Most people believe that striking it rich will instantly solve all their financial problems forever. Yet as rich people know all too well, it can be just as hard to hang onto your wealth as it was to earn it in the first place.
There are countless stories of lottery winners, high-paid professional athletes, and celebrities showing that the trip from rags to riches often proves to be a round-trip back to rags.
If you have aspirations to get rich in the future or are fortunate enough to already be well off, there are steps you can take to avoid becoming another rags-to-riches-to-rags story. It mostly boils down to protecting your money from five common fortune killers.
Challenge 1: Fight Off the IRS.
The threat: High-income individuals pay the highest rates on their income taxes. Moreover, after you die, the IRS will be waiting to collect their share from your heirs, with estate tax rates currently as high as 40 percent for those with assets worth more than $5.25 million.
The solution: Take advantage of tax-favored retirement accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s to shelter income from tax. In addition, consult an estate-planning attorney who can help you structure your legal affairs to minimize the amount of estate tax you'll owe. A good pro can steer you toward a combination of current gifts and complex financial strategies that will get as much of your money as possible to your loved ones.
Challenge 2: Steer Clear of Legal Liabilities and Fortune Hunters.
The threat: The richer you are, the more you have to lose from a potential lawsuit. Simple incidents like car accidents or household slips and falls can turn into a search for a target with deep pockets.
The solution: Be sure that you have adequate insurance coverage to handle the full extent of any damage award. At a minimum, be sure your auto policy gives you more than the legal minimum coverage for your state, and look at your homeowners' policy limits to make sure they're adequate. In addition, consider an umbrella liability policy to cover additional extraordinary claims.
Challenge 3: Don't Be Tempted by Exotic Investments.
The threat: Rich people often get access to high-risk investments that offer the promise of even greater wealth. All too often, though, these investment opportunities turn out to be overhyped or even fraudulent, resulting in big losses.
The solution: Trying to get richer is a hard habit to break, even for the wealthy. But if you have enough money to meet all your needs, it doesn't pay to take big risks with your portfolio. Rein in your risk-taking and give yourself a core of safe investments that will provide for your financial needs. If you have money left over and can afford to lose it, then dabbling in high-risk opportunities can let you stay excited about your investments without putting your lifestyle in jeopardy.
Challenge 4: Pay Off Those IOUs.
The threat: The way many people get wealthy is by borrowing money cheaply and making a bigger profit on it. Yet rather than paying down their debt once they strike it rich, successful people often keep using the same strategies to find even more wealth, taking out loans on their newly acquired assets and putting their entire fortunes at risk.
The solution: Reorganizing your finances once you're well off is essential to avoid losing everything you've gained. By paying down debt and establishing a baseline of wealth below which even the worst-case scenarios won't take you, you'll avoid the trap of using too much leverage and suffering big losses as a result.
Challenge 5: Plan to Live Forever -- or at Least to Stick Around for a Long While.
The threat: With life expectancies longer than ever and medical costs skyrocketing, even the well-off can outlive their money and end up spending all their assets on nursing homes and hospital care in their old age. Even the more basic living expenses often rise after you retire, and if you overspend early in retirement, you can end up in a downward spiral and run out of money.
The solution: A combination of strategies can help you preserve at least a baseline of income no matter what the future brings. Long-term care insurance specifically addresses nursing-home and home-health care costs, while buying an immediate annuity converts a lump sum of wealth into regular monthly income that's guaranteed to last the rest of your life.
Don't Blow It
As hard as it is to get rich, staying rich is no easier. But by taking these simple steps, you'll put yourself in the best position to hang onto your wealth as long as you can.