Obituary templates let you skate by with no more effort than coughing up a few factoids about the deceased. If that prospect is more appealing to you than the idea of starting an obituary from scratch, you’re in good company: According to Google Trends, the search term “obituary template” is way more popular than “obituary writing.” If your loved one had a generic personality and lived a cookie-cutter life, by all means—use a boilerplate template. It’ll capture your loved one’s uniqueness with all the joy of a 1040 form, minus the refund.

Obituary templates do one thing well: They shoehorn a person’s life and times into a 250-word “death notice,” a phrase chilling enough to delight any career IRS agent. But they’ve outlived their usefulness. These days, the length of an online obituary is limited not by word count, but by attention span. Keep us engaged, and we may read 1,200 words. Tell us your loved one “would’ve done anything for anybody,” and we’ll get back to stapling those TPS reports post haste.

An online obituary is a story, not a death notice. Writing a fresh, original tribute instead of resorting to the canned-ham version is a generous final gift to your loved one. Most writers find the experience very satisfying. It’s a good way to channel your grief and begin the healing process. Best of all, it’s never too soon or too late to write one. You can put together a life review while your loved one is still here to share his or her memories with you. Or you can post a virtual memorial months or even years after a person’s death. Here are some ideas to help you get started: