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What To Do With an Inheritance


Before we discuss what to do with an inheritance, I need to point out a few things for my parents, who sometimes read this blog.

Number one, I didn’t write this. I am not planning to off you.

Number two, I am very much aware of your desire to enjoy your hard-earned nest egg for years to come. If there’s little or nothing left at the end, whenever that may be, you will have played your cards just right.

I’ve never factored an inheritance into my financial planning, but if you know you can expect one, it is something to think about. It could change the way you live now and alter how you save for retirement. However, as Dr. Jim Dahle suggests, approach any potential inheritance with an abundance of caution. And treat your parents well, whether you expect an inheritance from them or not!

This post was originally published on The White Coat Investor.


What To Do With an Inheritance


Q. Obviously one does not want to count on an inheritance, but like Social Security, believing it won’t be there may lead to working longer/harder than needed. How do you think someone expecting an inheritance should factor that into their financial planning?

A. I’ve written before about what to do with a windfall. However, what to do with an inheritance is more about a possible future windfall, which is a very different thing.




3 Factors to Consider When Including an Inheritance into Your Financial Plan


#1 The size of the inheritance


#2 When you are likely to receive the inheritance


For example, if you plan to retire with $5 Million and the inheritance will be $100,000 and come about the time you retire, you should just ignore it. It isn’t going to materially affect your financial planning.

But if the inheritance is $2 Million and will come before, at, or shortly after retirement, then that’s too large to ignore. Likewise an inheritance of $200,000 that you’ll receive before age 50.


#3 How likely will you receive it


The real sand in the gears in this calculation is how likely you are to receive the inheritance. Lots of things can happen to an inheritance.

You can have a fall-out with the person you thought was going to leave you money. That person could also live longer than expected, or burn through a bunch of cash treating his terminal illness. The person could also be a poor investor or be taken advantage of by an unscrupulous professional, making that inheritance much smaller than you were expecting.

Some parents leave different amounts to children depending on the children’s various financial situations. If your parents are like that, expect, as the high-income professional in the family, to get a smaller chunk.



The Easiest Thing to Do With an Inheritance


The easiest thing to do with any possible inheritance is to just count it as gravy. That means if it comes, great. If it doesn’t, that’s fine too.

That means that the money you inherit should be earmarked for charitable contributions, leaving as your own inheritance, or at least only counting on it for extras rather than mandatory living expenses.

You still need to work, save, and invest until you have enough to retire comfortably without the inheritance.


The “Sure Thing” Inheritance


On the other hand, some people are going to inherit a rather substantial sum relatively early in their investing careers, and the chance of something going awry seems very small. If that is the case with you, you may want to add the value of the inheritance into your plan. At that point, it’s just a math problem.

Let’s look at an example.

Let’s say you’re 40 years old, have a retirement nest egg of $500K, plan to retire when you hit $5 Million, and expect an inheritance of $1 Million to show up at some point in your mid-50s, give or take 5 years.

Let’s say you are saving $50K a year toward retirement. If your investments earn 5% real over the years, you should be able to retire at 68 as seen in this spreadsheet function:


=FV(5%,28,50000,500000,1) = $5.03M


So, what happens if you add in a $1 Million inheritance at 55? Well, let’s first run that equation for just 15 years:


=FV(5%,15,50000,500000,1) = $2.17M


Now add $1 Million to that pot and you can run this equation:


=FV(5%,13,50000,2170000,1) = $5.02M


Essentially you’ve cut 5 years off your career with this inheritance. But what if you still wanted to work until 68, how much less could you save each year? Well, it turns out you can save much less, about $20K a year. See, your first 15 years looks like this:


=FV(5%,15,20000,500000,1) = $1.49M and then you add your million dollar inheritance and your next 13 years looks like this:

=FV(5%,13,20000,(1000000+1490000),1) = $5.07M


Talking to Your Folks


Perhaps the best thing to do is to actually talk to your parent or whoever you expect the inheritance from and tactfully (very tactfully) ask if an inheritance is something you should incorporate into your financial plan.

Perhaps you’ll be able to then have a general idea as to the amount and liquidity of the asset. You can then run the person’s stats through an online life expectancy calculator to get an idea about when you’ll receive the inheritance.

Have I done this? Heck no. I help my parents manage their portfolio. I know how much is there, and divided by their 6 kids, it isn’t going to dramatically affect my financial situation. It could be a significant boost for some of my siblings with smaller retirement nest eggs, though.

But I anticipate being well into retirement before the last of my parents departs this Earth. I’ll need to have “enough” before they’ll have had enough.

Besides, my mom reads my blog so if she wants to tell me how much I should expect in the will, I’m sure she will. I’ve already told my siblings I’m taking the rocking chair Grandpa made no matter who my parents leave it to!


The Bottom Line on Inheritances


If you’re sure you’re going to get an inheritance, sure about how much it will be, and sure about when you’re going to get it, then factor it into your retirement plans (always adjusting as you go of course.) I suspect that’s a very small percentage of inheritors, however.

Most of us don’t know how much money we’re going to inherit, when we’ll get it, and cannot even be 90% sure, much less 100% sure, that we’re actually going to get it at all. If that’s the case, I’d ignore it for your planning purposes and use that money for your charitable giving, your own inheritance, or your “gravy money.”



What do you think? Do you expect an inheritance? How has the knowledge of knowing that is coming affected your retirement planning?

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6 thoughts on “What To Do With an Inheritance”

  1. I think that the food analogy of gravy is a good one, or possibly dessert. The attitude that we have towards the inheritance is paramount. If we expect it, nay demand it, it is ultimately greedy and disrespectful. We don’t own it and have no claims to it (unless someone dies intestate). Seeing it as a gift and the positive intentions around the inheritance is good for US (as well as the giver).
    We wanted to give our son a graduation from college gift this month and he refused because “you have done so much for me already”. Brought tears to my eyes.

  2. Subscribe to get more great content like this, an awesome spreadsheet, and more!
  3. I requested my parents leave their IRAs/tax deferred retirement accounts not to me but to my children. Now that you have to distribute inherited IRAs within 10 years, this will definitely increase my marginal tax bracket. I plan to FIRE at least by 59.5 years old. Our tax deferred accounts will be large enough, that I want to start taking distributions to use up our lower tax brackets, and do Roth IRA conversions. Provided that grandchildren are not spendthrifts, chances are that their marginal tax bracket when they inherit will be 22% vs. 35% for us.

  4. Am retired, will probably get a substantial inheritance within the next 8 years. There is a lot of concern about my spouse getting the money and giving it to her family (by my family obviously). We have no kids. The plan is to take the inheritance buy a nice home and leave the home specifically for my nephews. Not sure my siblings trust me on this. Hopefully this does not all turn into a King Lear sort of scenario.

  5. If you come from generational land, these talks start in toddlerhood. The nurturing of the ranch is in your blood. It belongs to you in trust. What you take from it is yours to keep, after and only after you have put back for the next generation and planned for taxes and succession. When you walk the land with grandparents and get up regularly before dawn on any visit or summer to work cattle, these ideas are bred into you as a sacred trust. You are a steward for this trust. It owns you. Not the other way round.

  6. I’ve never factored any inheritance into my retirement planning. Good thing too, as my dad will likely die broke and my mom is spending $5K/month for at home care.

    I figure that anything I might inherit will be gravy. And after seeing both parents decline to the point where neither can live independently, I’d better squirrel away enough funds to cover my last years of life.

  7. I think it’s better not to expect an inheritance. I received one in late middle age, but didn’t mentally “lean on it” in prior years. My siblings and I always encouraged our parents to use their money for their enjoyment; after all, it was theirs, not ours. If I had been counting on receiving an inheritance from my parents, I might have felt they were spending “my” money. My parents never gave us children any indication we would receive anything from them; hence, all of us saved for retirement. A few years before she died, my mother told me the small amount my father had received from his parents had gone to seeding our college accounts (he had worked his way through college). On her death bed, my mother told me she and my father believed each generation in the family should leave the next generation better off.


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