What to do when you receive a large sum of money

It’s the stuff of workplace daydreams, especially after an unpleasant encounter with your boss.

An unexpected windfall from an inheritance, a lawsuit settlement, stock option bonus or winning lottery ticket suddenly transforms your personal finances overnight.


Financial stress melts away. But you also face dizzying array of lifestyle and spending choices that can be overwhelming.

Now consider this: Some 70% of people who suddenly come into big money often squander it within a few years, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education.

A financial windfall can be disorientating as well as exhilarating. So, here are five tips to help make the most of sudden wealth.

1) Slow Down

Take a deep breath and make no major financial decisions for at least six months. You’ve got some serious thinking to do.

Step one is finding a team of financial advisers to set some realistic goals and come up with a plan to allocate that capital in a balanced and diversified portfolio to make your found money last a lifetime.

You can afford it and it’s the smart thing to do.

Realize, too, that big windfalls often come with emotional baggage. If you inherit a fortune but lose a loved one, you may be grappling with a sense of guilt that takes time to process.

So does the sense of separation one might feel from suddenly being in a dramatically different financial situation than family and friends.

2) Tax Implications

Yes, the government may demand its share of your good fortune. So find a good tax attorney.

Some windfalls such as inherited IRAs and annuities, severance package payouts and lottery winnings are taxable.

Life insurance payments usually aren’t. But best to consult with an expert to avoid unpleasant surprises.

3) Your job

Think long and hard before quitting your job. If you make $75,000 a year or so, you will be giving up more than a $2 million in lifetime earnings if you’re 40.

On top of that, you will no longer be making contributions to your Social Security account, an important source of income in retirement.

Also, if you like your job, don’t discount the psychological benefits of doing worthwhile work and interacting with colleagues.

You might miss your career much more than you imagine.

4) Retirement

It’s hard to think about the long-term when you have a pile of cash front of you. But fortifying your retirement savings in low-risk and liquid investment products is a wise thing to do.

Think about upping your life insurance coverage.

Experts also suggest keeping two to five years of living expenses in cash (or a CD, short-term bond fund or money-market account) as you near retirement as a hedge against a big financial crisis that might slam your portfolio.

Why bother if you have struck it rich? Remember, even the best laid financial plans can go awry in an uncertain world. You may be wealthier, but you aren’t immune to life’s misfortunes.

Knowing you have a well-financed retirement ahead of you and insurance benefits in place for your family can be a comfort.

5) Spend Wisely

Of course, the nice thing about money is, well, you can buy stuff with it. And there’s no harm in treating yourself to a few of life’s pleasures within reason.

Yet keep in mind that research studies show money spent on experiences bring more personal satisfaction that buying stuff that piles up in the house.

So, think twice about buying that curved ultra-high-def television.

Grand Canyon hiking trip, anyone?

Continue learning: Here’s a ranking of retirement havens ranked by cost of living and climate