Coping With Family Fighting After a Death

When a loved one dies, the family often falls apart. This is especially true if the death was sudden or unexpected. Grief can be so overwhelming that it seems to take over everything, and old conflicts and resentments can come bubbling to the surface. 

In the midst of all this pain and confusion, it's not unusual for families to start fighting. Small disagreements can be blown out of proportion when emotions are running high. And when there are serious disagreements, it can be harder to allow the typical conflict resolution methods to take their course.

If you're dealing with family fighting after a death, it's important to remember that you're not alone. Many families go through this, and there are ways to cope. First, try to be understanding and patient with yourself and others. Grief is a process, and it can take a long time to work through. Second, try taking a step back to give yourself time to process what is happening. You can choose to disengage from the fighting at any time. And finally, look for neutral parties that can help to bring the fighting to an end.

In this guide, we will look at why conflicts commonly arise after a death and what can be done to resolve the situation. This can be helpful for those in the middle of the conflict but also for those on the edges of the conflict trying to help those in the centre.

Why do families fight after a death?

There are many different reasons why families might start fighting after a death. It could be that old resentments come to the surface during this difficult time. Or, there might be disagreements about how to deal with the estate or funeral arrangements. In some cases, people might take out their grief on each other in the form of anger.

The reasons aren't always obvious, and this typically means that those who are grieving are experiencing anger. When they have no other place to put their anger, they might turn on those around them. These are some of the most common reasons that families will fight after a funeral:

Money and estates

The most common reason for conflict after a death is down to money. Perhaps there are disagreements on how an estate should be handled, what to do with property, or who should get what from the estate. If everyone feels entitled to more than they are getting, it can be difficult to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Funeral arrangements

Another common source of conflict is funeral arrangements. There can be disagreements on everything from the type of funeral to where it should be held. If there are religious differences, this can make things even more complicated. Families might also disagree on whether to bury or cremate a loved one. They might disagree on the wording of the headstone. Or they might disagree about what to do with the ashes.

If one person carries the burden of the planning, then this can lead to some resentment and fighting down the road.

Sibling rivalry

If you have a close relationship with your siblings, then you might find old rivalries come bubbling up to the surface. For example, if one sibling was with the parent when they passed away, this could lead to calls of favouritism. 

In some cases, some siblings simply need to feel that they are the favourite. And since the parent has passed away, there is no way to confirm this. There could also be disagreements if one individual feels that other people aren't pulling their weight.

Treasured possessions

If everyone has their eye on a treasured possession, deciding who should get it after the death could lead to some explosive arguments. It could be a piece of jewellery, artwork or even a pet. If the person passes without leaving a will, this can further aggravate the situation.


In some cases, family members simply do not get along. If they have always had a difficult relationship, this can come to a head after the death of a loved one. There might be disagreements on how to grieve or what the deceased would have wanted. This type of conflict is often more difficult to resolve because it goes deeper. It is not about the death, but the death might bring people together and force them into conflict.

ashes jewellery

Why does grief cause conflict?

Anger is one of the stages of grief, so it's no wonder that many families fight after a death. Those who are grieving might take their anger out on those around them. This could be especially true if the death were sudden or unexpected. If there is no time to say goodbye, this can lead to many unanswered questions and resentment.

When everyone is trying to deal with the death in their own way, it can lead to arguments and heating interactions. These are rarely productive and can cause lasting damage to family dynamics. It's important to have your family close when you are grieving, so pushing away loved ones away while in the depths of grief can be counterproductive.

How can you cope with conflict?

The first step is to decide if the matter is a legal issue or if you can resolve it yourself. If the conflict is over money or property, then you might need to seek legal advice. However, if the conflict is about funeral arrangements or how to grieve, then you can try to resolve it yourselves.

If you are going to try and resolve the conflict yourselves, there are some things that you can do to make it more successful:

Try conflict resolution

Conflict resolution is a legal process, but the outcome isn't always legally binding. It may also be referred to as mediation. This involves using a neutral third party to help make big decisions. Everyone involved needs to be prepared to compromise and meet in the middle. Compromise

If you are going to try and resolve the conflict yourselves, be prepared to compromise. This means that everyone needs to be willing to give up something in order to reach an agreement. It might not be what you wanted, but it is better than nothing.

Make sure you prioritise communication

One of the most important things that you can do when in the middle of a conflict is to learn how to communicate effectively. This means speaking in person and not allowing miscommunications over text messages and email to be blown out of proportion. It is also important to listen to what the other person is saying and not just wait for your turn to speak.

Remember to act with respect

Even if you don't see eye to eye, it is important to respect the other person's opinion. This doesn't mean that you have to agree with them, but you should be respectful of their feelings. Grief can cloud your judgement and make it difficult to have rational thoughts. When you are allowing the emotional side of your brain to lead, the logical side cannot step in and help you to make rational decisions.

Take a step back

If you cannot allow the logical side of your brain to take the lead because emotions are too high, it's vital to take a step back and disengage. If you allow things to continue escalating, you run the risk of doing permanent damage to these relationships. Things said cannot be unsaid, and you might not be forgiven or be able to forgive certain sentiments.

It's often said that grief brings people together, but in some cases, it does the opposite. Family dynamics can be difficult to begin with, and when you add in the stress of grieving, it can lead to some explosive arguments.

How to support the situation from the outside

If you are on the peripheral of a family conflict, there may be things you can do to help support those involved. You may not be completely neutral, so offering to be a mediator might be counterproductive. But you could encourage those involved to move toward mediation. You might also be able to provide an emotional outlet for those who need it. Just being there to listen can be helpful.

It's also helpful to try to diffuse the situation when possible. You might encourage your loved one to think before they send messages or raise the stakes in an argument. You can also encourage them to find common ground rather than escalating tense situations.

If the family conflict is taking a toll on your emotional well-being, it might be time to take a step back. This doesn't mean that you don't care, but you need to put your own mental health first. You can still be supportive from a distance.

It's normal to feel like you're caught in the middle when family members are fighting. Just remember that you didn't cause the conflict, and you can't control how they resolve it. All you can do is take care of yourself and hope that they are able to work things out.