Handling the mental toll of managing a loved one’s estate

4 min read

Advice for handling estate duties when someone you love dies

  • Since you are solely responsible for handling your loved one’s affairs, serving as the executor or administrator can feel isolating and stressful.

  • You can dive in with confidence by assessing your work before you begin and following a few pieces of key advice.

  • To begin with, managing your stress and paying attention to your mental and physical health is key.

  • Get organized: create records of every action you take and every conversation you have, and set up checklists and timelines to ensure deadlines are met.

  • Keep a financial ledger, recording each transaction made on behalf of the estate.

  • Make sure to keep all beneficiaries regularly updated on your progress.

Administering an estate after a loved one dies can be a difficult, time-consuming job. As the executor or administrator, it’s your responsibility to conduct a full accounting of the estate’s debts and assets and to lead the estate through the probate process—in addition to countless other tasks, small and large.

You can and should seek help in the form of family members who collaborate with you and take over items from the estate to-do list, as well as professionals whose expert knowledge helps you handle thornier issues.

But in the end, it can be a lonely job because there can only be one executor or administrator. You may have help, but you are solely responsible for meeting deadlines and managing the estate.

It is easy to feel like you’ll never get it all done, it will never be over, and no one appreciates what you’re doing. At the same time, grief and sadness can leave you feeling depleted and unmotivated.

For these reasons, is important to take a look at the road ahead and strategize before starting your work. These five pieces advice will help you think through the responsibilities your loved one has entrusted you with—and help you proceed with confidence.

Manage ongoing estate-related stress

Winding up someone’s lifelong financial affairs requires you to tap into your deep reserves of patience, time, and organizational skills. When you feel that you are working beyond your capacity, it can be difficult to know what to do next or how to reduce the stress you feel.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by being the primary point of contact for the estate, it’s important to acknowledge your grief and take care of yourself. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating well, and finding time to unwind, exercise, and find some activities to enjoy.

And remember, the job of the executor or administrator is not to personally close the estate but to manage the process. Attorneys, accountants, financial planners, real estate agents, appraisers, and others can help.

You can also choose a professional executor who can oversee the entire probate process, from cleaning out the home to handling estate tax returns. Generally, estate funds can be used to pay fees for any professionals.

Take time to be diligent and organized

Legally, beneficiaries are entitled to the details of the estate’s administration, so keeping good notes and records is important. In states of high stress and prolonged grief, memory—yours and the beneficiaries’—is not very reliable, so these notes can keep all of you on track as well.

Make a list of things that need to be done, review the list at least weekly, and once tasks are complete, put notes and documentation in a filing system. Be sure to keep all important documents in a safe place.

In addition, make notes each time you correspond or speak with someone regarding the estate, including the date and the topic. For conversations with beneficiaries, document your perception of their attitude as well.

Remember, the job of the executor or administrator is not to personally close the estate but to manage the process—and you can enlist professionals to help with specific tasks.

You will also need to track ingoing and outgoing transactions in a financial ledger, and it’s best to keep the receipts. Up-to-date financial records can also make estate accounting less costly and cumbersome; accountants will not have to reconcile unrecorded transactions.

Create a detailed calendar

Keep a timeline of known deadlines and projected milestones so that you can see the full journey before you begin. If you encounter conflicts with the beneficiaries, it can be helpful to show them the calendar so that they can see factual and realistic commitments, and you can communicate in a constructive way.

Knowing that estate settlement takes time is one thing. But accepting the time investment needed and understanding that it can’t be wished away is important as well. By fully adopting this attitude, you can reduce your stress as well.

Communicate with beneficiaries

It is important to update all beneficiaries on a regular basis, to put them at ease about the progress and inform them of any delays. Remember that everyone involved, especially people named in the will, want to hear from you regularly, even if it’s just a quick update.

The probate process can take more than year–and in some cases, two to three years. But there are parts of the process you can’t rush, even if you want to. You may have spurts of activity, then times you are waiting for the next steps. Reaching out to beneficiaries on a regular basis, even at times when there are no updates, will allay any fears they may have. A final thing to remember: As you go through the process of settling an estate, you will unquestionably add complications to your life. There is a lot to do and think about. If you are not comforted by the people around you, you may want to seek support from an outside source, such as a support group or counselor.

And remember, you’re carrying on your loved one’s legacy for future generations—a solemn duty, but a satisfying one nevertheless. It may seem thankless at times, but it is an accomplishment for which your family will be grateful, for generations to come ●