In a nutshell, an inheritance is just like a gift but with the added benefit of a full step up in basis. It is not earned income. An inheritance may provide substantial security in your life. The following list provides some basic income tax consequences for assets received through inheritance along with some advice once an inheritance is received. Be aware that if assets are received from a trust upon a death the tax basis of the assets may be different and therefore the rules below may not apply.
- Annuities (amount over the initial investment)
- Investment income paid after death
- Payments from employer - wages, salaries, bonuses, commissions, vacation pay, sick pay
- Traditional IRAs (except nondeductible contributions), deferred compensation, qualified pension plans, profit-sharing plans, 401-Ks
- Life insurance proceeds
- Cash, bank accounts, CDs
- Stocks, bonds, mutual funds (value on date of death is not taxable because basis steps up or down to Fair market value, or FMV, as of that date)
- Residence, personal or rental, other real estate (value on date of death is not taxable because basis steps up or down to FMV as of that date)
- Cars, vehicles, household goods, jewelry, other personal property (fair market value on date of death is not taxable because basis steps up or down to FMV as of that date)
- Roth IRA held more than 5 years
- Non-deductible portion of non-deductible IRAs
Consider funding your retirement and/or 529 college savings plan for your children. Consider diversification given the volatility of the stock market and look into in relatively safer investments since inheritances are typically a once-in-a-lifetime event. The important thing is to invest and save your inheritance for your future needs rather than blowing it all on a car, for example.
It may make more sense to pay off credit cards and auto loans before using the money to pay off some of or even your entire mortgage, but depending on your investment strategies with the inheritance, the best investment may be paying off your mortgage as well. High-interest debt will only continue to build up if you don’t pay it off sooner than later.
Depending on the assets you inherit, consider the tax implications such as distributions on an annuity or selling a particular asset. You will have to pay income taxes on the types of things listed above, so be sure to include this expense in your budget as well.
Financial planners will allow you to align both short-and long-term financial goals for you, your spouse and your children/grandchildren. Consult with a financial advisor to help you decide what it is your are going to do with your inheritance. And be sure that you cover all your basis and ask all the questions you can in order to ensure you create the proper financial plan for you and your family.
People tend to change their lifestyle upon a windfall and end up quitting their job or retiring early. Don’t spend all of the money without planning for the future. You will most certainly regret it if you do.
Inheritances are separate property. If you live in a community property state like California, you will be able to keep it in the event of a divorce unless it is commingled with joint accounts. Whether or not you believe that you will be with your spouse for a lifetime, protect yourself by putting the inheritance in your name only.
Don’t lend money to friends and relatives. It’s a right-hearted gesture, but it can backfire and ruin relationships.
Don’t get involved with financial schemes or risky ventures. Don’t let others exploit you because of your new money.
Don’t make any big financial decisions for at least six months, to maybe even a year. If someone just died, you’re not in an emotional state to make decisions like that.
Receiving an inheritance leaves most people feeling overwhelmed and confused. Figuring out how to manage it can be financially and emotionally draining on something that should be a real blessing. Plan for your future and consult a financial advisor that you trust will help you make the right decisions.
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