Question: What's the best way to handle a financial windfall?
Answer :

First, put the money into a safe, liquid investment such as a money market fund, and take stock of your situation. Don't spend or invest your windfall until you have a chance to:

  • See a tax professional and analyze the tax consequences--you may need a big portion of what you have received to pay taxes
  • Consider how the windfall affects your overall financial situation
  • Create a budget
  • Speak with a financial professional to help you decide the best way to invest
  • Consult with an estate planning attorney to create or update your will and other necessary documents

You should also guard against those who offer get-rich-quick schemes or otherwise want to share in your windfall. If you have hired an attorney or other professional to help you manage your new wealth, it might be a good idea to refer all of the requests that you receive to that person.

Often a wise financial move, no matter the size of your windfall, is to pay off high-rate loans such as credit card balances. Then, only after you have carefully considered how your circumstances have changed, indulge yourself with something you've always wanted. Spend wisely, though. Most people who get a windfall spend the entire amount within five years. If you plan well and control the urge to spend lavishly, however, your good fortune could provide you with financial security for many years to come.