Conflict Resolution: Dealing with Conflict After Loss

Everyone’s heard a story of someone passing away, and their once closely-knit family ended up on conflicting sides about who gets what or who deserves more than another person. Many people would like to believe their family would never be like that.

But just as death is inevitable, it can seem as though conflict after death is almost as unavoidable, even if it doesn’t completely tear a family apart. Emotions run high after a loved one passes, and that’s a breeding ground for conflict, especially in families where the subject of death and estate planning are avoided.

Conflict can be difficult to predict, but it’s possible to confront and deal with it in healthy ways. Better yet, there are ways to help prevent conflict from happening to begin with. Read on to find out why conflict is so common after the death of a loved one, strategies for handling it, advice for avoiding it and how working with a company specializing in estate work can help.

Why Does Conflict Arise After a Loss?

Conflict can arise at any time and about anything, even when deciding what to dispose of and what to keep. People become attached to certain items, and after a loved one has passed, it’s easy to transfer feelings of sadness and loss to those items while working through grief. Because of this, conflict arises even in close families, and family members can act in ways we would never have imagined.

There are seemingly endless decisions that must be made when someone dies, leaving plenty of opportunities for disagreements and challenges. Even simple decisions can lead to serious family arguments.

Added to all of these reasons is that there is a lot of room for interpretation when wishes are unclear or unknown. If a loved one has passed away and you’ve never discussed what happens with their belongings, it leaves everyone left behind struggling to figure out what they wanted. This creates confusion and, occasionally, chaos.

Family members of multiple generations holding hands on a beach looking at a sunset

How to Deal with Conflict

Understanding the effects of grief on different people is key to learning how to deal with conflict caused by loss. By understanding that the sibling or other family member you disagree with is grieving just like you, you can put yourself in their shoes and begin to understand where they are coming from.

Remember that anger is a common reaction when grieving and can be amplified by the circumstances of someone’s death. This is useful in looking at how you interact with others and how others behave.

Another thing to keep in mind is that feelings of shame can crop up regarding our own emotional reactions to the death of a loved one. For example, many people mentally berate themselves for not falling apart, forgetting that the process of grief takes time. Feelings of guilt, shame and regret regarding decisions made when the person was still alive can also surface and impact our reactions and decisions.

Accepting that you can’t control the decisions and reactions of others is another vital tool. This helps to manage your own expectations.

Communication is also effective for dealing with conflict, and lack of communication can be a reason for escalating conflict. If one person is making all the plans and decisions and you or others don’t speak up, it can lead to feelings of resentment and further facilitate conflict down the road. Making plans for updates and open communication where family members can get things out in the open is important. Just remember not to use accusatory statements and focus on expressing your own emotions and experiences.

If you find your family cannot resolve conflicts on your own, mediation is another way. Whether you seek guidance from an executor or from a professional mediator, they can be a helpful third party to navigate your family through your disagreements.

How to Avoid Conflict

The best way to prevent conflict from happening is to plan in advance and make your intentions crystal clear. Better yet, if you want certain items to go to a specific person, it’s best to make those wishes known in life and prepare a letter that reinforces those wishes.

With particular possessions that several family members want, addressing what you want to happen with them is the better option compared to leaving it until your family members are cleaning out an estate.

The ‘Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?‘ resources are helpful for having conversations regarding personal items and belongings with family members. They provide research-informed strategies with the goal of protecting family relationships when personal belongings are passed on, including:

  • Remember that personal property decisions are more challenging than titled property decisions
  • Recognize the emotional and economic consequences of personal property decisions
  • The importance of planning ahead
  • Consider how unresolved family conflicts can surface during inheritance decisions
  • Discuss goals and intentions
  • Understand that there are different perceptions of what’s fair
  • Ask others to identify items with special meaning to them
  • Put wishes in writing

If you’re looking for a compassionate hand to help you organize your belongings to prepare your will and estate, get in touch with NEATSPACES’ organizing services in Toronto and other areas of the GTA. We bring years of experience, professionalism and expertise to all of your home organizing and estate preparation needs.

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