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Make a plan

Start with a plan, Bradley said, and be prepared for financial challenges you didn't expect.

Some bequests, for example, create friction in a family if someone fails to include a spouse in decision-making about how the inherited money should be used.

Others might feel a disconnect with those dollars if they lead a different lifestyle than their benefactor. Or, they may start underperforming at work because they assume they'll quit their job when their family's estate gets passed along.

"They start marking their time, but what are they going to do when it's delayed or less than expected?" said Bradley, noting an inheritance may take the form of less liquid assets like real estate, an art collection or an ownership stake in a business.

"That money is emotionally charged. Expectations can be really big—your own, your family's and even the expectations of the person who left you the money," she said.

To honor the legacy of your loved one, she added, it's your responsibility to use that money wisely.

Larry Washburn | Getty Images