When a loved one dies and you’re the only relative they had, things can feel overwhelming—fast. You’re not just dealing with the grief that comes with such a loss, but the responsibility of taking care of their affairs.
While you’re going to have a lot on your plate in the coming weeks and months, remember to be conscious of what you can and can’t handle. You’re in an emotionally fragile state, and stretching yourself too thin during this process can be harmful to you mentally and physically.
Take a moment to process what has happened
Although you have a lot to do, you don’t necessarily have to do it immediately. If probate is involved, you may have as many as 90 days, depending on where you live, to file for the proceedings.
Of course, the sooner you start handling your loved one’s affairs, the sooner you’ll be done, but when you’re going it alone you need to be kind to yourself. So take a moment to process the loss before getting to work.
Make a checklist of what you need to do
When you’re ready, make a list of everything you need to do. It’s best if this list is written from most important to least important.
The first steps for an executor or administrator of an estate would be to secure the will and file it with probate court. Then, make sure you understand everything an executor needs to know about probate. And, lastly, you will file your loved one's final tax return.
Don’t let anyone rush you
In some ways, being the only living relative can be a good thing, as you’re not likely to deal with family drama over who will get what from the estate.
But that doesn’t mean friends and family won’t try to rush you through the process—they may do this thinking it’s best for you to get it out of the way or because they’re hoping there’s a little something for them in the will. But take your time. You have your checklist and you’re doing the best you can.
Reach out to a trusted friend
Making lists of assets, coming up with the value of the estate, possibly selling properties, taking care of pets, paying off creditors, and more: It’s a lot for anyone on a good day, let alone during this difficult time.
If it all gets to be too much, reach out to a close friend, and ask if they can help or if they’re willing to take on some of the responsibility. You may be alone in that you’re the only living relative, but you’re not alone in the sense that you have no one to help.
Don’t make it a full-time job
As anyone who’s lost someone will tell you, handling a loved one’s affairs can easily take over your life if you dive in seven days a week. Instead, decide on committing a few hours a day to it, and don't forget to take days off, to keep the pace sustainable.
And remember, there are professionals you can hire to help you, and they can be paid out of the estate. Consider an estate lawyer or a tax attorney, depending on the particulars of your loved one’s estate—as well as real estate agents, property appraisers, and home clean-out professionals as needed.
After all, you’re not going to be very useful if you run yourself down and end up getting sick, which is something that people are extra susceptible to when they’re stressed out and grieving.
You’ve been handed an important responsibility, and a challenging one. Keep a focus on your physical and mental health, and remember to ask for help when you need it, and there's no reason you cannot fulfill these responsibilities in a way that will make you and your loved one proud.
You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.
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