While there are no standard requirements for an obituary, it does tell the story of the deceased's life, including information about where and when they were born, a brief review of their life, the date of their death, and names of the family left behind. As historical records, obituaries can provide a wealth of information for generations born long after the death of the person.

No Legal Requirement

There is no legal requirement to print an obituary in print or online. In fact, some families may find an obituary an invasion of privacy or simply too painful to write and publish and might opt to not release an obituary at all.

A Longer Word Count

Since obituaries tell the story of the deceased's life, their word count is typically longer than a simple death notice. Newspapers typically charge per word printed, though, so most people strive to keep obituaries fewer than 500 words. An obituary might include a photo.

Timing of Publication

Most people publish an obituary soon after the death, but before the funeral, memorial service, or celebration of life service. This allows readers to plan on attending the service to give their respects.

Death Notices Tell the Facts

The information required within a death notice, along with the length of time the notice appears and at what time after the death the death notice runs varies from state to state and is governed by probate laws. Death notices typically include the following facts:

  • The full name of the deceased
  • The name of the court and probate case number
  • A request for creditors or beneficiaries to submit a claim
  • Contact information for the agent of the estate
  • Claim time limit specifics
  • Anything else required by the state in which the individual died

Legal Requirements

The death notice notifies creditors and beneficiaries to make claims to what they feel entitled. The death notice may appear in the obituary section of a newspaper, or might appear in the classified section, depending on the laws of the state. Some states require the notice to appear in all newspapers within the county of residence of the deceased.

Short Word Count

Death notices feature shorter word counts than obituaries - typically around 50-100 words. The cost of running a death notice depends on the publication, but may be less expensive than an obituary if it appears in the classified section.

Timing of Notice

State laws dictate the timing for the death notice's publication. A death notice may be required to be run more than once over a specific period of time.

Choosing Between Obituaries and Notices

An obituary is a tribute to the deceased, telling the story of their life. A death notice a legal notification to alert creditors and beneficiaries of an individual's death. If a family is looking for brevity, a short obituary is appropriate; a death notice is not an alternative to an obituary, but instead fulfils state requirements. Obituaries are not legally required and can be whatever loved ones want them to be while death notices must include necessary information per state laws. Speak to a legal professional if you have questions regarding the requirements for a death notice.

Placing a Notice of Death vs. Obituary