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Inheritance and Crisis: How to Handle Your Complicated New Reality

Jake is an emotional mess.

He feels uncomfortable in his skin. He is so sad, but his sadness is periodically interrupted by relief and giddiness. He feels guilty when he feels good. He feels awful when he feels bad.

You see, Jake’s mother unexpectedly died two months ago.

Moreover, she made Jake the sole beneficiary of an unexpectedly large estate. He is about to be a very rich man.

Mom’s final conversation

Jake’s relationship with his mother, Lily, was always a little rocky. Things were fine when they were apart—they would talk on the phone like old pals. But, when they were together, their time inevitably turned rotten. She criticized Jake from the moment he walked back into his childhood home. It was like being ten years old again.

When Jake visited Lily for what turned out to be the last time, he wanted to discuss their common passion—food. Jake is a chef and Lily was an excellent cook in her own right.

Animated, Jake told Lily about how he had recently incorporated some of her outrageous concoctions into the menu. Specifically, he used her unique beef stroganoff recipe as a base for the previous Saturday night’s special—which sold out in the first three hours!

Lily was clearly not impressed with Jake’s success or his happiness about running the kitchen. She did not care about meeting the guests who raved about his culinary skills. All she wanted to do was knock him down.

At least that was how he perceived her response.

Instead of praising Jake or taking much of an interest, Lily said, flatly, that three hours “sounded like a long time” and asked Jake to change the lightbulb in her garage. When Jake returned, Lily peppered him, per usual, with a firestorm of questions about his finances.

Was he saving for retirement?

Did he live off of a budget?

Did he still carry credit card debt?

Was being a chef really the way to earn a decent living “these days?”

Frustrated, Jake left his mother’s home. To punish her behavior, he defiantly ignored her last phone calls and texts.

The inheritance meant Jake was suddenly very rich

Then he got the call. Apparently, Lily suffered a brain aneurysm and passed in her sleep. She was only 66 years old. Lily’s funeral was surreal and devastating for her son.

Shortly after that, Jake received an unexpected call from his mother’s lawyer. Jake always assumed Lily was poor and living on limited savings and social security—she always complained about money and lived like a pauper. He soon learned that Lily amassed a significant amount of money.

The money came from Lily’s savings, the equity in her house and her life insurance proceeds. Jake was the sole beneficiary.

How should you invest after an inheritance?

An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.

Ben Franklin

It is important that Jake, who is totally unprepared psychologically for this loss and the sudden flood of new money, takes the time to process everything. He needs time, emotionally and psychologically. The ramifications of his future decisions will resonate for the rest of his life.

My first piece of advice for Jake:

“First, get rid of the credit card and student loan debt.

Next, educate yourself. There is no pressure to act immediately, and you must prepare for the many sharks out to ‘help’ you.” 

Jake said that his bank—which had never called to say hello before—called two days after Jake made his first large deposit. The bank officer, Jake recalled, was very interested in the deposit and wanted Jake to do something more with it immediately. Otherwise, the money would “waste away” in Jake’s low-interest yielding savings account.

My next piece of advice:

“Do your homework. Determine which investments you might want to make. Next, carefully research and choose who you want to work with.

Most likely, it won’t be the bank officer who saw Jake’s initial deposit and pounced on him.”

Jake needs to take a step back. He must recognize and appreciate that he cannot disregard his feelings. Losing his mother at a time when they were on the outs and then “taking” her money—“leaving” her in the ground—inevitably clouds his judgment.

In addition to building his financial knowledge and a wealth strategy team, Jake should consider seeking professional counseling. Allowing himself time for healing and reflection before jumping into big money decisions, commitments and risks will be critical to his success.

I had an inheritance from my father, It was the moon and the sun. And though I roam all over the world, The spending of it’s never done.

Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

About Michelle Gershfeld

I’m a debt settlement and bankruptcy attorney who negotiates resolutions between clients and their creditors. I am also a real estate attorney involved in both sides of purchasing and selling distressed real property. I am passionate about teaching people about money and helping individuals of all ages achieve financial independence and success in a "no…

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