WOMEN
07/31/2011 11:26 pm ET Updated Sep 18, 2011

Calling Off A Wedding: How To Notify Guests, Return Gifts And (Probably) Give Back The Ring

Calling off a wedding is no small task: Beyond the emotional turmoil, there are an inordinate number of unpleasant logistical issues. Lizzie Post, great-great granddaughter of late etiquette writer Emily Post, talked us through how a bride -- or couple -- can handle these tasks to minimize the inconvenience for guests and reduce her own stress in the long run.

1. Notify those hosting or helping you plan the wedding first.

If you can tell your parents in person, you should. If not, a phone call is fine.

"None of these people should be finding out over email, or by Facebook or text message," Post says. "That’s just not okay in this situation."

2. Notify everyone in the wedding

That includes your attendants, those doing readings and anyone making a toast. These guests should be informed through a phone call from the bride or groom.

"When it comes to the business side of things, it's okay to have someone else to step in," Post says, noting that your mom or a close friend can call the caterer or the photographer for you. But for the personal side of things? "It's important to do it yourself."

During this time, try to respect the fact that people may not want to choose sides.

"It's not a declaration of war," says Post. "Many aren’t going to actually want to know the details. They're not going to want to be dragged into it. Don’t just expect people to rally around you."

3. Alert the remainder of your guest list that there's been a change of plans.

If the invitations have gone out and there's enough time, you should have cards printed out and mailed. If not, it's time to pick up the phone again.

"Call who you can and email who you know would be okay getting an email," Post says. "Your main objective is to get let the rest of your guest list know as soon as possible before they lose deposits and drop money."

4. Next, give back the gifts.

Presents for your engagement, your showers and the wedding should be mailed back to the senders with a brief note. (Yes, it's a cruel twist of fate but you should write thank you notes even though you're not keeping the presents -- or the groom.)

If you can arrange to return the items to the store you registered and have your guests' cards credited, that's even better.

"When in doubt, call them up," Post says. "That’s not a way of trying to get the gift as a sympathy gift: No matter what, you're returning this thing."

5. With regard to that ring on your finger:

Laws vary by state, and many say that since it was a gift, you can technically keep it. But can and should are two different things.

"Ethics trump law in this situation," says Post. If you broke off the engagement or if the decision was mutual, it’s best to return it, especially if it’s a family heirloom. If he breaks it off, you can keep it, but Post says most women choose not to. "Do you really want to keep a ring that was supposed to symbolize a pledge that’d you’ve both agreed not to honor?" Probably not.