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1. Large institutions are not moving fast. After a death the family has no choice about working with a number of large institutions such as banks, investment firms and the government. Those institutions have their own policies and practices. They do their work on their own schedule. The Social Security Administration will handle benefit checks on its own time and the County will issue a death certificate when they have completed their work. The time it takes for these large institutions to do their jobs are not “delays” to be overcome. Getting ahead of these large institutions confuses everyone and can waste time. Trying to speed these institutions up or figure out a “secret” that will make things happen faster will only lead to frustration.


You are not getting pressure from creditors or bills. After a death, third parties like creditors, banks and the government don’t expect the family to take care of anything immediately. All of these third parties are sympathetic to the family’s loss and will provide the family will generous grace periods to take care of things like paying bills. It is certainly a virtue to pay every bill on time, but death is the big exception to that rule. Taking an extra few weeks or a month to sort things out is normal and expected.

Everyone likes to say that the funeral bill is a problem that must be dealt with immediately. In practice, however, the funeral bill is not an exception to the rule. Many funeral directors give an invoice that is due in 30 days. That gives plenty of time to work on the estate without rushing. If a funeral director demands immediate payment, the easy solution is to put the bill on a credit card. The credit card bill will not come in the mail for a month or so, giving plenty of time to arrange for payment from the estate. The family member who uses their card might also earn bonus points on their account.

3. There is no real pressure from the family. Most people fear that the estate will go through probate and be delayed for a year or more. In that context, there is no reason to set an unreasonable goal of winding things up in 6 days or 6 weeks. If the goal is to satisfy curious family members, it is relatively easy to make people happy if the estate is administered in 6 months. If the estate actually gets some money into the hands of the beneficiaries sooner than that you are a hero. The goal is to set a reasonable and ascertainable goal for the estate that will give you the opportunity to handle everything at a reasonable pace with an allowance for delays and unexpected side projects. Communicate that goal to the family and know that you will likely out-perform their expectations without being overwhelmed in the first few weeks after a family member’s death.

4. There will be surprises. No matter how much you know about the family member who died, there are always some things that pop up unexpectedly after the fact. The only way to track down all of the details involved with the estate is to collect the mail for a number of months and evaluate what you see. Some statements and notices come out quarterly and many important pieces of information come through letters that are sent out annually.


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