Grief and greedy family members are a dangerous combination. Sometimes, you may have no choice but to deal with selfish relatives after the death of a loved one.
People who are grieving can express their emotions in a variety of ways, which also includes some destructive ways as well. If you suspect this might be the case after the loss of a family member, you'll need a few tips to get you through the worst moments.
In a conversation where relatives share material things, emotional attachments can spring up suddenly. Should you be the executor of a deceased family member’s will, it can make things uncomfortable and strained. Consider the tips below to prepare yourself if anything might arise.
Remember that you can't change a person from being greedy. But you can make the best of it and reduce stress.
1. Be Honest
This is no time to beat around the bush or hide your true intentions, as you have a family member who feels threatened and is making power plays. If it looks like you are hiding something, it can result in conflict. This can come back and hurt you later, even if you think you are acting honestly and clearly.
It can feel like quite the burden to deal with family members who are manipulative or sneaky. But, it doesn’t help anything if you do the same. If anything, consider this an opportunity to live out your family's best ideals.
Think about how your loved one would want things to be handled, or how you would like things in the family to change for the better.
No family is perfect, and there will always be disagreements but some people really do have bad intentions. Be that person who breaks the pattern. Find a friend for support if you need to.
2. Look for Creative Compromises
Sometimes a good solution requires creativity and cooperation. It's easy for family members to get wrapped up in possession and material gains, when perhaps they may be looking for meaning and memories. There are many ways to preserve or create meaning for a family heirloom.
Is there a favorite piece of jewelry from Mom that everyone wants? Find ways to exchange it for special occasions. It might become a family legacy piece that even the younger generation gets to wear without any single person claiming ownership.
Another option is to divide an item so several people can share it. Make meaningful and unique pieces from it. Share the item with a local museum to showcase if that’s possible. Your family may even be interested in getting cremation diamonds made.
Real estate, like property and land, involves lots of money and value and can be more challenging to share. Use a financial mediator or attorney if your family is having trouble agreeing on who gets what. If not, work together in a way that meets everyone's needs.
3. Take Breaks from Each Other
There may come a point when you might not be able to stand the sight of certain family members. However, don’t forget that this can be normal. Grieving the loss of a loved one and being surrounded by family during a tough time can be overwhelming.
Staying calm requires taking care of yourself first, which can mean taking time away from family. If you’re normally happy to be around family, consider the fact that grief can add a lot of stress to even the closest of families.
It's okay to tell others to take a break every now and then to clear their minds as they work through sharing family property. Tension can build up quickly if people are worn out.
When you finally get some alone time, rest. Close your eyes and sit down or lie in a quiet place. Give yourself a chance to reflect on your day. Maybe grief journaling or gratitude journaling can provide a respite from your busy thoughts to give you some clarity. Most importantly, try to settle your emotions before going back to join the rest of your family.
If you need to walk away from a tense conversation, don’t hesitate to do so.
4. Understand That You Can’t Change Anyone
Despite your best efforts, all you can do is set a good example for others to follow. To maintain your own peace of mind, it can be helpful to remember that you might not be able to change their minds.
If your siblings are always arguing and causing drama within the family, know that they will not change that behavior, especially if it’s been going on for decades.
Anyone would feel frustrated with this type of situation, especially if all you want is a peaceful process getting through Mom's will. Does this mean you should give up hope trying to make things peaceful? No. You can choose to bring a positive outlook to every family get together. Don't expect to change anybody.
Each person is responsible for their own behaviors and reactions and nobody else’s. You can extend kindness, respect, and a listening ear. What your family members do from there is totally up to them.
5. Remain Calm in Every Situation
You don't have to respond to every question or comment that comes your way. You can simply nod or shrug your shoulders gently to keep the waters calm. Say something like, "That’s something to think about," or, "Mhmm…" and leave it at that.
You know your family best and how arguments get started. Come up prepared with phrases or comments for when people want to fight. As you know, sometimes your reaction can make all the difference. Your family may not get very far with an argument if you don't take part in it.
In general, it is prudent to remember not to have a discussion with someone who is yelling and screaming. It may be hard if they are in your face but if possible, try to remain calm.
If anything, while things may seem like they’re blowing up in front of you, someone will notice the way you handle tough situations. Set an example for the rest of the family to follow. Hopefully, your family can realize that calmness will help them to get through this situation as well.
6. Use “I” Statements and Avoid Blame
Express your thoughts and emotions without putting them on others. Using “I” statements sounds like a cliché, but it really works. If you can, try to avoid pointing fingers and assigning blame.
When conflict arises, it’s important to stick to the facts. By staying calm, you can avoid using language that insults others and gets them fired up. Hurting someone because they said something spiteful makes a situation worse. Instead, say "I heard you say…" or, "My understanding is…"
You can also phrase these as questions. Ask a relative, "What did you hear me say about that? I saw an angry look on your face, what happened?”
You may feel unpopular pointing out bad behavior that hurts people. You may be the only one that doesn't play the blame game, but this is a healthier way to approach family conflict.
7. Be Gentle and Empathetic
As mentioned before, grief can make everyone feel a little more out of sorts. Keep in mind that everyone in your family group has experienced a loss. Everyone trying to claim possession is feeling raw grief, and some people handle their emotions in ways that hurt others.
Make no mistake, people are responsible for their own actions. But grief is very painful and many people struggle with it. Irritability and anxiety are two common emotions felt during grief.
Show your family members empathy and understanding. Give a little more to the people who may be acting out the most, as they need gentleness and kindness more than ever.
Kindness is not a weakness. While you may wish you could talk back to your rude brother, be kind instead. In the end, you want everyone to live in peace with each other. If your kindness keeps them coming to the table instead of walking away, that helps everyone.
Your kindness can be an example. Hopefully, someone else in your family feels like you do. The more kindness you show, the more others will notice.
8. Lay Ground Rules for Working Things Out
Before sharing anything, set some ground rules. Make sure everyone agrees on how to communicate with each other.
Here's a simple list to share that includes some of the tips mentioned above.
- Use a calm voice.
- No name-calling.
- If someone yells, they are excused to take a break.
- Decisions will only be made when people are calm.
Make sure to set up these suggestions before you decide on anything. Having some ground rules can make it easier to keep things calm before they get to a yelling match. You can interrupt before things get out of hand.
Remind everyone that they have agreed upon these rules together. Anyone who does not agree does not get to take part in group decisions. All these rules send a clear message, so nobody hijacks this effort. What is it worth to you to follow the rules?
If none of the above tips work, mediation may be your final option. Let a professional do the heavy work, and a third party can keep things much less emotional. High levels of conflict can be exhausting, and a mediator is trained to guide things more smoothly.
With a professional in charge, you as a family member can focus on the above tips with less effort. Stay calm and focused which helps make things easier for everyone.
Some family members may threaten a legal battle if they don't get their way. If your family is on the brink of collapse, a mediator can keep you out of legal battles. You may consider talking to a mediator ahead of time if you are worried about conflict. Not only can they provide additional tips, but if things get bad, you can bring them in to help.
Some family members might not like a third party getting involved. Assure them that a neutral party can help everyone work together better.
Handling Greed and Grief
With all these tips mentioned above, remember first and foremost: you can't change a greedy person's heart. But you can show kindness and keep your sanity. Grief can bring out the worst in people, especially if money, property, and possessions are involved.
Do your best to be kind and remain calm, but above all else, take care of yourself. The grief will eventually subside.
If you need more help with settling affairs after a loved one dies, read our guides on cleaning out a parent's house after death and what to keep after a loved one dies.