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Managing an inheritance
5 Tips: How to get the most from an inheritance, whether large or small.
April 4, 2005: 11:26 AM EDT
By Gerri Willis, CNN/Money contributing columnist

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - You're in the money. Aunt Bea just left you her glorious estate that could turn into a nice chunk of change. All you can think is, "I'll never have to work again!"

If you haven't been so lucky yet -- you could be soon. The Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy says the parents of baby boomers and boomers themselves will leave wealth and assets worth at least $41 trillion and possibly as high as $136 trillion to family and philanthropy over the next 47 years.

When your ship comes in, remember today's five tips.

1. Give yourself time to breathe.

An inheritance almost always comes with a loss. You might feel confused, upset, and overwhelmed. As an inheritor of a lot of money, you could feel guilty. The last thing you need to do is make financial decisions under an emotional haze.

Susan Bradley, author of "Sudden Money" and the founder of the Sudden Money Institute advises inheritors, "Make no unnecessary decisions until you have a plan."

That means don't make any drastic moves such as quitting your job, selling your home, or spending a bunch of your inheritance right away.

2. Take a reality check.

When you're good and ready to deal with the dollars, first comes first, understand how much you've inherited. Bradley says the average inheritance is $90,000 and that really isn't life changing.

However, a modest amount can still help you make your financial life a little better -- but it may not put all four of your kids through college. Understand whether this amount will actually help you rewrite your financial goals to include ones you had never dreamed of, or whether it will just help you reach some of your existing goals sooner.

3. Prioritize your goals.

Take the amount you inherited and enter it into your financial equation, then readjust your financial goals. You might have goals to clean up your credit card debt, pay for the kids' college education, foot the bill for one or two weddings, and still retire by the time you and your spouse are 65. Prioritize those goals, putting your urge to spend the money on something ridiculous last.

A few tips in prioritizing: Pay off your debt first, so you aren't losing your money to interest. Experts also recommend you give money to your retirement before the kids' college fund. (You want to feed your nest egg first because college can easily be funded by low-interest loans from financial aid, whereas, you aren't likely to get loans for your retirement.)

4. Hire some help.

A large check would make a nice inheritance, but oftentimes, what you get is actually in stocks, bonds and property. There are a lot of legalities there. It's best to involve a lawyer to help you get those items switched over to your name.

You might also hire a financial planner to help you map out how to work your inheritance into your life. If you already have one, make sure he is prepared to handle an inheritance. For a list of certified planners trained to handle clients with an inheritance, check out or find one through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors at

5. Dream a little.

After you tighten your belt, it's ok to have some fun. Experts even say so. When else in your life do you suddenly become instantly richer?

Before you go off the deep end, remember what your inheritance is worth. If it's a healthy amount, maybe this is the time to take that trip-of-a-lifetime your family has always talked about. If you're dealing with a smaller amount, maybe a case of that wine you love is the way to splurge.

Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News and the host for Open House. E-mail comments to  Top of page


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