3 Money Moves to Make Before Getting an Inheritance

Learn what to do when inheriting money from a will.

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Generally speaking, getting notified that you're about to receive an inheritance can be bittersweet; while it's great to get a lump sum of money, this one likely means you have lost someone close to you. Although you may be excited about the prospect of receiving unexpected money, there are certain financial moves experts say you should make to ensure you're prepared when you get your inheritance. We asked legal experts for tips on what to do when you find out you're inheriting money.

Be Patient and Cautious

When you are notified that you'll be receiving an inheritance, you must understand that you're probably not going to receive a check that week. "The process to receive an inheritance can be slow and tortuous," says Patrick Hicks, an estate planning attorney in California and head of legal at Trust & Will. "It may take months or years, and you may not receive exactly what you expect."

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When you do get your money, take some time to think about what you want to do with this gift. "Receiving an inheritance can significantly impact your finances, but it's best to be cautious and wait until the dust settles before making major changes," Hicks suggests. "The last thing you want is to find you've miscalculated and reality is falling short of your expectations."

Seek Expert Advice

Work with professional advisors to navigate the financial implications of your inheritance. "It's a good idea to consider a financial checkup to help you plan for any changes to your overall financial status, including receiving an inheritance," Hicks says.

You may also want additional guidance from various financial planners to see who fits you the best.  "You do not need to stick with the financial advisor who originally held the money," explains Patrick Simasko, an elder law attorney and wealth preservation specialist with Simasko Law based in Michigan. "Make sure you seek out advice and determine the best route for you."

Another important money move, says Simasko, is to set up an account for your retirement. "You don't want to lose it or blow it," cautions Simasko.

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Your team should also include an attorney who can help you with tax implications you must consider. "While estate taxes have become less of an issue as a result of recent changes to the lifetime exemption amount (which may be changing again), certain parts of an inheritance can trigger significant income taxes," says David DuFault, an attorney and principal with Sodoma Law in North Carolina.

Your attorney can best explain how federal estate taxes and any applicable state inheritance taxes may impact your inheritance. The taxes that are levied also depend on factors, including your personal wealth, the state you live in, and the amount of inheritance.

Update Your Estate Plan

Even if your inheritance isn't going to make you a multi-millionaire, seize the opportunity to review and update your current estate plan. "Quite frequently, we get inquiries from new clients who have or are about to inherit property from family without having any kind of plan for themselves," says DuFault.

Document labeled "Estate Assignment" with wooden stamp on it and red "APPROVED" stamped on it

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In addition to affecting how your family might inherit from you, receiving an inheritance might lead you to consider alternatives for disposing of your estate—such as charitable provisions, explains DuFault. "And, if the inheritance you're receiving is significant, the likelihood that your own children or family will inherit a larger amount could require additional documents, such as a trust, to control or protect them," adds DuFault.

Some issues to consider could be: Are you able to make additional gifts or support a charity now? Do you need to designate where the funds go after your death? "Just as you were positively impacted by an inheritance passing to you, this is your opportunity to help leave your own impact after your death," Hicks says.

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