Are You Legally Required To Publish an Obituary?
I hate that so many of my friends have had to say farewell to their loved ones in the last few years year, as have I.
In 2020, I lost my birth father, my great-aunt, and my grandfather. While I was part of the obituary writing and publishing process for my grandfather, I was not for my birth father or great-aunt, and try as I may, I’ve not been able to find an obituary for either.
While searching for the obituaries of my birth father and great-aunt, I discovered several other family members who’d passed away with no public record of their death and it made me start to question the rumors I’d heard for years that there was a legal obligation for the next of kin to share a public death notice. Apparently not.
Anthony A. Marrone II is an Estate Planning Attorney in Syracuse, and when a user of the website, AVOO.com asked the question, "Is it mandatory for the family of a deceased person to put an obituary in the newspaper?" Marrone replied, "There is no requirement to have an obituary in New York State." According to PublicLibraries.com, there is also no law in Pennsylvania that an obituary be published.
Echoing the sentiments of Sinclair was Justin Jay Watling a Probate Attorney in Cleveland, OH who said, "No. In fact, in this era of unscrupulous individuals, some families wait until after the burial to run an obit." Watling went on to explain that sometimes criminals read what has been published so to know when the family will be away from their property as a way to rob them.
Why then do people think there is a law that an obituary must be publically posted? It might have something to do with the fact that it is a law in some states that notice be issued to creditors of the deceased and it is easy to confuse the two.
Bryan Lane Berson is a litigation lawyer in West Islip, New York, and states that posting a notice to creditors is NOT law in New York. However, in the state of Pennsylvania, it IS law that (per McAndrews Law Offices) "the personal representative must advertise the decedent's death in two newspapers (one of general circulation and one legal periodical) in the decedent’s county of residence for three consecutive weeks."
I don't have any solid proof of this because I am not a researcher, but I have to wonder if another reason people are opting not to publish obituaries is that the cost is astronomical, a fact I learned firsthand.