Understanding Grief – And Making Decisions During Difficult Times, 11/28/2005

A loved one’s passing can be one of life’s most emotionally wrenching events. Many important decisions, some with great personal and financial ramifications, must be made at this time. It is essential that grief and emotions be recognized and set aside so that these decisions can be handled rationally, with care for the wishes of the deceased and avoiding ill-advised or rash actions.

Recognizing what is happening is crucial. Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her book On Death and Dying, outlines the “5 stages of grief” that many people go through upon receiving traumatic news. These stages are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. They outline the spectrum of emotions many survivors often feel. While not every person goes through each stage in the same way at the same time, these stages can be a useful framework for thinking about one’s emotions and the emotions of others during a trying time. Someone who is angry about the death of a loved one, for example, may elect to act quickly and dissolve a functioning business out of spite or anger. It is important to have a cooling off period so that individuals can decide what the deceased may have wanted, and what is best for family and loved ones.

The first thing to do after the death of a loved one is: Nothing. Stay calm. Decisions made under pressure can throw away years of well-thought out planning. Sometimes it can be tempting to re-title assets. Be careful to do so only after talking to us for direction. Aside from comforting others, there are almost no estate administration decisions that must be made during the first few weeks after someone passes away. The first things to be done are to handle practical matters such as comforting relatives and friends and arranging for the burial by contacting a nearby funeral home. During the next few days, contact us and set up a time to meet regarding the administration of the terms of the trust. An exception to this is if there is a business that necessitates immediate action, such as the case of a corporation with customers awaiting orders that will cause the business to suffer without immediate attention. The business affairs must be continued. The collapse of this business could adversely affect the deceased’s estate plan. It is important not to try to handle these matters on one’s own, as trust documents can be complex, and failure to administer them properly can jeopardize the goals of the deceased and cause further pain and suffering for those left behind.