Managing an Inheritance: When ‘Mom’s Money’ Becomes Yours

Michael Hay knew his mother was financially secure, but he didn’t fully know her situation until she was admitted to a hospital in August and he was granted her power of attorney. Even then, it wasn’t until his mother’s unexpected death, about a month later, that Mr. Hay understood that he and his two sisters were about to inherit a sum that would make a real difference in their lives.

Nine months later, Mr. Hay, 47, says he’s still processing the shock of suddenly losing his 78-year-old mother while gaining an inheritance he wasn’t prepared to receive.

“I still call it ‘my mom’s money’ even though it’s legally in my name,” said Mr. Hay, who works at a tech start-up and lives in Madison County, N.Y.

Mr. Hay’s reaction to his sudden wealth is not unusual. “It is a big shock both emotionally and financially, and I don’t know that anyone is ever prepared,” said Kathryn Kubiak-Rizzone, founder of About Time Financial Planning in Rochester, N.Y. She recommends that beneficiaries not make any financial decisions for the first six months because they’re likely to still be grieving.

Research shows that more adult children may find themselves unexpectedly inheriting wealth over the next two decades. The silent generation, or people born roughly between 1928 and 1945, and its successors, the baby boomers, are expected to transfer significant wealth to members of Generation X and millennials over the next 20 years, according to the Wealth Report, a publication from Knight Frank, a London global property consultant.

Federal Reserve figures show that half of all inheritances are less than $50,000, but with boomers reaching 80 and beyond, members of their family may begin to inherit more wealth. More than half of millennials who are anticipating an inheritance from their parents or another relative expect to gain at least $350,000, according to a survey by Alliant Credit Union in Chicago. (Whether they actually receive that much is another question.)

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