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How to Handle Your Big Inheritance Elegantly

By Wes Moss

NEW YORK (AdviceIQ) -- You dream of your long-forgotten rich uncle dying and leaving you a fortune. What if you really do get a lucrative windfall?

The baby boom generation (born from 1946-65) stands to inherit a total of some $8.4 trillion in the coming years, according to a study by Metlife. Market swings and plunges in property values continue to whittle that estimate, yet "two-thirds of boomer households will receive some inheritance," the study says, "with a median amount of $64,000."

Nearly one in three (30%) of pre-boomers, born between 1930 and 1945, also expect to get an inheritance. More than one in seven (15%) of those folks are expected to collect more than $100,000 after the funeral.

Inheritances come at the (usually) terrible cost of losing someone important to you, and any significant inheritance, much like hitting a lottery jackpot, cuts two ways. Properly managed financially, an inheritance changes life for the better. Poorly managed, it can slip through your hands and lead to heartbreak. Here's how to ensure that any windfall you inherit lasts as a blessing:

Be patient. When emotions subside and your head clears, remember you're under no deadline to figure out what to do with the money.

You may feel you must do something as quickly as possible, whether to invest the money, buy a car or pay off debt, among the many possibilities. Such solid and financially wise ideas can wait for three, six or even 12 months while you develop your overall plan.

Secure the services of trusted financial planners and tax professionals before you even see the check. Remember, the taxman doesn't always arrive from Washington: Many states tax recipients of inheritances.

Make a plan. Inheritances call for investing, not spending. Live your daily life as though you didn't get a dime. Meanwhile, start mapping how to allocate the money as you might allocate or diversify investments in a portfolio:

  • Eliminate debt -- provided you don't simply set the stage to rack up more debt -- and start with debt carrying the highest interest rates.
  • Add to your emergency fund of six months' expenses.
  • Save for higher education with such vehicles as a 529 plan.
  • Allocate money for investing yearly maximums in retirement accounts. For this year, for example, your contribution maxes out at $5,500 ($6,500 if you're 50 or older) for individual retirement accounts. This maximum may well rise in the future.

  • Invest in home repairs or equity-producing improvements.
  • Plan how to say no to money requests from friends, relatives and associates.
  • Bear in mind what depreciates the minute you buy it, such as food, cars or a vacation. Treat yourself as a reward for first allocating a portion of the money wisely.

If the inheritance truly does constitute extra money, still save 80%.

Protect the kids from themselves. Make children wait for their portion of the inheritance. Many adults make foolish and impulsive moves with a pot of money. Imagine a teen with such a fortune.

When it comes time to write your will, specify that any money left to minors goes only to education or a similar worthy expense or until the recipients reach a certain age.

A big inheritance usually comes, at most, once in a lifetime. Getting an inheritance is still easier than using it wisely.

-- By Wes Moss, chief investment strategist for Capital Investment Advisors and a partner at Wela Strategies, both in Atlanta. He hosts Money Matters, a live financial advice show on Atlanta's 95.5 FM and AM 750 News/Talk WSB Radio. His books are Make More, Worry Less and Starting From Scratch. He has appeared frequently on CNBC, Fox Business Network and on Atlanta-area television. He also writes weekly about personal finance in the "Bargain Hunter Section" for AJC.com, the site of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Connect with Wes on Twitter at @WesMossWSB and on Facebook at Wes Moss Money Matters.

AdviceIQ is a network of financial advisers that writes insightful articles for the public about investing and wealth management. All articles are edited by AdviceIQ's editor in chief, Larry Light. AdviceIQ certifies that all its advisers have no regulatory infractions.

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AdviceIQ is a network of financial advisors that writes insightful articles for the public about investing and wealth management. All articles are edited by AdviceIQ's editor in chief, Larry Light. AdviceIQ certifies that all its advisors have no regulatory infractions.

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