It’s hard enough to cope with the loss of a loved one. The sheer volume of tasks that follow their death can add an unwanted layer of frustration and stress. However, despite the long to-do list ahead of you, it is important to remember that you don’t have to do this all by yourself. Even if you take the lead, you can delegate many tasks to others who are simply willing to help a friend.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- 1. See the Benefits of Delegation
- 2. Understand the Responsibilities and Tasks
- 3. Limit Tasks for Anyone Experiencing Trauma or Complicated Grief
- 4. Decide Who’s Required or Best-Suited to Do Each Task
- 5. Be Aware of Relationship Dynamics, Try to Be Flexible
- 6. Go Beyond the Family for Help
- 7: Stay Organized and Communicate Clearly
- 8. Take Advantage of Funeral Director Services
- 9. Look for Help From Customer Service When Settling Accounts
Here we’ll look closely at how to delegate tasks after a death in the family. We’ll review some of the issues you’ll face, things to consider as you delegate each task, and how to manage it all.
1. See the Benefits of Delegation
Be cautious of taking on too much at once after your loved one’s death. Remember that you are dealing with both strong emotions and an enormous to-do list.
Are you a natural leader in your family or a multitasking type of person? You may be tempted to dive into this list and distract yourself with activity. This may work at first, but you could be headed for burnout.
Your grief doesn’t go away just because you cover it with busyness. You will run out of energy, still have emotions to deal with, and lose momentum with your tasks. Instead, recruit others to carry the burden with you.
If your family is small or you don't have many people around to help, you may have fewer options. You may end up carrying much of the load yourself. Take advantage of customer services as you work through paperwork and arrangements. And don't be afraid to ask others for help. Even getting small tasks off your plate can make your job easier.
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2. Understand the Responsibilities and Tasks
There are many tasks to do after a family member passes away. But with teamwork from family members and friends, you can begin to take care of your loved one’s affairs.
Some things may take months or years to wrap up. Others can be taken care of quickly. The following is not meant to be a complete list of the tasks you’ll need to complete. But it can give you an idea of what you’ll need to consider as you delegate.
Locating essential documents
- Wills and trust paperwork
- Premade funeral or burial arrangements
- Statements from banks, retirement accounts
Notifying individuals and service providers
- Other family members, friends, former coworkers
- Services like utilities, medical offices, insurance, mail
Making funeral arrangements
- Contacting funeral homes, place of worship, and clergy
- Deciding what happens during the ceremony (music, military honors, religious ceremonies)
Addressing financial and legal tasks
- Meeting with attorneys
- Settling bank accounts, retirement accounts, and other investments
- Going through probate or going through the will
In other sections below, we’ll review more about the process and the people doing these tasks. Keep this list in mind as you read the rest of this guide.
3. Limit Tasks for Anyone Experiencing Trauma or Complicated Grief
Grief affects everyone differently, and in fact, some people may experience complicated grief or trauma after a death. Anyone having a difficult time taking care of their basic needs shouldn't get tasks for now.
A person in deep grief isn’t lazy or disinterested. When a death hits hard, some people struggle through a period of shock as they grieve. Offer them comfort and support. Invite them to join you in the process, but don’t pressure them to take on responsibilities.
Some people can function better than others when dealing with heavy emotion. It’s OK to let them have space for a while. There's no shortage of things to do, and they may be in better shape later on.
4. Decide Who’s Required or Best-Suited to Do Each Task
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by everything on your list. Thankfully, you have several options for delegating tasks. Consider who has legal responsibilities and who could take on items that anyone could take care of.
Tasks that named individuals must do
First, understand who has legal and financial responsibilities. Find out if that person is willing and able to carry out their duties. In some cases, a back-up person may be named to carry out executor duties or to be a financial representative. If they are willing, this person may be the only individual allowed to take care of certain items.
Many financial institutions give clients the option to assign direct beneficiaries. Those tasks are not involved with a person’s will. An executor doesn’t have the authority to settle those accounts unless they are named as a beneficiary. Only named individuals can settle those accounts directly with the financial institutions.
You'll find out soon if your family member kept their estate and financial information well-organized. If it was done carefully, it may not take long to figure out where to start. But some people may have left these details undone. They may have forgotten to update decisions made years ago. Others keep financial accounts scattered across many companies.
The process may take longer and become frustrating. But financial companies often have generous timelines for this reason.
Tasks that anyone can do
Some tasks after death can be done by anyone wishing to help. Arranging schedules, meals, and sorting through belongings all take time. Take advantage of anyone willing to help with these activities. Since some people will be tied up with specific responsibilities, delegate these tasks to others. As the saying goes, many hands make light work.
5. Be Aware of Relationship Dynamics, Try to Be Flexible
Relationship dynamics may play a part in this situation. If the family has healthy warm connections, many things will probably go well. Even with a few bumps in the road, the group can still work together. But some family members may hold grudges or play the victim.
It may not take much for these old family patterns to emerge. These issues may be triggered by intense emotion and unresolved conflict. Be aware of these tendencies when you delegate jobs. Avoid assigning critical tasks to unreliable people, even if the responsibilities look uneven.
Understand that one person may feel left out and another may feel like they’ve been given too much. It’s also OK to change who’s leading the process. But be cautious with this, too. Some people may be more interested in taking charge than doing a good job.
Set rules about disagreements and discussions. Ensure that nobody gets away with harmful or rude behavior. Be flexible as you go and consider multiple ways to get things done.
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6. Go Beyond the Family for Help
Don’t be afraid to look beyond your family for help. Friends and community members may be willing to take care of small jobs to help your family. Reach out to clubs or organizations they belonged to, or ask their neighbors. People want to help, but they may not volunteer on their own. Ask someone who knows your loved one well to see if they’d pitch in.
Here are some easy ways non-family members can help:
- Getting groceries
- Running errands
- Picking people up from the airport
- Moving memorabilia, pictures, tables, chairs, etc to funeral or reception site
- Caring for pets
- Getting mail
- Organizing cards, gifts, and donations
7: Stay Organized and Communicate Clearly
Clear communication is a vital part of delegating tasks effectively. Staying organized also helps everyone stay on track. Start by choosing someone to oversee the entire process. Also, consider communication style and who may do this job the best with your group. Everyone learns differently, so pick someone who can be flexible with people in the group.
Keep a written record and ask each person what help you can offer so they can do their tasks. Some people may have hearing issues or vision problems. Others may have difficulty tracking details. Also, keep in mind the general impact of grief on memory and sleep. People will forget things and make mistakes, so be as patient as you can.
Make an effort to keep track of everything you are doing. But try to avoid enormous lists and frequent reminders. There’s a balance between moving everyone forward and being overbearing.
8. Take Advantage of Funeral Director Services
Funeral directors may have services to help with tasks on your list. For example, you can ask funeral directors to order death certificates. They may also be able to notify government agencies' social security or veteran’s affairs for you.
If you have no experience planning a funeral for someone, lean on the funeral director. They can assist you with choices for your service. If you need ideas, they can guide you through options that others have chosen. They may also be able to order flowers and make arrangements for the cemetery.
Some of these services may be included in the package you choose from the funeral home. Ask a lot of questions about these services, especially if you know you'll be short on help.
9. Look for Help From Customer Service When Settling Accounts
When you delegate financial tasks to someone, they may not need to do all the legwork. Companies may have specific processes for closing or settling accounts. You may need to provide proof of death with an official death certificate. But service companies deal with this issue regularly and may have specialized staff to guide someone through the process.
Every company is different and some may be more helpful than others. Still, the person contacting services may be able to simplify their tasks.
Delegating Tasks After a Death: Getting It All Done
In this guide, we reviewed what you need to consider as you delegate tasks after a loved one’s death. It can be tough to manage both your emotions and a long to-do list of unfamiliar tasks. But there are many ways to lighten the load on everyone. With support and understanding, you and your loved ones can get through it.
- “Practical Steps to Take After Death.” Alaska Courts System, Self-Help Probate, December 2017, courts.alaska.gov.
- Landry, Lauren. “How to Delegate Effectively: 9 Tips for Managers.” Harvard Business School Online, 14 January 2020, online.hbs.edu.
- Oates JR, Maani-Fogelman PA. “Nursing Grief and Loss.” StatPearls Publishing, 11 August 2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.