It’s important to have an inheritance strategy in place BEFORE something goes wrong. Americans are living longer than before, which makes some folks believe they can put off planning for the inevitable.
But do you really want to leave behind a mess and add to the already difficult circumstances?
We’ve seen more than our fair share of estate planning nightmares. Not having a plan in place can cause years of disagreements, mountains of paperwork and a lot of unnecessary stress.
Wouldn’t it be easier to figure out your inheritance strategy ahead of time?
Having a will in place helps designate beneficiaries and determines who receives what. Wills can help avoid probate court’s costly and time-consuming nature, although it may not prevent it entirely. Of course, a will doesn’t prevent anyone from contesting it, but it does tend to make things easier. Knowing if you are one of the designated beneficiaries—and having an idea of what that inheritance looks like—can help you plan for what happens when you inherit cash or other assets.
When No Will Exists
Not having a will can make receiving an inheritance painful. Sorting out an estate can result in steep legal fees, dealing with probate, and potentially fighting with family and friends. If you’re not sure exactly what the estate entails, it could take months or years to track everything down. Then there’s the personal cost. Even if everyone agrees on how the estate should be settled, the process often takes a financial, mental, and emotional toll.
If there are assets other than cash to divide up, sorting through an estate without a will becomes exponentially more complicated. Life insurance, real estate, and assets other than cash may be subject to different inheritance rules. Spouses often receive additional tax breaks and incentives for an inheritance, while many adult children and other relatives don’t have that luxury.
The step-up in cost basis for certain assets is an important consideration. If the assets meet the requirements, they could be eligible for a “step-up” in basis on the date of death. Meaning the original purchase price is raised to the fair market value on the date of death of the original owner.
This can be a huge benefit to owners of long term assets because it can greatly reduce the amount of capital gains tax owed on investments.
Creating an inheritance strategy also allows you to help make sure your loved one’s estate is in order. You don’t want to wait until after your loved one is gone to discover, for example, that an ex-spouse is still listed as a beneficiary on a life insurance policy.
The Pitfalls of Inheritance
While many of us dream of a lump sum of cash falling into our laps, the reality of inheritance can be a little less rosy. Cash typically doesn’t fall under the heading of taxable income, but if you received that income in the form of royalties or the deceased’s company bonus, that might have the IRS view this as a source of income.
Inheriting real estate means that you now have a property that requires maintenance and upkeep as long as you hold onto it. And while it used to be easy to shelter stocks and mutual funds into a so-called “stretch IRA,” the SECURE Act abolished this option for everyone but a surviving spouse or minor child.
Just because you’ve received a large inheritance doesn’t mean it’s time to quit your day job and retire to luxurious living on a tropical island. According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, an estimated 70% of people who receive a large inheritance spend it all within a few years. Having a plan can make it easier to stay on track before the temptation to spend hits your bank account.
Even in the best circumstances, dealing with an inheritance can be complicated. Remember, even if you’re not expecting a large amount of money or property from an estate, it still behooves you to have a strategy in place. It’s important not to make any significant decisions or to suddenly change your spending habits just because more assets are now available to you. Working with a skilled financial advisor knowledgeable about the ins and outs of inheritance can help make sure your inheritance is working for you, not against you.