In the next three to four decades, $30 trillion will transfer from baby boomers to their heirs, according to the consulting firm Accenture. So chances are good that you may inherit money at some point — but your newfound wealth may come at a difficult time, having just lost a loved one.
Take a deep breath, allow your emotions to process and know that there’s no immediate action needed. When you’re ready, here are four things you should do.
HEAL AND GRIEVE FIRST
After you receive an inheritance, the best thing to do is nothing. Put your money in a savings account or another safe investment for at least a month and maybe as long as a year. Allow sufficient time for the pain of your loss to begin to heal before you make any major decisions about the money. William Taylor, vice president of financial planning for Northwestern Mutual, cautions that if you don’t give yourself time to grieve, “you may make emotional financial decisions.”
PAY DEBT STRATEGICALLY
When you do begin to think about what’s next, tackling any debt you may have is usually a good first step. Be strategic and pay off “bad” debt, or high-interest debt first.
“Paying down credit cards with high interest rates or student loans with higher interest rates is a good first step,” Taylor says, but he cautions against paying off all debt. You may want to think twice before paying off your mortgage, since in some cases the money could be put to better use in another investment. For example, you may make more in interest on an investment than you would pay in interest on your mortgage. Interest payments on your mortgage also have tax benefits.
FIGURE OUT SHORT-, MID- AND LONG-TERM GOALS
We all have lists in our heads of what we’d do if we had some more money. Now that you have the money, give some thought to all the things you want and prioritize.
You may want to spend a portion of the money on something now, such as a new house or car, or a trip with your family. Perhaps you want to set aside some money for your kids’ college or even retirement.
An inheritance can be a good opportunity to do some of the things you may have been putting off for financial reasons and to save for your future. It’s great if you inherited enough to do all those things. But in many cases, you’ll have to make choices.
CONSULT AN EXPERT
It’s a smart idea to contact a financial planner or professional for advice on how to manage your inheritance so that it will have a lasting impact on your life.
“A good advisor will spend time with you to learn about your hopes and dreams before creating a financial plan to help you get there,” Taylor says.
“An advisor can help you understand your inheritance,” he adds. “Did you get property, stocks, bonds, life insurance proceeds or artwork?” If you’ve inherited an asset or investment, for example, it might make more sense to sell it than to hold onto it.