Etiquette for a sympathy card after a death

Updated April 17, 2017

A well-written sympathy card can be uplifting to a person who has lost a loved one. It can be difficult to find the right words to say, but the task is easier when you understand the basic etiquette for sympathy cards. Getting a thank-you note and knowing you made a difference in that person's life will make writing the card more than worthwhile.

Is an E-Card Acceptable?

With more people turning nearly all their correspondence to e-mail, an e-card to express sympathy or condolence is acceptable. However, a nice handwritten card or letter will probably mean more and feel more consoling than an e-mail. An e-mail is more appropriate for a business associate or someone you do not know well.

Is it Too Late to Send a Card?

Though it's ideal to send a sympathy card within a few months after a death, a late card is perfectly acceptable. The person is likely still grieving and still in need of healing words. Include a line explaining and apologising for the lateness of the card. Many people do not send a sympathy card right away because it's a difficult card to write.

What Should I Write in the Card?

When you do not know the recipient well, keep the condolence short and let the recipient know that you will stay in contact. If you knew the deceased well but not the survivor, include a short, pleasant memory you shared with the deceased that may be comforting to the survivor. Also let the survivor know that the deceased will be missed. If you know both the survivor and the deceased, feel free to mention how you can help if the survivor needs it.

How Should I Sign the Card?

When signing a sympathy card, include both your first and last names to avoid confusion. When signing a card from an office, either sign the name of the business or have everyone in the office sign the card. Passing the sympathy card around with a collection for funeral flowers will ensure that everyone gets a chance to sign the card. To speed up collecting signatures and money for flowers, write the name of everyone in the office on the outside of a manila envelope; as each person gets the envelope, he can donate anonymously, sign the card and cross his name off the list.

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About the Author

Crystal Conerly has been a full time writer for two years, writing for several websites and magazines including,, and RealSimple Magazine. She has obtained two associates degrees one in general studies and one in paralegal studies at Alvin Community College and currently attending University of Houston Clear Lake.