Inheriting money puts a whole new spin on your outlook on money, says The Kansas City Star in its article “Coming into some money? Be wise with it.”
The first thing you should look at is, do you have debts? Make a list of your debt balances and their interest rates. If the interest rate is high, pay it off. If it’s low, you may be better off investing the funds.
Next, check on your emergency fund. If you don’t have three to six months’ worth of living expenses on hand, use your inheritance to ramp up that fund. Yes, you can use credit cards sometimes. However, having at least two months’ worth of living expenses in cash is critical and can make a big difference when an unexpected circumstance arises.
The third step is to contribute the most you can to a health savings account (HSA), particularly if your employer does not contribute to it and if you have a qualifying health plan. That’s $3,500 if you are single, $7,000 for families and an additional $1,000 if you are over 55. This gets you a nice tax deduction and withdrawals are tax-free, as long as they are used for qualified medical expenses.
If you still have money left over after these three big categories have been addressed, then it might be time to “tax-shift” your portfolio.
Let’s say you regularly contribute $3,000 to a 401(k). If you can, increase that amount by $22,000, to the maximum, if you’re 50 and older. Since your paycheck decreases, so does your tax. If your tax rate is currently 22%, you’ll only need to add $17,160 from your inherited account to reach the same spendable dollars. The tax-deferred account in your portfolio will grow faster, while the current taxable account shrinks.
Another thing to think about is whether to commingle funds with your significant other or not. You can spend it on joint assets now, maybe to pay down your house. Let’s say you and your spouse have a retirement portfolio. The inheritance may also help you to retire earlier. An alternative is to save the inheritance and keep it in a separate account with only your name on it, in which case it remains your asset alone in case of a divorce. Most states will consider this money a non-marital asset, and not subject to division between divorcing parties.
One smart way to use the inheritance is as a way to avoid tapping into retirement accounts for a longer period of time. Withdrawals from IRAs are taxable. If you’re not worried about commingling funds or investment gains, then use the inherited account to minimize the tax losses from retirement accounts. Most people don’t have enough saved to keep spending during retirement as they did while working. Skip the spending spree that often follows an inheritance and enjoy the money over an extended period of time.
Receiving an inheritance is one of the times when a review of your estate plan becomes a wise move. A new financial position may require more tax planning and more legacy planning.
Reference: The Kansas City Star (June 27, 2019) “Coming into some money? Be wise with it”