Graphic illustration of two thumbs arguing with one another during a thumb war style handshake

Keeping Peace while Keeping Pace

Dave Coffaro

Keeping Peace while Keeping Pace during Estate Settlement

Settling an estate is no easy feat. Under the best circumstances, the process often takes 12 months to complete; with added complexities, duration increases. 

The term “estate” refers to all of an individual's assets and liabilities. Which means that “estate settlement” is the closing chapter in someone’s financial life.

The Logistics

The estate settlement process involves determining what assets were owned by the person that passed and placing a fair sentimental and financial value on them.

It also includes paying any debts and taxes that may be owed, and, ultimately transferring assets to the correct people or institutions in order to close out the estate. 

Sounds pretty straight forward, right?

The Emotional Factor

Beyond the procedural elements of estate settlement, there is also a significant emotional aspect. After all, a loved one has passed.

Even when expected, the passing of a loved one is heart-rending and can traverse a wide range of feelings.

Every family member assimilates the experience from their individual frame of reference, and these different perspectives can sometimes lead to emotional strife.

Layer the financial dimensions of estate settlement on top of the emotional context, and family dynamics can quickly turn to clashing factions. 

Even among peaceful and agreeable siblings.

Happy family gathers near ocean in memory of loved one

Tips for Keeping the Peace

To help lessen the chance of long-term arguments, here are three proven ways to help keep family peace while also keeping pace throughout the process of settling the estate:

1. Elevated Proactive Communication

Like most relationships, communication is essential when it comes to working with family members in the estate settlement process. If you are executor, be the leader. Impartiality can be difficult, and staying cool is tough when emotions run high. However, by proactively communicating where things are with each step in the process, you can avoid unnecessary tensions and debate. The role needs a voice of reason, and you are it! 

2. Unequivocal Transparency

TMI applies in some situations, but not when you’re on point to lead an estate settlement. Keep your family up-to-date with your progress, challenges, and next steps in the process. This is even more important when you work through financial details. Absent information, people can come to inaccurate conclusions. By fully sharing details, you will help your family members feel comfortable.    

3. Pre-planned De-escalation Steps

Any of these themes - estate settlement, family dynamics and financial activities  - can be emotionally charged on their own; combine them and the result can feel like nuclear fission. Be mentally prepared in advance on how you can de-escalate discussion that elevate to debate or outright arguments. For instance, if you know one sibling is more sensitive to a particular topic, say whether you keep a family heirloom or sell it, have a conversation with that person in advance of the group discussion. If the group discussion heats up, plan a redirect question. Challenges are likely to arise, yet the more prepared you are, the better you can navigate each event.   

The Next Chapter

By taking these steps, executors and heirs can help maintain peace among their family through even the most difficult of situations.

And at the end of the day, nothing honors a loved one or preserves their legacy more than everyone sticking together.

After all, that's what family is for... especially through the hard times.

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