Unwelcome Inheritances: Why Some People Reject Unexpected Windfalls

Do you see money as a means to the good life with opportunities to spread wealth through charitable giving, or if you see it as an evil, corrupting, complication that will cause more harm than good?

Believe it or not, there are people who feel that receiving a big inheritance is not the path to Easy Street but actually just the opposite. They are concerned that the unexpected windfall will negatively impact their life, their relationships and cause more trouble than it solves.

Consider the author Chuck Collins, great grandson of Oscar Mayer (the bologna magnate) who donated a windfall of a $500,000 inheritance to charities at age 26. An expert in economic inequality, he has written several books about inequality, tax policy and social change philanthropy.

So what should you do if you don’t want that surprise cash? Let’s dive in!

Why Would Someone Reject Free Money?

There are some valid reasons to consider, including:

  • The named beneficiary may already have a large, valuable estate and does not need the money.
  • The named beneficiary may think that the upkeep, maintenance or liability (i.e., on a vacation property, classic car) may be more of a burden than he or she wants to have to deal with. A common example is someone inheriting a family home that may require serious upgrades/repairs before being able to sell or taking on a mortgage and taxes that might actually become a financial burden.
  • The named beneficiary feels guilt over receiving money he or she did not earn or that the money will throw them off the path they’ve chosen to follow. For younger recipients, money can set them apart from their peers in such a way as to tarnish their experiences, especially if they feel their friends view them differently as a result. And younger beneficiaries may not understand how far and fast their money can go or how quickly maintenance and tax payments can erode the inheritance.
  • The named beneficiary may want the assets passed to the next named beneficiary.

Whatever your reason, know that your financial path is your own to choose – not anyone else’s. If the money would cause more harm than good, then it’s best to explore your options before taking next steps.

What Can You Do If You Don’t Welcome Your Inheritance?

The first thing you should know: No one is required to accept an unexpected windfall.

Most heirs and beneficiaries can reject a bequest, and leave it at that. But beware, once an inheritance is rejected you cannot direct where the inheritance then goes. If you would rather the money goes to your sibling or another family member/friend, you would have to accept the inheritance and then give it to that person yourself. Once you pass on the money, you no longer have any say in what happens to it.

Identifying your personal goals and figuring out a purpose for the money may be the best way to gently move forward. A trusted financial planner and/or advisor can help provide ideas for how your newfound wealth can profoundly impact the lives of others if you prefer to pass the windfall along – whether that be through a charitable donation, trust or other means.

If an unexpected windfall is giving you cause to pause, connect with a financial professional to explore all your options.

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