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What's the best way to use an inheritance?
It's a question worth considering, with the U.S. on the cusp of a significant wealth transfer. Baby Boomers are poised to inherit $12 trillion from their parents and then in the coming decades, pass on an estimated $30 trillion to their own heirs.
If you receive an inheritance, the first thing to do is pause, said Gail Cohen, chair of the board or directors and general trust counsel for Fiduciary Trust Company International. Take time to grieve and process the loss of your loved one.
"I don't think any big decisions should be made during that period of time," she said.
Before you start spending, take stock of any obligations or costs around the inheritance, said Susan Bradley, a certified financial planner and the founder of the Sudden Money Institute in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
"If it's not liquid, readily available money, you're going to have a to-do list," she said.
For example, should you inherit a home, you'd need to decide (perhaps jointly with other heirs), if and when to sell, Bradley said. In the meantime, you'll need to cover financial obligations around the house like property tax bills and maintenance costs.
You'll also need to think about the tax obligations say, of selling inherited investments or taking distributions from an inherited IRA, she said. (Depending on where the decedent lived, you may even owe inheritance tax).
Then make a list of your goals for the money, said Bradley. That might include shoring up goals like retirement or college savings, paying off debt, or covering purchases you've put off (like replacing an older vehicle or getting an elective medical procedure).
"In most cases, money has limits," she said. "There's just so much to go around. It's about prioritizing, what's most important to you right now?"
Loop in a financial advisor, accountant and other professionals early on, Cohen said. They can help you run the numbers to figure out the best ways to use your inheritance and meet those goals.
"On the Money" airs on CNBC Saturdays at 5:30 a.m. ET, or check listings for air times in local markets.