Five Things to Do With an Unexpected Inheritance

By Nathaniel Sillin
Unexpected money from a friend or relative can be a great surprise or a potentially difficult money lesson. How you plan for unexpected money issues overall can be a key to how well you’ll handle a sudden windfall.

Many people don’t do so well. A recent study from Ohio State University suggests that adults who inherit money are saving only about half of what they receive. Researcher Jay Zagorsky reported that about only 11 percent of the participants had received an inheritance with the median amount only around $11,340. Zagorsky suggests awareness of such high spending numbers suggest it is time for a campaign on saving inherited wealth.

Want to get there early? Here’s a plan for dealing with an unexpected inheritance or any other surprise money issues in the future:

1. Start by getting control of your current finances. Why wait for an inheritance? In 2013, the Gallup organization reported that only 1 in 3 Americans actually prepared a written or computerized household budget. If you’ve never prepared a budget before, know that it is the traditional starting point for all personal finance decisions.

2. Start saving now. The long-term purpose of budgeting ( budgeting/) is to find excess dollars so you can save and plan for the future. Even if it’s a few dollars a week as other resources go toward everyday expenses, get in the habit of regular savings and investment now. Consider activating direct deposit to build those amounts automatically. If an inheritance happens, you will already have savings habits in place and account relationships set up to receive the money.

3. Line up qualified advice. Skilled financial or tax experts can help you review what you’ve done so far with your money and suggest ways to make your personal savings or investments go farther. Having this relationship in place before an expected – or unexpected – windfall is valuable. They’ll know your situation and the best ways to handle new money. If an inheritance happens, consider a certified financial planner, certified public accountant and an attorney involved in trust or estate matters for your financial team.

4. Evaluate your relationships. Money can change people for better or worse. This is why you see so many troubling news stories about people who have an unexpected windfall. The best approach to sudden money is to go quietly and immediately into the planning phase – don’t make announcements and involve only key loved ones who need to be part of the process.

5. Don’t go on a spending spree. If you’re lucky enough to receive an inheritance of significant size, planning doesn’t mean quitting your job, buying a car or moving out of your current place, at least not immediately. Involve members of your financial team in your planning. After any tax or estate issues are settled and money is free for use, extinguish long-standing expenses, build an emergency fund and then establish savings and investments that are appropriate for you and your loved ones. Once details are complete, do have some fun, but try to keep the cost below 10 percent of the total inheritance amount.

Bottom line: Inherited money can help build a financial future. Get some advice, plan thoughtfully for taxes and investments and save a little bit for fun or luxury. Without proper planning, windfalls don’t always last as long as you think.

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