Financial windfalls: Fleeting good fortune or lasting wealth?

Nimi-AkinkugbeWhat would you do if you suddenly came into a large sum of money? Would you make a down payment on a property, buy yourself a new car, start a business, put it away for your retirement, or just go on a wonderful spending spree? A financial windfall presents you with unique opportunities as well as challenges; nearly every facet of your financial life will change, as you are faced with a plethora of saving and spending options.

No matter how you receive the money, whether expected or as a complete surprise through a gift, a large bonus, a retirement payout, a severance package, an inheritance, the sale of a business, or a lucky lottery ticket, taking some determined steps is always important. Here are some tips to help you make the most of it.

The first three months after receiving a financial windfall should be a time of adjustment. Before you start to make major decisions about your money or your life such as acquiring a new home, changing career, booking the holiday of a lifetime, buying that dream, deposit the money in a money market account for a period of time so it earns interest whilst you redefine your goals and objectives, educate yourself about money matters, and create a long-term plan for the funds.

Not all windfalls are received under happy circumstances. A financial inheritance may come from serious injury, a divorce settlement, a lawsuit, or a death. A death in the family is never easy, but receiving an inheritance, whether expected or not, can leave heirs feeling overwhelmed by this sudden change in their fortunes. Depending upon the circumstances, conflicting emotions may range from elation to anxiety, fear, shock, confusion, which will need some time for reflection.

Most people simply do not have the time or the expertise to adequately manage their personal finances, especially where it involves significant sums. It is thus advisable to have the assets professionally managed by a financial advisor who will look at your objectives and priorities and help you develop a financial plan tailored to your unique situation.

Improve your basic knowledge of investing. There is much information in the print media, books and magazines, online and through seminars on financial management. The more you learn about how to manage your money, the easier it will be for you to preserve and nurture your wealth.

You have an opportunity to pay off your debt or at least to reduce it. Any expensive credit card debt should be apriority. You could also reduce the balance on your mortgage or on your car loan. Your decision should be determined by the interest rate you are paying on the debt as compared with the investment return you envisage. If interest rates are low and you can easily afford to service your debt, then investing may be a better option.

You cannot afford to ignore the basics of wise investing because of your windfall. Once you have established short, medium and long-term goals you are in a position to create an asset allocation plan for your new fortune, keeping your existing investments in mind. Determine how much risk or volatility you are comfortable with. It pays to be conservative at least initially. To reduce risk whilst balancing value and growth, build a diversified portfolio to include cash, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and real estate.

Whilst being able to help loved ones is one of the great benefits of having money, it can be particularly difficult dealing with family and friends who will approach you about loans, business deals, and “lucrative” investment opportunities. Don’t throw caution to the wind and get tempted by these exciting schemes and risk losing your money. It is amazing how quickly news of a financial windfall filters out. Suddenly everyone will be keen to advise you even your distant cousin who has an incredible new venture that you “must” invest in. Don’t feel under any pressure to part with your money too early.

One of the key areas that you may need to revisit is your estate plan. This may involve revising or updating your will or trust, setting up a foundation, or donating to charity. If you want to pass your wealth on to family members or to your favorite charity, work with a lawyer who specialises in estate planning to advise you on an appropriate trust or company structure.

Having money comes with responsibilities and makes it possible for you to affect the life of others. Helping others can give your life a sense of meaning and purpose. Think of the people you might wish to help; perhaps you would like to spend some money on friends and family. Investigate philanthropic opportunities that are well aligned with your personal values and beliefs, and determine the best way to lend your support.

Spoil yourself a little and enjoy the money, and spend part of it on something you’ve always wanted but perhaps could not afford before now. Determine how much you can afford to spend in this way then list the things you would like to buy; a new car, a vacation, some jewellery, or your favorite gadget. Don’t be impulsive; allow yourself time to get past the initial urge to spend.

It is easy to feel that your new wealth will last forever, so it is tempting to want to splash out and live lavishly. It is estimated that up to 70 per cent of those who suddenly receive large amounts of money will lose it within just a few years. When correctly handled, a windfall can provide huge benefits that will continue beyond the lifetime of the initial recipient and can grow into a lasting financial legacy. For others who become overwhelmed regretfully they may end up far worse off than before.

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