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Handbook for Mortals : Questions About Funerals

Who will arrange a death notice or obituary in the right newspaper(s)?

Often, funeral directors will help make these arrangements for or with the family. People often do not realize that there are two ways to announce a person's death, with a death notice which is a paid listing in a newspaper, and an obituary, which is a news story.

Families purchase death notices, in which they can say whatever they please, as long as it is appropriate in length and taste. Many newspapers will take information for death notices or obituaries only from funeral directors unless the family comes in person and brings a copy of a death certificate. This is meant to limit the unfortunate experience of false death reports. Consider the need to call places the person used to live. Get the phone numbers and even a written draft of what needs to be said. Families find that they need a little time to get dates and sequences of life events just right.

Obituaries are news stories and the family has little control over them. Usually, the newspaper decides for itself whether to carry the obituary, and it often has a formula for what is and is not included. Family will have little control over whether the obituary says the cause of death or the circumstances, or whether unfortunate aspects of the person's life are characterized.

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Adapted from The Handbook for Mortals: Guidance for People Facing Serious Illness, by Joanne Lynn and Joan Harrold, copyright by Joanne Lynn, used by permission of Oxford University Press.