Inheriting money after someone has passed away can be a sensitive subject for any family. While it may seem like a windfall, it's not always simply a matter of depositing a check. Here are five tips to remember when you're dealing with an inheritance.
1. Know the Difference Between Lump Sums and Installments
As soon as you find out you’re inheriting money, you might immediately think of ways you'll spend it. But note that funds can come through in either one large lump sum or span out over a number of installments as specified in the will.
2. Talk Openly About Divvying Up the Inheritance
Depending on your specific circumstances, you might end up sharing your gift with family members. It's important to understand how the inheritance will be split, and this means discussing distribution of assets with family members prior to death so that everyone is on the same page. If that's not possible, make a point to have transparent conversations about the inheritance with all family members — discuss percentages and the way assets will be split with each party involved.
3. Read the Fine Print
Although you might be excited to have extra resources to help you pay off debts or fatten a savings accounts, inheritances can be legally restricted to certain uses (like college), or may have to be distributed when the beneficiary reaches a certain age. Incentives can also be outlined for the beneficiary — for example, an amount of money could be disbursed once the inheritor earns a bachelor's degree or gets married.
4. Keep Tabs on Taxes
In addition to the federal estate tax, which applies only to estates larger than $5.43 million in 2015, seven states currently have an inheritance tax, and 15 plus the District of Columbia have an estate tax (Maryland and New Jersey impose both). Depending on where you live, your inherited money could be taxed, and the amount is based on your relationship to the person who died. Consult an estate lawyer to find how you will be taxed.
5. Speak to the Pros
Coming into a large amount of money isn't a guarantee of financial security. In fact, it's easy to blow a windfall — the shock of suddenly having a huge amount of money is likely to spark irrational behavior. Kirk Kinder, a certified financial planner at Picket Fence, told Consumer Reports that in his experience, "80 percent of all inheritances are spent within 10 years." Meet a professional who can help you manage and understand your newfound funds. You’ll not only come up with a solid plan on how to best use the money, but you’ll also have someone to help you figure out the details.