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How to Deal With Greedy Family Members After a Death

Gabrielle Applebury
fighting over a valuable object

After the loss of a loved one, some family members may show signs of greediness. The loss of a loved one can feel even more overwhelming if you have difficult family members to deal with, but there are ways you can minimize conflict and take care of yourself as you process this painful experience.

Tips for Dealing With Greedy Family Members After a Death

It can feel really challenging not to get sucked into family conflict, especially when some individuals may be showing signs of greediness. Using a few simple tips can help you navigate this difficult situation.

Aim for Healthy Communication

Misunderstandings amongst family members, especially when assets are being divided, can feel especially awful when coupled with feelings of grief. While you can't control how others speak to you, you can set the tone for healthy and calm conversations regarding difficult topics. Aim to:

  • Use "I statements" and focus on how you're feeling and what you're observing versus what others are doing to you.
  • Focus on using uniting language such as "we," "our," and "the family."
  • Validate what others are saying and use active listening- those who don't feel heard tend to become more agitated.
  • Notice when you feel overwhelmed or irritated and pause potentially argumentative conversations until you feel more calm.

Empathize With the Need for Control

You may observe behaviors that indicate to you that a family member is being greedy. Everyone has a different perspective and what may feel greedy to you may not feel greedy to them. While not everyone has the best intentions, try to understand their point of view before labeling them as greedy. Keep in mind that during the grieving process, many individuals may be seeking control as they are reminded of the inevitability of death. This may read as greedy, but it doesn't necessarily mean they are being greedy.

Practice Self-Care

Experiencing grief on top of familial stress can feel like too much to handle. Be sure to take time to practice self care. This may include:

  • Grief journaling
  • Practicing yoga and meditation
  • Speaking with a therapist
  • Joining a grief support group
  • Spending time with animals
  • Reading grief focused literature

Set Boundaries

If you have family members who have violated boundaries in the past, it's important to set firm, healthy boundaries. To do so:

  • If someone does something that you don't feel comfortable with, let them know calmly
  • Establish what you need from your family in terms of space
  • Speak up if you have too much on your plate and need some help managing the aftermath of the recent loss
  • Listen to your gut- if an interaction feels off to you, it probably is
women talking

Create a Schedule to Go Over Estate

Whether you are the executor or not, it's a good idea to plan on having a family meeting and setting up a schedule that everyone feels comfortable with in terms of dividing up the estate. Some material possessions may not have been passed on to anyone, so organizing by category and coming up with a system to divide these assets can help prevent a free-for-all situation. You may also discuss the possibility of:

  • Hire a mediator to help with asset division
  • Decline the role of executor and hire an independent fiduciary
  • Liquidate all assets and split evenly amongst family members
  • Take turns selecting a single item at a time and draw names randomly for the order

Coping With Family Fighting After a Loved One Dies

You may have started to notice some family conflict when your loved one was in the process of dying, but now that they've passed away, the intensity of the conflict has escalated. While some fights are inevitable, you can choose how you react and respond to argumentative or easily triggered family members. When dealing with anything estate-related, it's important to:

  • Enter into the situation only when you feel calm
  • Be very self-aware of your emotions and thoughts during any interactions with your family members
  • Notice if you feel uncomfortable with certain family members and why
  • If arguing is non-stop you can consider going through probate court, or using a mediator to help resolve issues as soon as possible
  • Reflect on situations where you either reacted or felt like reacting

Is it Grief or Greed?

Grief and greed can blend together after the loss of a loved one and it can be hard to differentiate which one lies at the core of your family member's motivation. Knowing if it's greed or grief can be especially tricky when:

  • Disagreements about when to sell or put away deceased loved one's items can lead to tiffs and misunderstandings about the level of sensitivity of each family member

  • Dysfunctional family unit dynamics can be worsened by the loss of a loved one
  • Levels of sentimentality will be unique to each family member, with some possessions holding more significant sentimental value than others
  • Pre-existing unhealthy family alignments can push some family members out while favoring others
  • Entitlement and financial needs may influence a family member's behavior

How Do You Deal With Greedy Siblings?

Whether you have a great relationship with your sibling or not, sibling rivalry and sibling jealousy can significantly impact your brother or sister's behavior. For instance, if you were favored during childhood, your sibling may take out their unprocessed parent-child emotions on you and unconsciously try to block you from getting items that may hold meaning to you. To deal with greedy siblings:

  • Cultivate empathy for them and try to understand their motives. People who act out typically do so from a place of hurt that they may or may not be consciously aware of.
  • Let them speak their peace, even if you disagree.
  • Be understanding and kind to the best of your ability.
  • Take time to think about your response to them if you feel overwhelmed or triggered.
  • Siblings just know how to get under each other's skin. If they try to bait you into an argument, remain calm, be thoughtful, and know when to excuse yourself from the conversation- don't give yourself more stress to deal with on top of everything else.

If you believe they are truly out of control, you can consider hiring a non-familial executor to divide up assets equally, or speak to a lawyer about your options.

How Do I Remove a Sibling From My Deceased Parent's House?

Speak with a probate attorney who can guide you through this tricky process and can help you file the proper paperwork. In general, if you are not the named executor, you will need to first petition the court and request to be named the executor. If you are named executor, you can either have your sibling pay rent or evict them from the property.

How Do You Stop Family Fights Over Inheritance?

While you can't stop your family from arguing, you can control how you deal with the situation. If you are the executor, be sure to set firm boundaries and stick to them, even if your family members are attempting to contact you often. If the inheritance wasn't established in the will, you can discuss hiring a non-familial mediator or take your case to probate court to help ensure that everything is as fair as possible.

Common Conflicts Over Material Possessions

Material possessions may hold sentimental value, as well as a dollar value to some. Some family members may focus more on sentimentality, while others may focus more on monetary gains. Common arguments over material items include:

  • Who gets what: Family members may experience discord over who gets what item and why.
  • When to begin sorting and/or selling: Because the grieving process is unique to everyone, some may feel comfortable sorting and selling items immediately, while others may construe this as callous or greedy.
  • What to give away: Family members will place a unique value on items depending on their experience with them, which can result in tiffs over what is acceptable to give away.
  • If the house should be sold: Houses often hold a lot of sentimental as well as monetary value, thus fights over how the house should be dealt with can be especially painful for some.
siblings discussing over properties

How Does Grief Affect the Family Unit?

Grief can create unique bonds and rifts within a family unit. Those who were close may drift apart, and those who were estranged may decide to reconnect. The loss of someone also impacts the family's natural relationship dynamic, which can feel especially challenging to reconcile if the deceased individual was seen as the glue in the family.

Different Grieving Styles

Different grieving styles can impact the way family members relate to each another. What one person may consider "acceptable" grief may not feel okay to someone else. This can result in misunderstandings and potential judgments placed on each other. Keep in mind that people grieve uniquely and may be emotionally impacted by the division of the estate differently. What may feel insensitive to you may feel perfectly sensitive to someone else.

Family Dysfunction After a Death

Family dysfunction can escalate after the loss of a loved one, especially in an already unhealthy family dynamic. When an individual passes away, a key role becomes vacant. This can create unrest, increase anxiety levels, and bring up uncomfortable relational shifts within the family. For example:

  • In a family where one member acted as the mediator, in their absence, the surviving family members may not know how to resolve conflict and grow further apart over time.
  • In a family where one member was the symptom bearer (or identified patient), family members may refocus their energy on "helping" or "fixing" another individual's perceived issues.
  • A sibling may try to take the role of the parent to their other siblings, thus creating an unhealthy power dynamic.

Keep in mind that most of these shifts in family dynamics may happen unconsciously and develop over time as the family adjusts to their new normal.

Why Do Siblings Grow Apart After Parents Die?

Sibling relationships after the death of a parent or parents can definitely experience strain. Siblings may:

  • Have maintained their relationship solely because of their parents
  • Feel uncomfortable or triggered seeing each other because it may remind them of their parents' absence
  • May have fallen out based on behaviors observed during their parents' dying process and/or during the estate division
  • May not have as many built in family events
  • May have relied on their parents to keep the family connected or resolve sibling conflicts

Relationships take the participation of all parties involved, so if some aren't willing to make an effort, the relationship may deteriorate.

The Impact of Death on the Family System

The death of a loved one can completely shift the dynamics in the family system. Everyone will take time to adjust to the loss in their own way, and those in the family may react to someone's way of processing their grief. While a loss can bring a family together, it can also tear one apart by:

  • Shifting the boundaries inappropriately (lack of privacy, increased dependency on one or more family members)
  • Displaced feelings that are taken out on other family members
  • Blaming someone in the family for the loss
  • Some family members may not feel comfortable talking about the loss and enforce that others in the family do the same
  • Identity becomes deeply tied to the deceased individual which can potentially bring up a major issue when asked to divide up assets

Handling Greed and Grief

The loss of a family member can create a difficult situation for the surviving family members who may be grieving, as well as dealing with the potentially stressful division of the estate. While you can't control how your family members act, there are proactive steps you can take to manage the situation, and take care of yourself.

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How to Deal With Greedy Family Members After a Death