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July 27, 2020 Beyond The Dash

Is Publishing an Obituary in the Newspaper a Legal Requirement?

Know what's required when someone passes away

Is Publishing an Obituary in the Newspaper a Legal Requirement?
What does the law say about publishing obituaries in the newspaper? (Shutterstock)

Short answer

It is not a legal requirement to publish an obituary in a newspaper in order to announce a death. However, a death certificate must be filed with the state's office of vital statistics when someone dies. The death certificate is filed by a medical certifier or licensed funeral home director—not by the family of the deceased person. 

Notice to creditors 

Depending on the state of the deceased person's affairs, it might be necessary or helpful to publish a death notice in order to legally distribute assets to heirs. In this case, the purpose of publishing the notice is to inform potential unknown creditors of the death, and  afford them an opportunity to file a claim against the estate. This does not have to be in the form of an obituary. 

We recommended that you always check with an estate planning attorney that administers probate proceedings in the state where the deceased person died before assuming a print obituary is not necessary. 


An obituary is the final record of a person's life, and will delve into the special qualities that made up their character. This type of notice is typically placed in a newspaper by family members, the executor or other trusted person charged with handling the deceased person's affairs. 

This type of notice is not a legal requirement. Rather, it is the last gift mourners will give to their deceased loved one. Telling a life story accurately and in a way that inspires readers is a difficult but rewarding task. It should not be viewed as a legal or financial obligation, but as an opportunity to celebrate a special person.  

Death notice

A death notice acts as the first announcement that someone has passed away. Like an obituary, death notices are published in the newspaper, but with fewer details. Families publish these notices to afford community members time to plan to attend the funeral. 

Final Word 

Even though there is no legal requirement to publish an obituary in the local newspaper, there are still practical and emotional reasons to do so. Online obituaries on Beyond the Dash are free to post, and then you can choose from over 6,000 newspapers across North America for the printed version.

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