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Why Settling an Estate and Grieving Don’t Mix

by Executor Adviser

If you’re an executor or beneficiary, you’ve probably lost someone of great meaning in your life. It’s a time of sadness, when emotions often run high. It also is a time when there’s a major project on the horizon, settling an estate.

Some things will need to happen very quickly after the death of the loved one, but those tasks are limited and you can often ask your funeral director for assistance with things such as writing an obituary. If a family lawyer is in place, she can often be helpful in finding and validating the will and other basic activities.

Most other tasks can wait — and that’s OK.


Some individuals want to make progress to create a sense of accomplishment in a time of sadness. For others, hanging onto a family home, boat or car may offer them some sense of comfort that things can still be the way they were, at least to some extent. As in many cases in life, the best route is typically somewhere between the two extremes.

Three Reasons to Plan a Funeral in Advance

Take some time to grieve and get caught up on your day-to-day life after the funeral. Get some much needed sleep before trying to aggressively push the process forward in a meaningful way. This will accomplish several things. It will allow a bit of time for initial emotions to settle. It also will give the executor an opportunity to wrap their arms around their role.

At first, much of the executor’s work is finding documents that will be necessary in order to settle the estate. Having copies of things like bank statements, life insurance policies, pension plans, old tax returns and existing appraisals will make the process much more efficient. However, finding them might take a bit of time. So might locating email passwords, which will provide access to monthly statements from banks and other institutions.

Allowing some time to grieve will also create an opportunity for the executor to get input and make a determination as to what professionals need to be hired to help. It could be attorneys, financial planners, accountants, appraisers, estate sales firms — or other specialists. Every estate is different and needs to be managed as such.

For most people, the grieving process cannot be put on a time schedule. It happens over time and different things will trigger emotions for different people. Remember that the executor is likely grieving, too. Showing some patience is not only the right thing to do, but it may help lead to him or her doing a better job in settling the estate.

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Ashley Gerwig, MA, NCC is a writer and nationally-certified psychotherapist. She serves as the director of communications for Executor.org. She has more than 20 years of writing experience and has worked for various publications, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Executor.org is a free resource for executors to help them better understand the role, track their progress, and store important information as they settle an estate.


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