Wed11262014

Business & Real Estate

How to avoid the pitfalls of sudden wealth

In my May 29 column (“Is sudden wealth a blessing or curse?”), I discussed the dark side of newfound wealth, the financial and psychological impact that, according to one report, results in 90 percent of lottery winners going broke within five years.

Now I’d like to share some simple strategies to avoid ending up penniless and/or in a mental institution.

• Don’t act – take stock. You’ve got to put something in place to control your behavior to make sure that you don’t lose that money. This is the time to create a plan for your future – your goals, your aspirations and the costs associated with them. If you are unable to do it yourself, seek help from a financial planner. That’s what they do. You may call it a retirement plan, or a “rest of your life” plan, but its purpose is to ensure that you have a road map to follow to maintain enough capital to support your goals, both now and in the future. Whatever you choose to do with your money, it’s important that you look after yourself first.

• Set aside enough of your wealth to achieve your plan – and I’m not talking about investing it. If your winning lottery ticket, inheritance or other windfall provided enough money to last you the rest of your life, why risk it at all?

Invest it instead in safe assets such as U.S. Treasury bonds or bank CDs. You can even leave it in a bank checking account. (Keep in mind, however, that CDs and bank accounts are each insured only up to $250,000. You might want to diversify your holdings across numerous banks to manage the remote but possible risk of bank failures.) If you do need to invest your fortune, your plan should help you avoid risking more than necessary.

• Monitor your investments as well as your spending. Discipline in managing your wealth and cash flow will be critical to your ongoing success. If you do not have a strong history of frugality, consider hiring a professional team comprising a financial planner, tax accountant and estate attorney.

• Now it’s time to consider others. Do you have a brother-in-law who is looking for funding to start a business? Maybe a nephew who wants to attend law school? Or a friend with cancer and no insurance? It’s fine to help them financially as long as it does not negatively impact your plan.

• If you’re charitably inclined, donate money to your favorite causes or use donor-advised funds. A solid plan should allow you to compare different scenarios and make tradeoffs without compromising your future. If your windfall is especially large, you may even be in a position to create your own foundation. In any case, get help to determine the tax consequences of your choices – you likely will be dealing with unfamiliar tax liabilities.

• If you still have money left after all these considerations, do whatever you want with it. Think of this last bucket as “play” money. Build a pound for stray animals. Buy a Tesla. Go to Las Vegas. Although money will not buy happiness, you can still use it to generate a little fun.

Keep in mind that no one has an infinite amount of money to spend. Even Bill Gates has a plan for his wealth, and you can bet he manages it carefully.

Los Altos resident Artie Green is a Certified Financial Planner with Cognizant Wealth Advisors. For more information, call 209-4062.

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