Successfully managing a financial windfall

We’ve all heard the stories, if not firsthand, at least in various news reports and anecdotes. Some “lucky” person picks the winning numbers; prances before the cameras in what can only be described as a media lovefest; and lives happily ever after, free of financial worries. Sure, the first two points are correct, but the happily ever after doesn’t always materialize. In fact, in most cases, sudden money leaves the winner worse off than prior to their windfall. Many winners, who aren’t used to managing a large sum of money, mismanage the funds and wreck their lives in the process. As it turns out, it’s a variation on the theme of the Prodigal Son.

Only the names and the details change.

Of course, the odds of winning life-changing cash in a lottery are incredibly low. It’s more likely to be the recipient of an inheritance or an insurance settlement. And it’s the unexpected pile of cash that may create an initial sense of euphoria and a false sense of security.

“The vast majority of people quickly blow through a financial windfall or inheritance,” said Jay Zagorsky, an economist and research scientist at The Ohio State University and author of a study on receiving an inheritance.

Whether large or small, it can seem like “play money.” And that is where the danger may lurk. So, that brings us to the big question. What should you do if you happen to be the beneficiary of a financial windfall?

10 steps to creating a firewall around your newfound stash of cash

  1. First, do nothing. That’s right, do nothing. The temptation may be to buy a new car, take a luxury cruise or upgrade your living arrangements. That can begin an unwise cascade of purchases that will likely leave you feeling regret.
    We suggest you wait at least six months before embarking on any life-changing decisions. The time spent waiting and planning allows the “shock” of your newfound wealth to wear off.
    You really need to take time to learn exactly what you’ve inherited. Is it all cash? Is it stocks and bonds? Have you just become the owner of a business or real estate?
  2. Talk to a trusted advisor. Find someone who has your interests at heart, not his or hers.
    If you are expecting to receive a windfall or have already received an unexpected inflow of assets, ask your advisor to incorporate it into your overall financial plan.

    The suggestions provided below are what we call the basics, the fundamentals. They may not apply directly to you, but they are common sense tools designed to help you make smart decisions and prevent an expected or unexpected windfall from being squandered.
  3. Doing nothing also means not quitting your job. It may be tempting, but lost wages and the lack of social interaction from your work buddies may lead to remorse, even if you don’t especially enjoy your job. Besides, without work, you run the risk of blowing through your money much quicker than you had anticipated.
  4. Reduce debt. We’ve always provided a holistic approach to financial planning. Once things have settled down and you have a better understanding of your inheritance, it may be time to pay down or pay off high-interest debt. Once eliminated, you no longer have that onerous outflow of interest payments on your loans.
  5. If you don’t have an emergency fund, it’s time. Set aside reserves of at least three to six months, preferably the latter. The future can sometimes throw you an unexpected curveball. Having reserves will reduce your financial stress.
  6. You may decide to allocate additional funds toward savings and retirement. Every one of our clients is unique, with various goals, personal circumstances and financial resources. What our team recommends for one person may vary significantly from what’s best for another.
  7. Think about tax and estate planning. No one is sure what may or may not happen to the tax code this year or next. It’s something we touch on below. But it’s critical that we get a handle on the tax ramifications of your inheritance to maximize the financial benefit.

    For example, did you know you may be required to take distributions if you inherit an IRA? What if you are already taking required mandatory distributions? You see, things can get tricky rapidly, but sound advice can quickly ease any concerns.

    Additionally, life changes are a great time to update your estate plan, especially if the inheritance increases the complexity of your financial situation.
  8. Be cautious. Less-than-reputable salespeople and relatives may suddenly warm up to you, with the unspoken goal of separating you from your cash. That’s why a trusted advisor is critical. If you have a well-thought-out financial plan, it’s much easier to pass on potentially exploitative offers.
  9. Consider charitable giving. Do you have a favorite charity? Would you like to help a niece or nephew finance their education? Now is the opportunity to explore the possibility of helping others.
  10. Have some fun. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself. As we provide counsel, we would like to leave some room for self-indulgence.

Do you like to travel? Have you thought about an addition to your home, finishing your basement, remodeling your kitchen or upgrading appliances? Maybe it’s those top-of-the-line golf clubs you’ve been eying, or a new car. Or, maybe you’d like to spend money catching up on the everyday things of life you’ve been putting off. Everyone has a hot button.
With a financial plan in place that manages your windfall, you’ll feel much more secure enjoying the benefits of your wealth without the nagging worries that you might run through your nest egg without much to show for it.

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