No matter how old you are, dealing with a parent’s death can be one of the most difficult things in life. Not only do you have to navigate your own grief and sense of loss, but you may also find yourself having to deal with family dysfunction after their death. Unfortunately, losing a parent can cause a lot of disruption in a family, as it might stir up a wide range of emotions for those who are grieving, from feelings of guilt and anger to jealousy and stress. These emotions often make the decisions and interactions you’ll have to face much more tense and difficult.

While every family dynamic is different, in our guide, we discuss five ways you can plan ahead to avoid family conflicts as well as deal with your grief after the death of a parent. 

How to avoid family conflicts after the death of a parent

Losing a parent can make you feel like your world is turned upside down, and the last thing you need is to deal with family drama on top of it all. To help avoid conflict, follow these five tips.

  1. Encourage open discussions

    Communication plays a big role in avoiding family dysfunction after death. This includes having discussions with your parents about their end-of-life plans and encouraging conversations with your siblings and other family members. 

    It’s important to discuss what life might look like after your parent passes away and how you can maintain a strong family bond. While it can be devastating to lose your family matriarch or patriarch, you should discuss ways to uphold your relationship with one another and keep family traditions alive. 

    Also, consider what concerns your family members might have — Is there unsettled family business? Questions about the will? Financial worries? What can you do about these concerns in advance to help prepare?

    These conversations might involve designating a certain relative to make future decisions or determining ways to collectively address family concerns. Building a strong foundation now will help when you are processing your parents' death later. 
  1. Determine your parents’ final wishes 

    One of the best ways to avoid conflict is to understand your parents’ final wishes. If everyone knows and accepts your mother or father’s end-of-life plans, this leaves little room for disagreements later down the road. 

    When it comes to your parents’ end-of-life plans, there’s a lot to cover, so it’s never too early to begin these discussions. Be sure to discuss logistics, such as how’d they’d like you to divvy up their assets and what they have in mind for their burial. For instance, what are their wishes for their last days? After they die, do your parents prefer cremation over a traditional burial? Where do they want their ashes spread?

    The following are some important topics to address: 

    - Last will and testament
    - Power of attorney
    - Advance care directives
    - Burial options
    - Funeral arrangements and preferences
    - Pet and/or child guardianship designation
    - Assisted living or nursing home preferences
    - Location of important documents, bank accounts, life insurance policies, and passwords
    - Any additional assets or belongings not outlined in the will

Read more: 16 end-of-life questions to ask yourself and your loved ones

  1. Get everything in writing 

    Sadly, death doesn’t always bring out the best in us, so dealing with toxic siblings after a parent’s death isn’t uncommon. Maybe your brother doesn’t agree with the funeral arrangements, or your sister is upset over who received your family heirlooms. While sometimes these situations are inevitable, having your parents’ final wishes in writing can help ease the tension. 

    This is especially helpful if your siblings weren’t involved in the conversations with your mom and dad about their end-of-life plans. If your parents’ arrangements are written and signed, your siblings and other relatives will have a harder time disagreeing with or ignoring them. 
  1. Find ways to honor your parent

    If you’re wondering how to deal with the loss of a parent, one coping method is to find a way to channel your emotions. For example, perhaps you and your loved ones can come together and brainstorm ways to honor your parent. Maybe you’ll decide to plant a garden in their memory, donate to their favorite charity, or start a new family tradition. 

    This gives your family an opportunity to bond and cherish the memory of your mother or father while working toward a common goal. It may also help you put aside your differences and process your grief collectively. 
  1. Understand everyone grieves differently 

    Processing the death of someone as important as your own mother or father takes time. For you, it might mean feeling numb or disconnected for a period, but for your brother or sister, it may involve prolonged bouts of depression. Likewise, you might not be ready to talk about your parents just yet, while your siblings find comfort in reminiscing about their lives. Just because you’re not openly crying or talking about the situation doesn’t mean you aren’t feeling the weight of this loss. 

    Realizing that your family members will grieve and process the loss in their own ways may help avoid family dysfunction after the death. When possible, try to communicate this with one another, so you can all work toward healing as a family. 

Now’s the time to begin discussing your parents’ final wishes and the legacy they want to leave behind to help avoid family conflict after they pass. Doing the work before your parents die will help make it easier for everyone to follow their wishes and avoid family dysfunction. If a memorial tree is part of that plan, contact us today to start making arrangements