How to Deal With Greedy Family Members After a Death

Learn ways on how to deal with greedy family members after a death, according to experts.

Carole Brody Fleet

Carole Brody Fleet

Grief / Life-Adversity Expert | Author, “Widows Wear Stilettos

Find out what is in writing

Is there a will or a trust that dictates who gets what? If so, that is the absolute by which everyone must abide, regardless of greed. If you are not included to the extent that you wish (or not at all), there is little that you can do.

In fact, in many cases, if you attempt to sue or otherwise legally question a will or trust, you (and your children, if applicable) may be disallowed from inheriting anything altogether (otherwise known as a “non-contest clause”).

If nothing is in writing, the laws of the state apply

Inheritance laws differ widely from state to state. If a family member passes away without a will or a trust (otherwise known as dying intestate), the state may very well decide who gets what.

Again, greed is not taken into consideration; however, a familial relationship is.

If you feel entitled to a piece of an estate (or any assets or possessions that are a part of it), be prepared to show proof of entitlement (and saying, “They wanted me to have it” or “I’m entitled to this” is not proof).

Do not be afraid to speak up

If you feel that you are being taken advantage of, speak up – and if you are too afraid or exhausted to do so (and it happens more often than not), rally allies that will step up on your behalf.

The worst thing that you can do is permit yourself to be taken advantage of, simply because you are too exhausted to fight or otherwise use your voice.

You must find your voice and use it

If the greediness completely oversteps boundaries, seek help!

Here’s an example scenario:

The father-in-law who took his late son’s truck without asking the daughter-in-law, and it was their only mode of transportation; the in-laws who told their widowed daughter-in-law and her young children that as his parents, they were “entitled” to their son’s life insurance proceeds; despite the fact that they were not the beneficiaries.

If someone appropriates possessions without your consent, call the police. If attempts are made to obtain money that is not clearly and rightfully theirs — get insurance companies involved or contact a lawyer. Do whatever it is that you must do to protect the estate.

Is it possible that relationships may suffer as a result of these suggestions?

Perhaps, but consider that it was their greediness that provoked your response in the first place. You must protect your late family member’s estate and their final wishes. You must find your voice and use it.

Do not allow yourself to be exploited or taken advantage of by people who clearly do not care; about you or their late family member.

Related: 20+ Signs of Toxic Family Relationships and What You Could Do About Them

Dr. Ramani Durvasula

Ramani Durvasula

Clinical Psychologist | Professor of Psychology | Author, “Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Narcissistic Relationship

This is a major issue that can really complicate the process of grief following a family member’s passing and can be something that starts presenting during the latter years of a family member’s life (not just after they die).

Some of this obviously is best handled before death – strongly encouraging family members to have adequate wills, trusts, labeling of personal items in place before passing, but this isn’t always an option, especially when it is a sudden passing.

Assess what your relationship has been with the “Greedy” person before this

If the two of you actually had a balanced, respectful, reciprocal, empathic, and collaborative relationship and then this happens, give it a moment, as the process of grief can manifest in myriad ways, and with time, this may resolve when the acute grief reactions pass.

Use radical acceptance

If this has been a longstanding antagonistic family member or relationship — then use radical acceptance. This will get messy, and this person may feel entitled to a certain amount of money or access to information or items in the estate.

This may also result in the entire matter being dragged into court and may even get expensive. If this has been a longstanding difficult relationship — it is not going to change now — and do not hold out for a death bed resolution for this person.

Get an attorney if you need, figure out if the fight is worth it financially or psychologically, and then make decisions accordingly. But don’t expect greedy to change.

Build alliances with healthier family members

A greedy family member can triangulate and turn the entire family system asunder. Do fan the flames of chaos, but find the sane players, and problem solve together on this — with a goal of ensuring that vulnerable family members or others who were to be protected by the estate are and that the wishes of the deceased are honored.

Consider therapy for grief or joining a grief support group

In the midst of the greedy- person-mess, you may get distracted from your own process of grief, and it is important that you hold space for yourself to process this.

Therapy may provide a safe space to discuss the feelings raised not just by the loss but also by this situation with the greedy family member, which may raise more feelings of grief around what has happened to your family and broken relationships amongst all of you.

Treat this as a wake-up call to get your affairs in order

Create a living trust or appropriate document with an attorney, so you do not leave any unclear directives upon your passing – these events are a wakeup call that the best parting gift we can give at the end, is clear instructions to those who we leave behind.

Andre Roupp

Andre Roupp

Supervisor and Licensed Funeral Director, Roupp Funeral Home Inc.

Aim for healthy communication and focus on self care

The commonly known five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. What most neglect to mention is another stage called: greediness.

The loss of a loved one and moving through the stages of grief can feel even more overwhelming if you have difficult family members to deal with. However, there are ways you can minimize conflict and take care of yourself as you process this painful experience.

We recommend aiming for healthy communication and self care.

When everyone is dealing with the stages of grief, misunderstandings are more common, especially amongst family members. This happens when assets are being divided, which can feel especially awful when coupled with feelings of grief. While you can’t control how others act towards you, you can set the tone for healthy and calm conversations regarding difficult topics.

Related: Effective Communication: How to Improve Your Communication Skills

Here’s a few quick tips to focus on healthy communication:

  • Focus on how you’re feeling and what you’re observing versus what others are doing to you.
  • Focus on using phrases that unite everyone as a family. For example: “we,” “our,” and “the family.”
  • Use active listening skills. Ask an open-ended question and then actively listen to what they have to say, you can quickly get to the root of their concern.

Notice when you feel overwhelmed or irritated and take a moment to yourself. This is when you should especially pay attention to focusing on self-care. If we don’t deal with the emotions grief can cause as they surface, it can wreak havoc on our mental and emotional health.

Why? Because our bodies store memories, meaning that just because we don’t acknowledge them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

This is where breakwork comes in.

If you are struggling with a recent, or perhaps old, loss, try Conscious Connected Breathing. This is a coping mechanism designed to help you holistically heal from grief by releasing stored emotions from your cellular structure.

Dealing with greediness with family members after a death is never a walk in the park, but with these tips, you can begin to work through the frustration and grief in a healthy, holistic way.

Mitchell Kraus CAP, CFP, CSRIC, CLU, ChFC, CHSNC

Mitchell Kraus

Certified Financial Planner, Capital Intelligence Associates

Have conversations about your estate plan with family members ahead of time

While I have lots of practical thoughts, here are a couple based on my experience that might be a little different.

The psychology of money

You cannot win an argument with a greedy heir with the facts. Science teaches us that individuals make decisions with their feelings and then find the logical reasons their feelings are right. Telling an heir that they are being greedy or not being fair will not have any effect on their stance.

Unless you change their feelings on the matter, there will always be conflict.

In my decades of providing financial advice to clients, I have found that the most common feeling behind greed is love. It can be “Mom loved me best, so she’d want me to have more” or “Dad always helped you growing up more than me, so now it’s my time to get my share.”

We often work with multiple generations of clients, and the story that we share the most is one in which the parents tried to treat their three children fairly by having everything split into thirds upon their death.

The two brothers held up the settling of the estate because they thought they were entitled to $40,000 more than their sister. When asked why, it was because the parents paid for the sister to go to a private college while they were only allowed to go to state school.

The price difference: $40,000.

All three are successful professionals. $40,000 won’t change any of their lives in a meaningful way, and the estate was close to $2 million. But for decades, the sons felt that mom and dad must have loved their sister more to pay for her private university. While it is not easy, if you can get to the core belief, you can make some progress.

Unfortunately, the best way to stop greedy family members from disrupting the family dynamic is relatively simple but rarely implemented.

In our culture, talking about money issues, inheritances, and death is generally taboo. But, experience shows that having conversations about your estate plan with family members ahead of time can greatly reduce conflict and stop a greedy relative from making everyone else’s life difficult.

In the example above, knowing that the sons resented their sister for the additional money spent on her education, could have allowed the parents to discuss why they did what they did, and either allow for a change in the estate plan or more likely give the sons more insight on how it was the best decision they could make with the information they had.

Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer

Owner, The Hive Law

A probate attorney will be able to help you

If you’re trying to figure out how to deal with greedy family members, you fall into two categories: Your parents either left your family a will or they did not leave you a will.

If there is a will, the property will get divided up per the will’s instructions. Let’s say that the parents left a will, but you have to deal with greedy family members who ended up getting more than you.

In most states, a parent is allowed to disown a child and leave nothing to them, but the disinheritance has to be explicitly written out in the will. If it’s not, the courts can assume you were left out by accident.

To probate a will, the person filing must list out all next of kin and potential heirs. Those people will get notified of the probate process and will be sent a copy of the will. If they were left out, they could file a petition to contest the probate of the will.

If a will was not created:

  • The estate would get divided up per the intestate laws in the deceased one’s state.
  • In community property states, the surviving spouse will receive the deceased one’s half of the estate.
  • In common law states, the surviving spouse and children will receive equal shares of a deceased one’s estate.

If you are trying to figure out how to deal with greedy family members, you may have to hire a probate attorney. When family members are trying to go against the will or intestate laws, a probate attorney will be able to help you.

Jake Irving

Jake Irving

Owner, Willamette Life Insurance

Communication is key.

Gathering the family together, sitting down, and discussing that the goal is to remain on the same page throughout the process. You want this group to be as tight-knit as possible, to begin with, so only immediate family if possible.

Make sure everyone knows that the goal is to honor the deceased by allowing everyone to have closure.

Go through the Will together if there is one and talk through the process so everyone knows what to expect. Having the lawyer or an impartial third party there to mediate could be beneficial to keep everyone on the same page.

Discuss different avenues and directions to go. Come to an agreement about how to move forward in terms of how things will be divided, so everyone is comfortable with what to expect.

This is a time of high emotions, so keep that in mind as everyone has different ways in which they grieve and deal with love and loss.

Communication can be broken or lost over the phone, so preferably this will be all straightened out when everyone is together. This could be around the time of the funeral or at a later date, but you do not want to wait too long as people will tend to get an idea in their head of how they want the proceedings to go.

Ideally, the departed would have had a Will, but that is not always the case.

Helen Burgess

Director of Marketing & Content, Age Space

Have a ‘Letter of Wishes’ attached to your will

When it comes to dealing with greedy relatives after death, the best way to avoid such horrible situations is to be prepared.

Make sure that you and your relatives make a Will detailing how you would like your estate (big or small) divided.

Quite often, it’s the personal effects that can bring out the inner greed monster, as families argue about possessions and things of sentimental value. The best way to avoid this is to have a ‘Letter of Wishes’ attached to your will, where you can gift members of the family certain items.

You can always rely on the law to put ‘greedy relatives’ back in their place. Even when a person dies without leaving a Will (dying intestate), the distribution of their estate is decided by law, and there are several rules which legally apply.

If the estate is under the Intestacy threshold and the greed is in relation to personal or sentimental possessions – our advice is to try and divide fairly. If a person is beyond reason, often it will take a bit of back and forth and compromise.

It’s such a shame that families can get to a stage of bartering over things, but it’s not uncommon. It will often be the case that the most unreasonable (greedy) seemingly get their own way but as long as you have something to cherish and remind you of the departed, the value is more meaningful.

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