How to manage grief as the executor or administrator of an estate
Losing someone you love is one of the most stressful and painful events you can experience. The sadness and anger can feel crippling, and we don’t always allow ourselves the time to really grieve.
As the executor of an estate, you may be navigating this difficult emotional experience while simultaneously trying to handle the details of a probate process. Managing that combination requires, more than anything else, self-compassion and a willingness to seek help when you need it.
Honor your grief
Unfortunately, grief doesn’t just go away if you ignore it, and it doesn’t disappear because you have a long to-do list. Grief also doesn’t follow a set progression or have a defined timeline. It doesn’t go away just because someone else said it should, and if you don’t give it space, grief shows up in other places—difficulty sleeping or eating, irritability, body pain, nausea.
Allow yourself to experience all the emotions that come up, and there could be a lot. People grieving the loss of a loved one feel more than just sadness. They often experience anger, guilt, bewilderment, or fear. Whatever you’re feeling is okay.
Ask for help
You may be inclined to draw into yourself and avoid interactions with others. But support from those who love you is crucial during the grieving process—even more so if you’re also trying to manage probate.
People may be awkward or do or say things that aren’t particularly helpful. Often, loved ones want to help during difficult times, but they’re not quite sure how. Helping with probate tasks is a really tangible way for people to provide you support. Just because you’ve been designated the executor doesn’t mean you have to do everything.
Delegate tasks or whole projects. Make someone else the point person for communicating with the funeral home. Get a friend to help send out death notices or sit on hold with a utility provider.
Step away when you need to
Grief on its own can feel all-consuming. When you add in the probate process, you may begin to feel smothered by the constancy of it. You’re allowed to step away.
Take a day off from all the probate tasks. Go for a walk. See a movie. Let yourself escape for a bit if you can.
If a recommendation to get organized makes you want to throw something across the room, take a deep breath and take our earlier advice—ask a friend or family member to help.
Hand them a list of executor duties and ask them to help you organize all the necessary tasks and paperwork. The probate process can involve lots of little details, and making sure each task is completed and that you’re keeping a thorough record is important to ensure that you meet your fiduciary duties as an executor.
Join a support group
After a significant loss, you may feel like no one understands what you’re going through. Support groups can help provide a space where other people have experienced many of the same things you have, and they know how to provide the comfort you need.
Most cities and towns have support groups. If you’re having trouble finding one, contact your local hospital or funeral home. They often have a list of local resources.
If you’re having a really difficult time managing your grief, don’t hesitate to find a therapist or other mental health professional to help you find your way through the process.
As a final note: you have the right to refuse your appointment as executor. If you feel you simply cannot serve as the executor, let someone else step up to take the role.
Have questions about being an executor or any part of the probate process? Overwhelmed by tackling grief and probate at the same time? We're here to help and make probate simple for loved ones. Schedule a consultation if you need help figuring out how to get started.