Ask an Expert: How to Handle Your Inheritance

Expert Q&A, Planning & Saving
on March 26, 2014

Dear Kirk: I stand to inherit a pretty hefty sum of money when my grandmother passes away—like more money than I’ve ever seen before. What is the best thing to do with it? Should I put it into some kind of high-yield savings account? Invest it?

Ask an Expert: How to Handle Your Inheritance

Kirk Says: First, let me express sympathy for the circumstances that will create this financial windfall for you. In cases like yours—as with substantial lottery winnings or sizable cash gifts—there are many specifics to your individual situation that would need to be better understood to provide a financial plan tailored to meet your needs.

Things that a qualified financial planner would want to know would be your current age, your current financial status (current salary, current savings, net worth, assets, liabilities, retirement assets, etc.) and your short- and long-term financial goals.

But we can break this down into some simple advice that will apply whether you are looking at $100,000 or $100,000,000.

1. Consult a financial advisor. If you have a financial advisor already, set aside time to meet with them as soon as possible. If you do not, I would interview three potential financial advisors, keeping the conversations at a high level with “what if” scenarios designed to help you ascertain the competence level of each financial advisor. Trust is crucial in choosing a financial advisor. The benefit a financial advisor will bring is an objective opinion of how and where to allocate the money. My experience indicates that 80 percent of all inheritances are spent within 10 years. Depending on your personal experience with money, your financial advisor may be the exact thing you need to create some space between you and the money.

2. Stash the cash. Take all of the cash and put it into a money market account that is FDIC insured. In the case of more than $250,000 in cash, split the money into multiple accounts with multiple banks.

3. Hold the money in your name, and don’t touch it for 90 days. Don’t put the money into accounts held jointly with others. Furthermore, don’t do anything with the money for the first 90 days unless there are debts that absolutely must be settled before that 90-day period ends—like taxes or funeral expenses.

4. Pay off debt and build a safety net. Initial impulses may be to pay off all debt, including your mortgage. I would recommend paying off all debt that holds an interested rate greater than 8 percent and build a safety net of 6–12 months of living expenses. You will also want to obtain a personal liability umbrella policy of at least $1,000,000 to protect yourself in the event of a lawsuit resulting from any type of negligence on your part.

5. Don’t quit your day job. It may be tempting to call it quits, especially if you are close to retirement age and/or the inheritance is substantial. Fight the urge to move quickly in this direction and plan to work for at least another year so that you can determine what your new lifestyle will look like. Even then, I would try to gradually diminish my workload and income to make sure that the decision is financially viable, but also that my need for contribution to society fits the lifestyle I have chosen.

6. Indulge yourself—a little. Once you have performed the steps above, feel free to indulge on a big-ticket item or vacation. Just be sure to limit your indulgence to no more than 10 percent of your inheritance.

Kirk Gwaltney is a Chartered Financial Consultant and a Chartered Life Underwriter in Brentwood, Tenn. Learn more about him at


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