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By Kirtland Financial Services
If you’re the beneficiary of a large inheritance, you may find yourself suddenly wealthy. Even if you expected the inheritance, you may be surprised by the size of the bequest or the diverse assets you’ve inherited. You’ll need to evaluate your new financial position, learn to manage your sizable assets, and consider the tax consequences of your inheritance, among other issues.
If you’ve recently received a bequest, consider the possibility that the will may be contested if your inheritance was large in comparison with that received by other beneficiaries. Or, you may decide to contest the will if you feel slighted. If you’re the spouse of the decedent, you may elect to take against the will. Taking against the will means that you’re exercising your right under probate law (governed by the statutes of your state) to take a share of your spouse’s estate, rather than what your spouse left you in the will, because this is more beneficial to you. Another possibility is that you may disclaim the bequest if you’re in a high income or estate tax bracket, or don’t need or want the bequest.
Caution: Some states allow no-contest clauses to be included in wills. If a will has such a clause and someone contests the will and loses, he or she gets nothing.
It’s important to determine how wealthy you are once you receive your inheritance. Before you spend or give away any money or assets, decide to move, or leave your job, you should do a cash flow analysis and determine your net worth as a first step toward planning your financial strategy. Your strategy will partly depend on whether you have immediate access to, and total control over, the assets, or if they’re being held in trust for you. In addition, you need to know what types of assets you’ve inherited (e.g., cash, property, or a portfolio of stocks).
Inheriting assets through a trust vs. inheriting assets outright
When you inherit money and assets through a trust, you’ll receive distributions according to the terms of the trust. This means that you won’t have total control over your inheritance as you would if you inherited the assets outright. With a trust, a trustee will be in charge of the trust. A trustee is the person who manages the trust for the benefit of the beneficiary or beneficiaries. The initial trustee was named by the individual who set up the trust. The trustee will likely be your parent or other family member, a close family friend or advisor, an attorney, or a bank representative. The trust document may spell out how the trust assets will be managed and how and when trust income and assets will be paid to you, and it will outline the duties of the trustee.
Know the terms of the trust
If you’re the beneficiary of a trust, the following should be done to ensure that your interests are protected:
Working with a trustee
Inheriting a lump sum of cash
When you inherit a large lump sum of cash, you’ll be responsible for managing the money yourself (or hiring professionals to do so). Even if you’re used to handling your own finances, becoming suddenly wealthy can turn even the most cautious individual into a spendthrift, at least in the short run. Carefully watch your spending. Although you may want to quit your job, move, gift assets to family members or to charity, or buy a car, a house, or luxury items, this may not be in your best interest. You must consider your future needs, as well, if you want your wealth to last. It’s a good idea to wait a few months or a year after inheriting money to formulate a financial plan. You’ll want to consider your current lifestyle, consider your future goals, formulate a financial strategy to meet those goals, and determine how taxes may reduce your estate.
You may inherit stock either through a trust or outright. The major question to consider is whether you should sell the stock. This depends on your overall investment strategy and what type of stock you’ve acquired. If you acquire stock in a company, for example, and you now own a controlling interest, you’ll need to look at how actively you want to be involved in the company or how much you know about the company. If you inherit stock and find that it doesn’t fit your portfolio, you may consider selling it, depending on the market conditions.
Inheriting real estate
If you inherit real estate, such as a house or land, you’ll probably have to decide whether to keep it or sell it. If you keep it, will you live there or rent it out? Do you hope that the house will appreciate in value, or are you keeping it for sentimental reasons? If you decide to sell or rent the house, you’ll need to consider the tax consequences, as well.
Tip: It’s possible that you may inherit real estate or other assets together with others, and sales may require the other owners’ assent or court action to sever the property.
Short-term and long-term needs and goals
Once you’ve done a cash flow analysis and determined what type of assets you’ve inherited, you need to evaluate your short-term and long-term needs and goals. For example, in the short term, you may want to pay off consumer debt such as high-interest loans or credit cards. Your long-term planning needs and goals may be more complex. You may want to fund your child’s college education, put more money into a retirement account, invest, plan to minimize taxes, or travel.
Use the following questions to begin evaluating your financial needs and goals, then seek advice on implementing your own financial strategy:
Income tax considerations
In general, you won’t directly owe income tax on assets you inherit. However, a large inheritance may mean that your income tax liability will eventually increase. Any income that is generated by those assets may be subject to income tax, and if the inherited assets produce a substantial amount of income, your tax bracket may increase. Once you increase your wealth, you should look at ways to minimize your overall tax liability, such as shifting income, giving money to individuals or charity, utilizing other income tax reduction strategies, and investing for growth rather than income. You may also need to re-evaluate your income tax withholding or begin paying estimated tax.
Transfer tax considerations
If you’re wealthy, you’ll need to consider not only your current income tax obligations but also the amount of potential transfer taxes that may be owed. You may need to consider ways to minimize these potential taxes. Four common ways to do so are to (1) set up a marital trust, (2) set up an irrevocable life insurance trust, (3) set up a charitable trust, or (4) make gifts to individuals and/or to charities.
Inheriting an estate can completely change your investment strategy. You will need to figure out what to do with your new assets. In doing so, you’ll need to ask yourself several questions:
Once you’ve considered these questions, you can formulate a new investment strategy. However, if you’ve just inherited money, remember that there’s no rush. If you want to let your head clear, put your funds in an accessible interest-bearing account such as a savings account, money market account, or a short-term certificate of deposit until you can make a wise decision with the help of advisors.
When you inherit wealth, you’ll need to re-evaluate your insurance coverage. Now, you may be able to self-insure against risk and potentially reduce your property/casualty, disability, and medical insurance coverage. (However, you might actually consider increasing your coverages to protect all that you’ve inherited.) You may want to keep your insurance policies in force, however, to protect yourself by sharing risk with the insurance company. In addition, your additional wealth results in your having more at risk in the event of a lawsuit, and you may want to purchase an umbrella liability policy that will protect you against actual loss, large judgments, and the cost of legal representation. If you purchase expensive items such as jewelry or artwork, you may need more property/casualty insurance to protect yourself in the event these items are stolen. You may also need to recalculate the amount of life insurance you need. You may need more life insurance to cover your estate tax liability, so your beneficiaries receive more of your estate after taxes.
Re-evaluating your estate plan
When you increase your wealth, it’s probably time to re-evaluate your estate plan. Estate planning involves conserving your money and putting it to work so that it best fulfills your goals. It also means minimizing your exposure to potential taxes and creating financial security for your family and other intended beneficiaries.
Passing along your assets
If you have a will, it is the document that determines how your assets will be distributed after your death. You’ll want to make sure that your current will reflects your wishes. If your inheritance makes it necessary to significantly change your will, you should meet with your attorney. You may want to make a new will and destroy the old one instead of adding codicils. Some things you should consider are whom your estate will be distributed to, whether the beneficiary(ies) of your estate are capable of managing the inheritance on their own, and how you can best shield your estate from estate taxes. If you have minor children, you may want to protect them from asset mismanagement by nominating an appropriate guardian or setting up a trust for them.
Using trusts to ensure proper management of your estate and minimize taxes
If you feel that your beneficiaries will be unable to manage their inheritance, you may want to set up trusts for them. You can also use trusts for tax planning purposes. For example, setting up an irrevocable life insurance trust may minimize federal and state transfer taxes on the proceeds.
You may want to use part of your inheritance to pay off your student loans or to pay for the education of someone else (e.g., a child or grandchild). Before you do so, consider the following points:
Giving money or property to individuals
Giving money or property to charity
If you make a gift to charity during your lifetime, you may be able to deduct the amount of the charitable gift on your income tax return. Income and other limits apply. Consult a tax professional for help. For estate planning purposes, you may want to make a charitable gift that can minimize the amount of transfer taxes your estate may owe. There are many arrangements you can make to reach that goal. Be sure to consult an experienced estate planning attorney.
This article was prepared by Broadridge.
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