There’s a moment in the Werner Herzog film My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? in which the hero states his intention to buy his girlfriend a house. “But you don’t have any money,” she points out. “I plan to come into some,” he says.

It may sound ridiculous, but as a matter of fact, people come into money unexpectedly all the time. The bad news is that most of those who do let the opportunity this represents slip through their fingers. If you’re going to avoid doing so, you need to have plans in place before the money arrives. That will help ensure that you get what matters to you and, if possible, enjoy the advantages that money can provide for the rest of your life.

Unexpected windfalls

There are all sorts of ways that California residents might suddenly acquire money – winning the California lotto, receiving an inheritance, receiving a compensation settlement, discovering a rare antique in the attic, getting an unexpected break as a creative artist or finding success in business. As soon as this happens, you will find people eager to take it off your hands, whether by asking nicely or by trying to trick you, so it’s important to understand clearly what your options are.

Savings and investments

One of the best things you can do with money is to invest in yourself to make more money. That way, instead of just enjoying a few years of fun, you can benefit from it throughout your life and even have something to pass on to your children. In the first instance, look around for a savings account with a reputable bank that offers a high rate of interest. If investing is of interest to you, remember that it’s important to create a balanced portfolio in order to keep risk low yet still enjoy good returns. If you have received over $150,000, it’s usually worth finding a professional investment manager to help you with this.


Buying a house that will also be your home is a great investment and is the first thing many newly rich people think of – but don’t rush into a foolish decision. You’ll still be at risk of losing out if you prioritize a place that looks great over a place that’s built to last, in a good or upcoming neighborhood with low risk attached. Don’t buy the first place you fall in love with just because you can – take the time to find the best available deal, and make sure that, as the years go by, you will be able to afford the upkeep.


Life shouldn’t be all about being sensible. If you suddenly have money, you’ll naturally want to have some fun. The important thing is not to get addicted to the high life because that way your money can slip through your fingers very fast and leave you in a bad place financially. Place a limited amount of money in a separate bank account and let that be your fund for having a good time. Don’t fritter it away but use it to pay for things you’ve always wanted, whether that’s a new designer wardrobe, a round the world vacation or the car of your dreams.


Many people who enjoy sudden wealth feel a strong desire to share it. If in that lucky position you may well find a lot of charities asking you for money. Take a step back and take the time to think through the possibilities carefully. Which issues are most important to you? Where could the money do the most good? Do your research and look for charities with a reputation for using the money they receive efficiently. One solution is to set up a trust fund through which you can donate more modest amounts on an ongoing basis – often it’s more useful to charities to have some predictable income than one-off donations.

Be smart about tax

Depending on how you have acquired your money, you may need to pay a considerable proportion of it to the IRS. There are ways around this – for instance, charity donations can often be written off against your tax, giving you more say in how your money is spent. If you intend to save money, look around for investment options that keep your tax low.

Properly handled, your financial windfall will be worth a lot more to you than if you don’t know what you’re doing. So even if you don’t have any specific plan for coming into money, give it some thought, after all it doesn’t hurt to dream.