Special Report

13 Things to Do If You Suddenly Become Filthy Rich


Becoming rich instantly, or in a very short period, is part of the great American dream. It happens each and every day to someone. What many people fail to consider ahead of time is that becoming wealthy also comes with great responsibility.

People can become wealthy in many ways. Some sell a business or an asset. Some people become wealthy in a very short period because of a smart or lucky investment. Some of the instantly wealthy win the lottery, win a legal judgment or receive a settlement. Others inherit more money than they expected, and some inherit money that they never knew was coming to them. And some people with stock options become instantly wealthy on paper if they have stock options when their employer has an initial public offering or gets acquired.

24/7 Wall St. has created a list of 12 things not to do if you win the lottery, but we wanted to create a blueprint for those lucky few who become wealthy overnight or in a very short time.

Again, becoming wealthy comes with responsibility. Suddenly having millions of dollars puts you in the so-called one-percenter club. Being responsible about your newfound wealth may do more than just protect your new assets — it could even save your life, literally.

Winning the lottery is one of the more well-known ways of becoming instantly wealthy. Other means of instant wealth do not require things like remembering to sign a ticket or to report winning to the proper lottery authority.

CNBC released data in early 2015 showing that there were over 10 million households with investible assets over $1 million, with another 3.1 million households with $5 million or more. They also showed that there were nearly 500,000 new millionaires created in 2014 alone — well over 1,000 each and every day!

Becoming rich is one thing. Many people do it, but many also lose their wealth. Some people end up broke because of poor decisions, bad luck or recessions, or because someone else takes it from them. Consider one maxim here: you should only have to become rich once.

How would you like to become rich only to end up broke? Any takers? It can happen to anyone who avoids taking the proper steps to protect their wealth. Again, people who get rich should only have to get rich once.

Here are 13 things to do (and not do) if you become wealthy in an instant or in a very short time period.

1. Get Immediate Tax and Legal Representation, Ahead of Time If Possible

Having proper tax and legal professionals is a must for most of the newly wealthy (and those who are already wealthy as well). Knowing your tax burden for a sudden slew of money is of the utmost importance. When possible, speak to tax and legal professionals in depth before you sign a deal or before you receive the cash. Doing so may possibly save you thousands, or even millions, of dollars.
Imagine if you get a vast amount of cash and do not set aside the proper tax, or thought you wouldn’t have to pay tax. On top of the IRS, you might even owe state taxes, to one or more states, depending upon where you live and where that money is coming from. On the legal front, imagine if you did not know your legal rights before and after you get a vast new sum. To accomplish proper tax and legal representation, getting a certified public accountant (CPA) is a must, and it may require a tax attorney. Maybe this sounds expensive up front, but it is more than just worth it — it should be mandatory.

2. Get a Very Reputable Financial Advisor

After you find out what your rights to the money are from your new lawyers, and after you find out what your tax burden is on your new fortune, lining up a reputable financial advisor is paramount. This is where you need to avoid penny-stock brokers or people who try to sell you complex financial products that are hard to understand with high commissions.

A good financial advisor from a very reputable firm is going to know that you will need money sometimes or regularly. They will know what mix of stocks, bonds and other asset classes are appropriate for your situation and your life ahead. They probably even will be a crucial part of your creating a budget, and they will help to set proper expectations of what your assets can do for you. Lastly, introduce your financial advisor to your legal and tax professionals. Remember, the left hand needs to know what the right is trying to do, particularly ahead of each tax time.

3. Keep It Under Wraps

If you can, keep the fact that you just became rich to yourself for as long as you can stand it. Even then, give it another week. If you run out and brag and tell everyone you know, you might have just become a target. Your friends and family may ask you for help or to participate in financial dealings in which you don’t want to be or shouldn’t be involved. Other friends or family may become envious or treat you differently. Then there is the worst of the lot: scam artists or criminals who go after you. Maybe you’ve heard of kidnap and ransom insurance before (yes, it’s real). Sadly, at least two lottery winners have turned up murdered after winning the lottery.

4. Be Sensible About Your New Life and How You Want to Live

Consider what lifestyle you grew up with or are used to, and be realistic about what sort of lifestyle you would really like to have after becoming wealthy. Do you want to keep working, or do you want to phase that down or quit work entirely? Think about what you want to buy, and be sensible. This will play into a budget that you keep getting preached to about throughout.

Did you know that you can literally blow millions of dollars in hours or days? It is very important to avoid the urge to go immediately buy up all those things you thought you wanted but can easily live without. Buying homes, exotic cars, planes, yachts, luxury goods, jewelry, collectibles and other toys can add up quickly. Many things require ongoing fees, maintenance, tax or insurance, and many require a staff of people to keep them up. Most people don’t go belly up for buying one or two things, but going nuts with endless buying binges could even break billionaires these days. It is important to avoid the temptation to become an instant high-roller or to live too large.

5. Create a Budget That You Can Live With

Now that you’ve received all the upfront advice, it’s time to think about what you would like to do with your money, after you have thought about how you really want to live. Getting with your new financial advisor and coming up with a budget is imperative for your future financial health. If you suddenly come into $1 million, a budget of $10,000 will last you for just over eight years, without considering income or losses. Averaging just 2% per year for the very conservative barely moves the needle on how long the money will last. Worse, what if your investments were too aggressive and they lose 25% in a short time?

Setting a budget and making contingency plans for when things may go wrong may help you maintain acceptable income for many years. You’ll need to think about all the spending habits and aspects of your life (even gifting and traveling budgeting). Then you are going to have to consider things like how inflation and basic price changes will play in over time, knowing that costs tend to rise through time. Now for the hardest part of making a budget: living within the limits.

6. Live Up to and Honor Your Existing Obligations

Contrary to what some people may think, the wealthy actually still do have to pay their bills and live up to their obligations. If you are suddenly flush with cash, it might make sense to go pay off all of your debts. This will be influenced by what your advisors tell you, but it’s important to still live up to or pay off your financial obligations from before you struck it rich. Wrecking or adding damage to your credit might not help you ahead just because you suddenly became rich. With such low interest rates (and even zero-percent financing) it could conceivably be best to keep your debt and pay it off on your current schedule. However you decide to handle things, getting a bad name is not worth it. In the end, just don’t forget about nor try to just walk away from the debt and obligations you had before you became rich.

7. Make Your Money Work for You

This is where your financial advisory, lawyers and tax pros cumulatively are going to help you, and it lays the foundation for all of your contingencies inside of a budget. Some people who quickly become super-rich change very little about their lives. Some even keep working every day. But for those who will quit work entirely, or for the most part, it’s important to consider the phrase “It takes money to make money.” Individuals can only earn so much per hour from work, and there are only so many hours one can work each day. With a budget, knowing what you can reasonable buy, and dealing with advisors, letting your newfound capital earn money is crucial. Otherwise you could foolishly spend it all rather quickly, even if by accident. The rule of thumb in the past was that investors could expect as much as 8% returns from stocks, but it may be much less now.

8. Avoid Highly Complex Strategies — KISS

Now that you’re rich, and even considering that you now know you have to have solid tax advice, legal advice and financial planning, keep it simple — or Keep It Simple Stupid! If you get pitched on international tax shelters or on highly complex strategies that make your taxes low today, you better seriously consider what can happen after that first year. Many of these strategies have been back-end loaded with larger burdens in the future. Many structures can lead to IRS or state tax audits, and some of the schemes can even land you in jail or facing sharp fines and catch-up penalties with interest.

Obviously there are exceptions here, but complex and complicated trusts, offshoring and other complicated structures may end up sounding a lot better than it might turn out to be. You also have to consider that in the future, taxes on the wealthy are likely to rise more than they are likely to fall.

9. Taking the Cash Now or Getting Paid Through Time

It is important to decide whether you want to get all of your new money up front or if you want to create an annuity stream of payments. This generally applies to lotteries, where winners can decide whether they want a lump sum or to get annuity payments each month and spread out over 30 years. Making this decision also can apply to medical and legal judgments or other ways money comes to you rapidly. This is where a structured settlement or annuity comes into play. Before you choose which path you want, you better have had some serious input from your tax, legal and financial advisors.

10. Know Yourself and Your Limitations

With a team of professionals trying to keep your life set for the years or decades ahead, it is very important to be smart about your own limitations and skills. Again, becoming rich comes with responsibility. Making a smart investment or having a liquidity event at work does not always mean you are a master of money and finance. It is important to know how to protect yourself ahead of time if people come asking you for money, because chances are high someone you know will.

It is important to know if you are an impulse buyer rather than a shopper with discipline. Is the difference between a coach airplane ticket and first-class fare always worth it? Are you better off leasing or a buying a car, or renting a home versus buying? Does every new business idea you hear sound like the best investment in the world? These are all subjective things that people have to consider, and being unrealistic about your limitations will put your future at risk.

11. Being Careful About Friends, Family and Acquaintances

Remember how you were told to keep it a secret that you just became rich? Now you might have to remain protected from your friends and family, and old acquaintances may suddenly be calling you. Don’t feel like you have to set up the Bank of Family & Friends, and don’t feel like you need to go buy everything for everyone. It is important to protect your assets, which again goes back to your budgeting. If you didn’t get rich by your own efforts in business, chances are high that you should avoid becoming everyone’s business backer. If you knew nothing about venture capital and private equity last week, getting a big check today is not likely at all to change your knowledge any time soon. It is also important to know that how you give money to people may create tax events for them — or for you!

12. To Donate or Not to Donate

It usually takes money to be charitable. Churches, charities, foundations and other organizations all have one thing in common: they all require money from outsiders to survive. Before you go give vast sums of money away, you better get some advice from your tax and financial advisors. What if your gift is not handled properly, or what if the manner in which you give it creates a tax burden on you or the recipient? Not all “gifts” are free.

There is a movement that has picked up steam in recent years for the wealthy to donate all or most of their wealth. Just keep in mind that most of this giving will occur after these people die. Warren Buffett and other extremely wealthy individuals have done this, but they aren’t about to send themselves to the poor house. Also keep in mind that you or your loved ones may need to use money for an emergency in the years ahead. Imagine if you couldn’t help yourself or them because you gave it all away.

13. Remember That Decency and Laws Still Matter in the World

It probably feels awful to be preached to about laws, morals and decency. No one likes to be told that they have to be a good person, even though most of us know it and live it. You may have heard that laws don’t apply to the wealthy. That may have ended up being true in many instances, but losing your friends, having your family disgusted by you or having the law and police after you is not a good way to have things turn out. Money may help, but any romantic notions you have from the movies of being a social pariah or having the law after you is nothing more than fiction.

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