How to plan for a potential inheritance

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The amount of wealth millennials and Gen Xers stand to inherit from their parents and grandparents almost defies comprehension: According to Cerulli Associates, a Boston-based research and consulting firm, $84.4 trillion in wealth will be transferred between 2021 and 2045, primarily from baby boomer households to younger generations.

Inheritances aren’t just for the rich: Less than half of the total volume of transfers is expected to come from high-net-worth households.

“It’s a really unique point in history because of the amount of wealth,” says Chayce Horton, senior analyst on the wealth management team at Cerulli. “It’s something we haven’t seen before.”

As a result of that magnitude, inheritance recipients might not know what to do with one, and whether to count on the windfall before it arrives.

If you’re wondering whether to broach the topic of a potential inheritance with your own parents or grandparents, here are some guidelines financial experts recommend:

Talk about inheritance early

“If parents haven’t brought it up with you, you need to bring it up with them,” says Isabel Barrow, director, financial planning at Edelman Financial Engines, an independent financial advisory firm. “We know if you don’t talk about it ahead of time, there are going to be problems.” She says these can include fights between family members, confusion over what to do with the money or even uncertainty about where to find the most updated version of a family member’s will.

Barrow suggests raising the topic while the entire family is together at holidays or birthdays when everyone is in a good mood. “That might be an opportunity for you just to mention, ‘Hey, I’m doing my financial planning and they suggested I talk to you about your plan,’” she says.

Mitch Mitchell, products counsel with Trust & Will, an online estate planning company, says it can be helpful to tell your parents that you are trying to plan for something that is going to be hard for you. He suggests saying something like, “It would be a gift if you can map this out.”

Respect cultural differences

Some cultures and generations are less comfortable talking openly about money than others, says Leo Chubinishvili, a wealth advisor at Access Wealth in East Hanover, New Jersey. Respecting those differences can help prevent unnecessary tension and discomfort. “It depends on the cultural setting of your family and how you were brought up,” he says.

While Chubinishvili says all families should talk about money in some capacity, some families might take longer to warm up to the subject or might benefit from the help of a financial professional leading the conversation.

Make sure the money is safe

Another benefit to talking about a potential inheritance with your parents is that it gives you the chance to offer assistance, should they need it. “Every parent should start disclosing assets and accounts to their kids for multiple reasons, but number one, for safety and security,” says Walter Russell, chief executive of Russell and Associates, an investment firm in New Albany, Ohio.

“As parents start aging, they might forget about an account,” Russell says, and seniors are also targets for scam artists. If you know more details about your parents’ finances, then you can more easily notice discrepancies and help keep their money safe.

Plan to spend it wisely

Whether it’s $5,000 or $500,000, an inheritance can open up possibilities that you hadn’t previously considered, like a vacation or dream home. But financial experts recommend first focusing on less exciting financial expenditures, like paying off debt and shoring up savings.

“You can start cleaning up your financial house if you’ve paid off debt and build yourself a good emergency fund with six to 24 months of living expenses,” Barrow says. After that, she suggests thinking about funding your intermediate and longer-term goals around housing, cars, education and retirement. She adds that using part of an inheritance to celebrate your loved one’s life in some way, whether it’s a trip or nice dinner, can also be a way to honor them.

Don’t bank on it

“The market could turn, the family business could go bankrupt. You don’t want to plan your retirement or entire financial plan on that inheritance,” says Laurie Smith, a partner at Wiss, an accounting and tax firm in New Jersey.

There’s also the possibility that your parents will need that money while they’re still living. “What if, 10 to 15 years from now, one of your parents has dementia and needs to go into a nursing home? You’re talking $200,000-plus a year that the parent might need to be using. Or your parent might decide to leave their money to their favorite charity,” Barrow says.

In other words, an inheritance is never guaranteed. That’s why it makes sense to talk with your parents about their plans while continuing to make sure your long-term goals — such as saving for retirement — don’t rely on a windfall, since one may never come.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. 

Kimberly Palmer writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @kimberlypalmer.

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