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Deland on Estates and Elder Law

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why You Should Write Your Own Obituary - And What It Should Say

Have you ever seen, in the obituary pages, a short notice that says "[name] died on [date].  Arrangements are incomplete at this time but are under the care of ...[funeral home]?"  That happens because the funeral director wanted to put a notice in, and the family did not know what to write, or hadn't completed the plans for the funeral.  The family winds up paying for two notices:  one that says nothing; and one with the real information in it.

Your family will write your obituary.  It can be a painful process,  coming as it does at a time when it is hard to think.  Usually the expense, like the cost of the funeral or memorial itself, is ultimately paid for by the estate of the person who died.  The Metrowest Daily News, for instance, charges $4.80 a line.
 
Two Reasons
So, there are two reasons why you should write your own obituary:  because it is something you will pay for and you might as well have it say what you want said, and because, hard as it is for you to think about it now, you will save your people a lot of pain if you can make it easier for them.
 
The Purpose of an Obituary
The purpose of an obituary if for people who don’t see the person every day to know who it was who died.   So, what kind of information should be included in the obituary? Obviously, it needs to give your full name, and any other name you have been known by.  A woman who changed her name on marriage should have her birth name in parenthesis:  Jane (Brown) Smith.  But, in addition, there should be included the person's important relationships.   Essentially, this allows the reader to locate you in context.  So the obituary should include your parent’s names (including your mother’s birth name, if it was different), your birthplace and birth date.  Any siblings should be listed, and certainly any children and grandchildren.  What about a “significant other?”  You might ask yourself, “is this relationship important enough that it helps to identify me?"    
 
Handling Past Relationships
But what about past relationships?  Here, I think it depends.  If the previous relationship was a legal one of long standing, like a marriage, I think it is only fair to mention it, because there may be people who knew you when you were married, who would want to know that you died.  If you are an active member of a church or synagogue, that should also be included.  I also think it is useful to include schools attended, degrees, professional licenses, and some career information.  Again, this information will help to identify you.  It is not necessary to include a full resume.  Again, the question to ask is, "would this information help to identify me?"
 
What to Leave Out
What should not be in an obituary?  As a general rule, if the person was a member of any fellowship that has the word "anonymous" or some variation in the title, such as "Alcoholics Anonymous", "Gamblers Anonymous" or "Al-Anon Family Groups," that information should be left out of the public obituary.  Instead, you might leave instructions that specific people be contacted personally by the family, so that they can spread the word.  The reason not to put this information in the newspaper can be simply abbreviated "T.M.I." - too much information.  The newspaper is a very public forum, and, particularly since the obituary lists your close relatives, it is not fair to those people to publish information that might imply something they would prefer to keep private.
 
Following these simple rules, you should be able to put together some guidelines for your people that will make a difficult job easier.  
 
For more about obituaries, visit the fascinating online magazine, Obit  at  http://www.obit-mag.com/.  The picture at the head of this entry came from this site.  Many thanks to them.



Jennifer A. Deland, Counselor-at-Law advises clients throughout the Metrowest area, including Holliston, Hopkinton, Milford, Medway, Medfield, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Sherborn, Dover, Southborough, Sudbury and Westborough.

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