The time-management struggle after a loved one dies

5 min read

Ways to ease the time crunch of settling a loved one’s affairs

  • The legal, administrative, and financial responsibilities that come with settling an estate can take hundreds of hours over months or years.

  • To fulfill your duties to your loved one, make sure to work at a sustainable pace to protect your physical and mental health while you are grieving.

  • Get your plans out of your head and down on paper, with a detailed project plan and timeline.

  • Keep your work life separate from the work you are doing for your loved one’s estate, to avoid feeling overwhelmed by both jobs.

  • Seek out experts who can save you time and help you avoid costly mistakes.

The death of a loved one comes with a long list of responsibilities: everything from planning the funeral to settling their financial affairs and filing their final tax return.

Add to that the tasks of guiding their estate through the probate process, closing their accounts, dealing with their home and belongings, and more, and you have what can feel like a full-time job on the side.

You’re not too far off: The financial, legal, and administrative tasks after someone you love dies can amount to hundreds of hours of labor over months or years.

When it feels like you’re already overwhelmed and fighting for free time as you mourn the loss of a parent, a spouse, or a close family member or friend, this can feel impossible. You can do this, though.

One way to ease the strain is by employing some time-tested time-management strategies. Not only will they keep you on track with less effort, they’ll help you avoid burnout—since your physical and mental health should always the top priority, especially when you are grieving.

First, get organized

When you’ve just lost a loved one, it can feel as though time no longer makes sense. It’s so easy to lose track of even the smallest things, like remembering to eat every day.

In terms of settling your loved one’s affairs, you certainly have a lot on your plate, but not everything needs to be done right away.

Since it’s always helpful to write things down, try making a timeline for yourself with each task and its due date––this can take the form of a calendar or planner dedicated specifically to these tasks, or it can be a spreadsheet that you can stick on your fridge. Whatever works for you.

This way, when you’re feeling overwhelmed and foggy, you have a written plan to refer to. Writing things down gets them out of your head and onto the page, so you can rest easy knowing that you’re not forgetting anything. Besides, it feels satisfying to physically check off a box.

However you choose to organize it, your timeline should have specific goals, but make sure that the time you give yourself to complete them is realistic. Make sure to leave wiggle room around deadlines and build in delays . Since most of us don’t feel like ourselves when we are in grief, it’s harder to estimate how long tasks will take us.

For deadlines that cannot be pushed back, like court dates or tax filing deadlines, give yourself plenty of time. That way, the worst that can happen is that you finish early.

Use your compartmentalizing skills

What you’re being asked to do right now is incredibly difficult, and it is completely normal to feel like your new responsibilities are encroaching on your ability to focus on your day job, and vice versa.

The key to being able to juggle both “jobs” is compartmentalization. The exact way you do it is up to you, but the important thing is keeping things separate as much as you can.

If you work from home, compartmentalizing your tasks can be an extra challenge. Since you will be dealing with a lot of emails, it might be helpful to create a separate email account specifically for communications relating to your loved one’s affairs, separate from your personal or work inboxes.

You’ll likely need to be on the computer for a lot of this work, like closing your loved one’s accounts and dealing with their digital assets, and this, on top of your regular job, can definitely cause screen fatigue.

Since this can take a year or more, your plan must be sustainable. Make sure to allot time for yourself.

Don’t lose track of how you’re feeling—make sure that you’re taking breaks when you need them to rest and recharge.

Some people find it helpful to designate a certain area of their living space to a different type of task. Setting a schedule is also helpful, with allocated hours in each day to devote exclusively to working on settling your loved one’s affairs.

Since this can take a year or more, your plan must be sustainable. Make sure to allot time for yourself in between your job and your responsibilities to your loved one’s estate.

Don’t go it alone

Here’s the biggest time saver of them all: Seek out advice and help from experts when you can, especially when you’re dealing with areas outside your expertise.

For instance, you may want to hire a financial planner or an estate lawyer when it’s time for your loved one’s estate to go through probate. Or you can utilize pros to do everything from cleaning out their house to watching their pets while you find them a new home.

If the estate can afford it (since funds for these professionals are paid out of the estate), there’s no reason to have qualms about hiring a professional to take care of things when you need to. While this outlay lessens the total amount of the estate that is transferred to beneficiaries, pros can help you avoid costly mistakes and speed up the process.

Remember, as the executor or administrator of the estate, it is your job to manage the process, not to personally attend to every detail yourself. And in many cases, hiring someone to help with a specific issue is often the most prudent decision to make.

While it sometimes can feel like a herculean effort to get these logistical and bureaucratic things done after losing a loved one, with smart time management and organization, you can tackle the tasks ahead of you.

Going through the journey of tying up your loved one’s loose ends is emotionally, mentally, and physically taxing, but it may also bring you closer to your loved one. You are the one they trusted with this responsibility, after all, and in carrying out their wishes you can honor them in a profound and lasting way.