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While being on the receiving end of a financial windfall should be a blessing, for many inheritors, it can also be a burden. The unfortunate reality is that American families don’t have a great track record of preserving legacies for the good of their families and future generations.

To put it simply, many families don’t know what to do with a $500K inheritance. Tragically, for one-third of families, their wealth decreases following an inheritance, and, for nine out of ten families, their inherited assets evaporate entirely before reaching the third generation.

For many, a family inheritance can be life-changing – a real opportunity to change their financial trajectory and take their lifestyle to the next level. In many cases, it is also the hope of their parents that their bequest becomes a lasting legacy that could benefit future generations. To a great extent, the heirs of a large inheritance are stewards of a legacy that should be honored, grown, and preserved for the benefit of the next generation.

If you are (or will be) the beneficiary of an inheritance, it would be essential to think about the long-term impact of your decisions, regardless of their size. ‘Would you know what to do if you inherit $500 000? For illustrative purposes, we map out the steps a family should take to make the best decisions about what to do with a $500,000 or larger inheritance.

Define Its Purpose

The first question that comes to inheritors’ minds is, “how should I invest a $500,000 inheritance?” While that is a critical question that we address here, it’s essential to first think through what you hope to accomplish with the inheritance. How can this money, which is the result of your parents’ or relatives’ generosity, help you achieve your life ambitions? What would your parents want to see happen for you and your family?

It’s critical to have a purpose for the money. Without a purpose, it’s easy to get lost in the pursuit of more, which doesn’t necessarily lead to lasting fulfillment. How can the money be used or invested to create the most economic value for your family and the next generation? Having a purpose and a vision and sharing it with your family is one strategy to make the right decisions.

Don’t Make Rash Decisions

The time you take to think about the legacy’s purpose will help you avoid making any quick or rash decisions about what to do with your inheritance. As you’re considering, how to invest $500k, it’s important to make sure you’re considering all of your options.. While there may be some exceptions to investing all of the monies—i.e., paying off high-interest debt can potentially be a good decision for a portion of the inheritance – it’s essential to take the time to plan. It’s okay to leave the money in a savings account while you’re doing research.

Create an Emergency Fund

After taking a deep breath once you’ve received the inheritance, you should create an emergency fund if you don’t already have one. An emergency fund is essential to cover any unexpected expenses arising from an emergency – a job loss or period of disability, a medical emergency, a major car or home repair, or anything else that might require immediate cash. 

A general rule of thumb is to set aside anywhere from three to twelve months of living expenses depending on your situation. Your emergency fund should be invested in a liquid savings vehicle, such as a savings or money market account.

Assemble Your Financial Team

If you think having more money will make your life easier, think again. A sudden windfall can make life much more complicated. Suddenly there are tax, estate, investment, and financial planning issues to address – areas that require a high level of competence to understand and manage. It’s vitally important to find experienced advisors who will put your best interests first.

A Certified Financial PlannerTM professional is best positioned to work with you holistically to address all your planning needs. Financial advisors that have earned the CFP(R) certification have expertise in multiple financial disciplines and are used to working collaboratively with a team of advisors that might include a tax professional and attorney.

Before turning your money over to any investment advisor, make sure he is a fiduciary who is required by law to put your best interests first. Most importantly, a good advisor who understands you and what you want to accomplish will help you avoid emotionally driven mistakes that could cost you a good portion of your inheritance. Advisors who are CFP(R) professionals are required to hold themselves to the fiduciary standard, which will help you determine what to do with a $500k windfall with confidence.

How to Invest a $500,000 Inheritance

For an inheritance of $500,000 or larger, there are no off-the-shelf solutions that could address an individual investor’s unique needs, objectives, and investment profile. For example, do you want to invest in real estate, or do you want to live off the interest of $500,000? These decisions can shape your investing options.

Before investing any money, it would be essential to have a personalized investment plan that considers your specific investment objectives, tolerance for risk, and investment time frame. Investors with a well thought out long-term investment plan put themselves in a greater position to be successful than those who don’t have a plan.

Here are the key elements of a sound, long-term investment plan:

Set well-defined goals and investment objectives:

Having a purpose for your money is important because it gives you the conviction to focus on doing the right things with your money. However, you still need clearly defined goals and investment objectives to guide your investment decisions. Setting goals is about translating your life ambitions into quantifiable and achievable financial targets.

Develop an asset allocation strategy:

Studies show that as much as 88 percent of a portfolio’s return is not determined by individual investments, but rather by the mix of assets inside the portfolio. So, the mix or allocation of assets is far more important than the selection of investments.

The key is determining which asset mix would produce the kind of returns you need to achieve your objectives within the constraints of your risk tolerance. Asset allocation is not concerned with choosing individual securities. Instead, it’s about selecting the right mix of assets with a weighting that conforms to your investment objectives and risk profile.

A younger person with a longer time horizon might have a higher risk tolerance than someone closer to retirement. The younger person might allocate more money to riskier assets that can generate higher returns. The older person might reduce his allocation to riskier assets to preserve capital for retirement. Your asset allocation may change over time as you get closer to retirement.

Practice diversification:

When investing, it’s virtually impossible to know at any given time when one asset class or asset subset will outperform another type of asset. The solution is to diversify your portfolio among various types of assets to capture returns whenever and wherever they occur. Diversification reduces your risk exposure to any single asset that might drastically underperform. You can think of diversification as a method to control risk and volatility in your portfolio.

The key is to choose assets with a low correlation with each other. For instance, when stocks are performing well, bonds tend to perform poorly – and vice-versa. Within a stock portfolio, blue-chip stocks can provide stability and dividend income, while small-cap stocks can offer high-growth potential. Each of these assets can contribute positively to an investment portfolio.

Select your investments

If you are new to investing, your challenge is choosing from a vast universe of possible investments. Between individual securities, mutual funds, and exchange-traded funds (ETFs), you have thousands and thousands of investment choices. MarketWatch says,

With $500,000 to invest, a good strategy for developing the right asset allocation while achieving optimal diversification are index funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). For many people new to investing, index funds and ETFs are popular because they can offer instant diversification and professional management. You can choose among different asset classes to create an asset allocation that conforms to your risk-return profile.

These funds invest in different stock indexes, such as the S&P 500 or the Russell 2000 index, as well as different market segments, such as real estate, discretionary stocks, and energy stocks. Most have low management fees, which is essential to ensure you keep most of your money working for you.

How to Invest Inheritance Money to Save on Taxes

While most Americans won’t pay any taxes on their inheritance, you will pay taxes depending on your investment activities. The key to maximizing wealth over time is to minimize the taxes you pay on your investments. Generally, you only pay taxes on your investments when they are sold for a gain. 

If you hold your investments longer than a year, you’ll pay a more favorable capital gains tax than if you sold them within a year of buying them. If you hold your investments until you die, your heirs will receive a stepped-up basis on the securities they inherit, virtually eliminating any tax you might have paid, assuming your estate is under the estate tax exclusion amount ($12,920,000 for an individual in 2023)..

Investors who minimize their trading activities can reduce taxes on their investments. Also, a good financial advisor will know how to harvest your portfolio for tax losses. If, during the year, any of your investments perform poorly, they can be sold for a loss, which can be used to offset any capital gains or deducted from your income (up to $3,000 each year). Those securities can then be repurchased after a period of time, hopefully at a better price.

Tax-smart Charitable Contributions

For many inheritors, a sudden windfall may bring out their philanthropic desires. If that is your desire and you are new to philanthropy, it’s important to understand how to donate to charities in the most tax efficient way. If you are over 70.5 years old, contributing to charity through a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) is an incredible strategy to consider. You might also potentially consider contributing to a donor-advised fund as well because it is a smart, flexible, and more cost-effective way to give more thoughtfully and strategically.

You can establish a donor-advised fund for as little as $5,000 with the help of your financial advisor. The fund becomes a repository for all your charitable contributions until you decide when and to whom you want to make a gift.

Or, you can leave your contributions to accumulate in an investment account. You are eligible for a tax deduction in the year you make the contribution, even if gifts aren’t made. Your fund custodian will do all your tax reporting. If you gift appreciated assets, which is a smart approach, your beneficiaries will realize no capital gains.

Keeping the Legacy Going

If you intend to pass the legacy on to your children, you will need to develop an estate plan that minimizes estate taxes while facilitating the transfer of assets. If your wealth grows to more than the estate tax exemption ($12.9 million in 2023, $25.8 million per couple), your estate could owe taxes at a rate of 40% on the excess.

If your total estate is smaller than the exemption, it would likely owe little to no taxes. However, if you live in one of the 17 states that levy an estate tax or an inheritance tax on beneficiaries, the exemptions are much lower or nonexistent.

Working with an estate attorney, you will need to consider the most effective methods for transferring your assets with consideration for taxes and any particular circumstances. You may need a trust arrangement to maximize your estate for your spouse and other arrangements for distributing assets to minor children. At the very least, you will need a living trust with a designated executor, a pour-over will, a power of attorney, and a medical directive to ensure your assets are distributed as intended.

Don’t Go it Alone

Figuring out how you would invest a $500k inheritance is not a time to be a do-it-yourselfer and making mistakes as you go. $500,000 is a big inheritance. It could have a significant impact on a person’s financial situation, depending on how it is managed and utilized. 

As you can see here, there are many complex, moving parts involving several financial disciplines. This is a critical time to work closely with a trusted advisor who can quarterback your financial team to ensure your inheritance remains a blessing and doesn’t become a burden.

Important Disclosure Information

Please remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results.  Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, investment strategy, or product (including the investments and/or investment strategies recommended or undertaken by Dechtman Wealth Management, LLC [“DWM”]), or any non-investment related content, made reference to directly or indirectly in this blog will be profitable, equal any corresponding indicated historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful.  Due to various factors, including changing market conditions and/or applicable laws, the content may no longer be reflective of current opinions or positions.  Moreover, you should not assume that any discussion or information contained in this blog serves as the receipt of, or as a substitute for, personalized investment advice from DWM. To the extent that a reader has any questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed above to his/her individual situation, he/she is encouraged to consult with the professional advisor of his/her choosing. DWM is neither a law firm nor a certified public accounting firm and no portion of the blog content should be construed as legal or accounting advice. A copy of the DWM’s current written disclosure Brochure discussing our advisory services and fees is available for review upon request or at

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