Managing Family Relationships After A Parent’s Death

Patrick O’Brien

Managing Relationships After a Death Can Be a Tricky Task

As the estate executor you will likely end up working closely with any children of the deceased. In fact, you also might be one of the deceased’s children. Either way, it is important to realize that what might seem like the simplest of estate issues to handle can be greatly complicated due to grief and sadness. For many of us, mourning the loss of a parent is a long, difficult process. Grief can wear us out, fray our nerves, add tension to relationships, and bring out overwhelming emotions.
Add in having to sort through a parent’s belongings, clean out a home, and figure out bills and financial matters, etc. – while still doing all the regular tasks of daily life – and it’s easy to see how even an easy-going person can end up losing their cool over what might seem like nothing.

As executor, you might be baffled by the brother who ends up having a 45-minute argument with his sister over who gets to keep a pair of their late father’s binoculars. Or you might have to mediate a peace treaty between two sisters who haven’t talked for two weeks because one cleared out their late mother’s closet when the other one wasn’t able to be present. It is very possible these people are not normally like this at all. This can simply be the impact of grief. Grief can, unfortunately, help the worst parts of us to emerge. And we often don’t notice it happening or feel like we are justified for feeling the way we do.

So what can you do as executor if family relationships are strained after a parent dies? Obviously you still need to get the estate in order and follow a fairly tight schedule. An plan can help, as you can’t wait for the period of bereavement to end before doing your job. Here are some tips for navigating these tricky waters and keeping as much peace, as possible.

Brace yourself for the worst

This might sound exceptionally pessimistic. And to a certain extent, it is. But by planning for the worst, you can anticipate road blocks and have time to deal with them. For example, when planning for the home to be cleaned out, don’t just calculate what the job would take on a good day. Consider that work can get stalled by a number of factors. Maybe two siblings take an hour to disagree over whether to donate an item or throw it out. Maybe the cleaning out of desk is halted when two brothers find a box of photos and spend two hours looking through them and sharing memories. Perhaps a plan to box up all the cookware and dishes falls to pieces after a brother and sister realize they just aren’t ready to accept the fact that their mother will never cook another Thanksgiving dinner in that kitchen. Allowing time for these pauses in activity can lower the stress of everyone involved and prevent deadlines from being missed.

Be the communicator

At this time it is very possible that the deceased’s children are tired and as a result absent-minded. You might tell them about an appointment or deadline and they promptly forget it. You might ask one to tell another sibling something and they fail to do so. It is wise for your own sanity – and the sake of your schedule – to frequently touch base and remind them of plans and arrangements. For example, if the siblings agree to meet on a Saturday two weeks from now to sort through all the clothing in the home, make sure you send out frequent reminders. Email can be great for this and you can send a reminder several times before this event. Calling on the phone the day before to get a final confirmation is also a wise idea. You also can use these emails and calls to remind siblings of any specific tasks they said they would handle. Perhaps one said they would pick up a friend’s pick-up truck to help haul the bags of clothing to Goodwill after they are sorted. If they forget this, the completion of the project obviously will be impossible. Making sure you remind them that the truck will be needed can ensure they arrive with it and that the day isn’t wasted.

Stay neutral

At times, you might find yourself being placed in the middle of an argument between siblings. They might look to you for the solution, for you to be the deciding vote. While at times you might need to step up and be that vote, it is important to remember to stay as neutral as possible. Avoid assigning blame or joining in the argument. You truly might think one sibling is acting like a jerk. But don’t say it; keep it from getting personal. If you have to make the final decision, make sure you explain why you are making that decision and how it is based on objective, sound data, not emotion. Your executor duties should be taken seriously and you have an important responsibility to manage the estate properly. Imagine how you would explain your decision-making to a judge if called into probate court to explain your management of the estate. Would you have sound reasoning based on fact? Or could you only say you made your decision to go along with the majority, or just because you were tired of the siblings arguing?

What You Can Do Next can assist you through each step of the executor role — and give you proven tips on how to deal successfully with family relationships after the death of a parent. We can help you understand the duties and responsibilities of an executor at each step along the way. We’ll help you track your progress, and you can utilize our spreadsheets to keep track of important financial details. It’s a wonderful tool to help you in your executor duties. And, since you can save your work, you can start today and just do a little at a time, as you are able to do so. Think of it as an executor checklist — but a whole lot more helpful!  Click here to get started now.

Hopefully, no matter how much grief the deceased’s loved ones are feeling they can still be helpful partners to you in your work as executor. But keeping in mind that emotions can be raw will serve you well in your role.