You’ve received a sizable inheritance: Now what?

If you’ve received, or will soon receive, a significant inheritance, it may be tempting to view it as “found money” that can be spent freely. But unless your current financial plan ensures that you’ll comfortably reach all your goals, it’s a good idea to have a plan of action for managing your newfound wealth.

Take time to reflect

Generally, when you receive an inheritance, there’s no need to act quickly. Take some time to reflect on the significance of the inheritance for your financial situation; consult with a team of trusted advisors (including an attorney, accountant, and financial advisor); and carefully review your options.

While you’re planning, park any cash or investments in a bank or brokerage account. If you’re married, consider holding the assets in an account in your name only. An inheritance is usually considered your separate property in the event of a divorce, but it may lose that status if it’s commingled with marital property in a joint account.

Avoid making quick financial commitments

If your loved one’s estate is still being administered, don’t start spending — or make any financial commitments based on your inheritance — until you understand what your net proceeds from the estate will be. Once all fees and taxes are accounted for, the final settlement may be less than you expect.

If you’re receiving your inheritance through a trust, talk with the trustee, familiarize yourself with the trust’s terms, and be sure you understand the timing and amount of distributions and any conditions that must be satisfied to receive them.

Beware of income and estate tax consequences

An inheritance generally isn’t subject to income tax, but depending on the types of assets you inherit, they may have an impact on your tax situation going forward. For example, certain income-producing assets — such as those from real estate, an investment portfolio or a retirement plan — may substantially increase your taxable income or even push you into a higher tax bracket.

Depending on the size of the inheritance, it may also have an impact on your estate plan. If it increases the value of your estate to a point where estate tax becomes a concern, talk with your advisor about strategies for reducing those taxes and preserving as much wealth as possible for your heirs.

Review and revise your financial plan

Treating an inheritance separately from your other assets may encourage impulsive, unplanned spending. A better approach is to integrate inherited assets into your overall financial plan.

Consider using some of the inheritance to pay down credit card or other high-interest debt (if you have it) or to build an emergency fund. The rest should be available, along with your other assets, for funding your retirement, college expenses for your children, travel or other financial goals.

Have a plan

If you receive a sizable inheritance, there’s nothing wrong with taking a small portion of it and splurging a bit. But for the most part, you should treat inherited assets as you’d treat the assets you’ve earned over the years and incorporate them into a comprehensive financial plan. You’ll also want to address any inherited assets in your estate plan. Contact us for more information.

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