Dear Carrie: On my 25th birthday, I gained control of a trust of $100,000 left to me by a family member. This is a lot of money for me, and I'm terrified of touching it. I've let the trust sit undisturbed for nearly a year, and I know I'm not taking full advantage of this opportunity. What do you suggest I do? -- A Reader
Dear Reader: I understand that getting a financial windfall can sometimes be as overwhelming as it is exciting. After all, you not only have new opportunities, but you also have new responsibilities. So, you're smart to take it seriously. If managed wisely, having a nest egg at your age can open many doors and help you achieve your dreams. But before you can decide the best course of action, you have to ask yourself: What are those dreams?
For example, have you thought about going back to school? Do you want to buy a house? Is the trust enough to give you a head start on your retirement savings? Deciding what you want from this money and setting some goals is an important first step.
HOW TO SET SOME CONCRETE GOALS
To me, the best way to make goals meaningful is to write them down. Do some serious thinking about both your present and your future and make a list of all your goals. Create a timeline with short-term goals, such as a trip or a new car, at the top and then work down to your longer-term goals, such as retirement. Put a dollar amount next to each goal. Now decide which goals you think your trust can help you achieve -- and which ones you can achieve on your own through your own planning and saving.
Once you have a clearer understanding of what you want to accomplish with this money, it's time to sit down with a financial adviser.
WHAT TO DISCUSS WITH AN ADVISER
Chances are you can talk to someone at the bank or brokerage where your trust is currently held. If that isn't possible, get a recommendation from a trusted friend or family member. At this stage, you're not necessarily looking to have a long-term relationship with an adviser, but rather a one-time consultation with a financial professional who can help you look at the big picture and decide how best to get your money working.
You'll want to discuss things like how the trust is currently invested and the average return it has been making. Make sure you discuss asset allocation (the way your money is divided between different types of investments) and the best way to diversify your holdings. Also, talk about your goals and how you feel about taking risks with your money.