While losing a loved one is one of the most difficult things anyone can experience, there's often some level of comfort in knowing a loved one cared so deeply about your future that they left a financial legacy, whether it's in the form of a trust or life insurance benefits. A lump-sum life insurance payout can be used in several ways — still, there's often a question of how best to manage this money to achieve financial goals.
If you don't know where to start, these four tips can help you navigate how to make good use of this incredible financial gift a loved one has left you.
1. Put It in a Savings Account
Regardless of the size of the life insurance payout, one of the best things you can initially do with this money is to take your time considering how you'll spend it.
For safekeeping, you can put the money in a regular savings account or a high-yield savings account, where it can earn interest. Like most people, you may have several financial obligations, such as paying for college, paying down your mortgage or paying off debts. Understanding which of these financial obligations to prioritize will take time, and making these decisions immediately after losing a loved one typically isn't the best time.
2. Talk to a Financial Planner
Working with a financial planner or financial advisor can help you decide how best to allocate a lump-sum life insurance payout.
Their advice may clarify issues including how to establish a trust for your kids, how to invest the money based on your risk tolerance, and how to balance your savings goals with planned spending for big-ticket items, such as a new car or family vacation.
It's important to keep in mind that not all financial advisors are created equal. Depending on your needs, you may want to hire a fee-only planner who acts as fiduciary, doesn't earn a commission off the products they suggest and whom you pay a flat fee for a set of services. Alternatively, you could hire a financial advisor who earns commissions on the financial products they recommend you or who is paid a percentage based on the dollar value of the assets they manage for you (typically a 1% fee).
3. Pay Off Debt
You could use a lump-sum life insurance payout to pay down debt. If you have high-interest rate credit card debt, medical debt or personal loans, this may be a good place to start. You also could use this money to get rid of a car loan, student loan debt or even to pay down your mortgage.
How you decide to tackle debt will depend on your financial priorities. A good rule of thumb is to address high-interest rate debt first — high interest will keep increasing your original balance and make it more difficult to pay off.
4. Save for Your Financial Goals
A life insurance payout may give you the chance to achieve both short- and long-term financial goals.
You could use this money to increase your retirement savings, especially if you need to catch up as you near retirement. This money could potentially grow at a higher rate than it would in a traditional savings account. You also may be eligible for tax deductions on retirement contributions, which could lower your taxable income and potentially give you more money to invest, save or spend elsewhere.
If you're on a positive path toward retirement, you may want to use a lump-sum life insurance payout to save for your kids' college or your own future educational goals. You could also put the money toward a down payment for a home or an emergency fund that save the three to six months' worth of expenses experts typically recommend.
Whatever you choose, take time to carefully think through this big financial decision and consider seeking advice from a financial professional. Your loved one likely spent a lifetime building a financial legacy they could pass on. Being deliberate about how you spend this money is one of the best ways to honor that they included you in their planning.