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what to do after you win the lottery

10 Things To Do When You Win The Lottery

Gallery: 10 Steps To Take When You Win A Lottery Jackpot

Editor’s note: This post was updated on January 12th, 2016, to reflect the current $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot and the 2016 lifetime exemption from estate and gift taxes.

The jackpot for tomorrow’s Powerball drawing has hit $1.5 billion. If you win it, you won’t ever have to worry about money again–right?

With good money management you–and your heirs–could live handsomely for many, many years. But from the moment that you claim that prize, you will be descended upon by vultures who want a hefty helping of those winnings. And if you didn’t have smart money habits up until now, you could easily turn out to be your own worst enemy by quickly squandering the fortune. (See my post, “Thieves And Forgers Rush In Where Big Spenders Dare To Tread.”)

The first precautionary step you should take between now and the drawing is to sign the back of the ticket, says Carolyn Hapeman, a spokeswoman for The New York Lottery. A lottery ticket is a bearer instrument, she explains, meaning that whoever signs the ticket and presents a photo ID can claim the prize. So if you haven’t signed the ticket and it blows out of your hand while you are waiting for a bus, or if you show it to a buddy in a bar and accidentally leave it on the counter, you’ve lost the loot.

Here are some steps to help you steer clear of additional risks. Most of them work well for other windfalls too–for example with sudden wealth that comes from an inheritance or the sale of a business.

1. Remain anonymous if your state rules permit it. Once people know you’re suddenly wealthy, you’ll be badgered by requests for handouts from everyone from charities to long-lost friends and relatives–not to mention all the financial “experts” who will be vying for your business. So check state rules to see whether you can dodge them all by remaining anonymous.

Rules on winner publicity vary by state. In New York, for example, winners’ names are a public record. Elsewhere it may be possible to maintain your anonymity by setting up a trust or limited liability company to receive the winnings, says Beth C. Gamel, a CPA with Pillar Financial Advisors in Waltham, MA. A client of Gamel’s who won a past lottery did that, and had a lawyer claim the prize on behalf of of the trust. In South Carolina, it’s also possible to remain anonymous.

Depending on where you bought the ticket, prize winners have between 180 days and one year from the date of the drawing to claim their prize. So find out what the state rules are and plot a course.

2. See a tax pro before you cash the ticket. You have the choice between taking the prize money all at once or having it paid out in 30 installments over 29 years in the form of an annuity. With a lump sum payment, you must immediately pay tax on the entire amount, says Michael A. Kirsh, a financial planner in New York. With an annuity, you are taxed only as you receive the payments. People who have trouble controlling their spending might prefer the discipline of receiving the money as an annuity. But this payout form has other drawbacks, Kirsh notes. You will want to compare the effective yield of the annuity with what you could earn by taking the money as a lump sum, paying the taxes and investing the proceeds.

Another issue to consider is whether taking an annuity will leave your family without the cash they need to pay estate tax if you die before the 30-year period is up, Kirsh says. In such situations people typically buy life insurance policies to cover the estate tax bill. (Powerball also says in its FAQs that it will cash out an annuity prize for an estate.)

You have 60 days from the time you claim your lottery prize to weigh the pros and cons. During this time, ask advisors to crunch the numbers and help you decide which type of payment suits you best.

3. Avoid sudden lifestyle changes. For the first six months after you win the lottery, don’t do anything drastic, like quitting your job, buying a home in Europe, trading up for a luxury car or building a collection of Birkin handbags. Meanwhile, set aside a fixed amount for splurgesit’s only natural to want to celebrate your windfall.

Save the big purchases for later. For example, you could rent a house in the neighborhood where you were thinking of moving, before you make any commitments, says Guerdon Ely, a financial planner in Chico, Calif. If you need a new car, buy a budget model for now.

4. Pay off all your debts. As I wrote in my post, “The Best Investment Advice I Ever Received,” there is no better investment than paying off debts. Whether it is credit card debt or a mortgage, your rate of return equals the interest rate on the loan. With today’s abysmal yields on relatively secure investments like CDs and Treasurys, that’s especially true. When you’ve paid down a dollar of debt, that’s a dollar you no longer owe. When you invest a dollar, you can’t be sure whether it will grow or shrink.

5. Assemble a team of legal and financial advisers. In situations like this it’s very hard to know “who’s trying to help you and who’s trying to use you,” says Ely. Rather than signing on to a group of advisors that someone else has put together, he recommends handpicking your own lawyer, accountant and investment advisor, and requiring them to work together.

Carefully vet each advisor before discussing your situation. Check broker records at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. For attorneys and insurance agents, see whether there have been any complaints filed with state disciplinary authorities.

If you live in a small community and don’t want lawyers there to know your business, seek out a professional in the nearest large city. Names can be found on martindale.com, the nationwide lawyers’ directory that you can search by location and area of practice, and on the Web site of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, a group of trust and estate lawyers.

In effect, the team you put together will function as your board of directors, Ely says. You can start by having a fee-only advisor put together a long-term financial plan and running it by the group for comment. Once you’ve decided on a plan, they can provide checks and balances on each other. You can ask one of them to serve as quarterback, coordinating the group effort. That person can also play the “bad guy,” declining requests from people or organizations for gifts that you don’t want to make.

6. Invest prudently. Ely recommends putting the money in safe, short-term investments and not even touching it for the first six months. Then ask your advisors is to put together an investment portfolio divided half-and-half between equities (such as stocks) and fixed income (like bonds). Don’t fall for investments that you don’t understand or that sound too good to be true.

7. Live within a budget. Especially if you’re not accustomed to having a lot of money, it may take some discipline to preserve your winnings and not go on a wild spending spree. One way to restrain yourself is to only spend income–not principal. Especially in today’s investment world, “It takes a lot of principal to generate income and once you start spending principal, the principal quickly dissipates,” says Dennis I. Belcher, a lawyer with McGuireWoods in Richmond VA.

8. Take steps to protect assets. People who are worth a lot of money need to guard against losing assets to creditors. They include everyone from disgruntled spouses and ex-spouses to people who win lawsuits against you. If people think you have deep pockets they may look for reasons to sue. “If you win the Powerball, everyone’s going to be laying in front of your car so you can run over them so they can sue you,” says Ely. It’s prudent to ensure you are not an easy target.

The best defense is to erect a variety of roadblocks that make it difficult, if not impossible, for creditors to reach your money and property. These asset protection strategies, as they are called, can range from relying on state-law exemptions to creating multiple barriers through the use of trusts and family limited partnerships or limited liability companies. It may be possible to rely on a variety of strategies, either separately or in combination with each other.

9. Plan charitable gifts. You can offset one of the additional income from your lottery winnings (or the annuity payments if you take it that way) with an annual charitable deduction. For gifts to a public charity, donors are entitled to an income tax deduction for up to 50% of adjusted gross income (AGI) for cash contributions and up to 30% for donations of other appreciated assets held more than 12 months.

If you are take the $1.5 billion prize in a $930 million lump sum, and are unable to decide between now and year-end which charities to support, it may be worth considering a donor-advised fund. With a donor-advised fund, you can make a charitable donation this year and claim a federal tax deduction for your irrevocable contribution but postpone recommendations about which charities should receive grants from the account until some time in the future. If you don’t want to be badgered by requests, see my post, “How To Stay Anonymous When You Give To Charity.”

10. Review your estate plan. If your winnings have made you suddenly wealthy, this may be the first time that you need to plan for estate tax. The 2012 tax law offers more flexibility than ever before. As of 2016, each person has a $5.45 million limit on tax-free transfers, which can be applied during life, when you die or some combination of the two. So if you want to share some of your largess with family and friends, this is the ideal time to do that. For details, see my posts, “6 Ways To Give Family And Friends Financial Aid” and “Give Your Estate Plan a Checkup.”

I’m a financial journalist and author with experience as a lawyer, speaker and entrepreneur. As a senior editor at Forbes, I have covered the broad range of topics that…

I’m a financial journalist and author with experience as a lawyer, speaker and entrepreneur. As a senior editor at Forbes, I have covered the broad range of topics that affect boomers as they approach retirement age. That means everything from financial strategies and investment scams to working and living better as we get older. My most recent book is Estate Planning Smarts — a guide for baby boomers and their parents. If you have story ideas or tips, please e-mail me at: deborah [at] estateplanningsmarts [dot] com. You can also follow me on Twitter

If you didn’t have smart money habits up until now, you could quickly squander the fortune.

8 Smart Things to Do Before Claiming a Powerball Jackpot

Before You Cash In Your Winning Powerball Ticket, Do These Important Things

Many people dream about winning a big Powerball jackpot, but do you know what to do if your winning number actually comes up? If your first instinct is to rush out and cash your ticket immediately, think again. Once you claim your jackpot, lots of things start changing very quickly, and you want to be prepared. Here are 8 sensible things to do before you claim a Powerball prize.

1. Protect Your Winning Lottery Ticket

If you’ve just found out that you have won a Powerball jackpot, the very first thing that you should do is to sign the back of the ticket.

Why? Because no one keeps track of who owns Powerball tickets. All you have to do to claim a Powerball prize is to show identification that matches the signature on the back. If your jackpot-winning ticket gets lost or stolen, anyone could claim your cash if you haven’t signed your ticket.

One thing to be aware of before you sign: some states allow winners to let a trustee or foundation sign their ticket to help protect their anonymity. In 2018, a New Hampshire jackpot winner sued for the right to remove her name and add a trustee instead. She won her case, but you’d save yourself time and effort if you research whether you want to do this before you win your jackpot.

It’s a good idea to take pictures of the front and the back of the lottery ticket, to give you some legal standing as the owner if you lose your ticket.

Once you’ve taken care of that, find a safe place to store your ticket while you get everything else straightened out. Since you won’t cash it in immediately, you’re going to want the peace of mind of knowing exactly where it is and that no one can get to it. A home safe, a lockbox, or a safety deposit box at a bank are all good options.

2. Check How Much Time You Have to Claim Your Powerball Prize

Your life is going to change as soon as you cash in your ticket, so you want to make sure that you have everything in order before that happens. To plan your time, it’s important to know how long you have before you claim your prize.

Every jurisdiction that sells Powerball tickets has its own rules about when you have to claim your prize. Even the prize value affects how much time you have; jackpot winners sometimes have longer than winners of other prizes.

To find out how much time you have, look at your ticket. There should be a date there. If not, contact your local lottery and ask about their prize claim policy. Then put that time to good use; wait until nearly the end of your term before you cash in your winning ticket.

3. Find Out Whether You Can Remain Anonymous

Many winners want to stay anonymous after winning the lottery. There are many advantages to anonymity. For example, you won’t be pestered by people and organizations looking for money, or by journalists wanting an interview, and you’ll have more control over how and when your life changes.

Unfortunately, anonymity isn’t always possible. Most jurisdictions want to announce their jackpot winners to show that the prizes are being awarded legitimately.

Before you tell anyone about your lottery win, find out what your options for anonymity are.

In some jurisdictions, you must reveal your name, place of residence, and photo when you win a Powerball jackpot and the lottery commission must relay that information to any third party who requests it.

In other areas, you can claim the prize under a trust, which can shield your true name. Sometimes, winners are allowed to use their first initial instead of their full first name, which can grant some protection.

If you live close enough to a state that protects its Powerball winners’ anonymity — such as Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, and South Carolina — consider traveling to those states to buy your tickets. Privacy laws depend on where you bought your ticket, not where you live.

4. Make Yourself Harder to Contact

Many lottery curse victims said that being constantly barraged by people who wanted to ask for interviews, appearances on reality TV shows, handouts, and more turned a dream win into a nightmare. Before you have to face that kind of pressure, make yourself harder for the paparazzi to get in touch with.

Change your telephone number, and only give the new number to people you trust. Set up a P.O. box for your mailing address. Delete your social media accounts or start new, anonymous ones and follow only your closest real-life friends. Consider hiring a virtual assistant to handle calls and schedule any appearances you want to make.

Although taking these steps might seem excessive, you’ll be grateful for the ability to control who can get in touch with you once you’re in high demand.

5. Hire a Team of Experienced Professionals to Help You Manage Your Winnings

Before you claim your Powerball prize, you want to have a team in place who can protect you from legal problems and help you manage your money. At the very least, you are going to need a lawyer, an accountant, and a financial advisor. You’re going to need help setting up trusts, protecting yourself from frivolous lawsuits, and more.

It’s a good idea to look for professionals who have experience managing windfalls. Forbes has a list of questions to ask to ensure you find the right professional for you.

Aside from professionals to deal with your money, also consider hiring a therapist. You might be surprised by the emotions that surround winning a big lottery prize and the strain it can put on your personal relationships.

You might feel stressed, overwhelmed, or even guilty for winning when someone else might have deserved it more. You might feel betrayed by so-called friends who let your money change their feelings toward you. A therapist can help you deal with these emotions in a healthy way, before they start getting you down.

6. Think About Your Options When Claiming Your Powerball Jackpot

When you win a Powerball jackpot, you need to decide whether to receive a lump-sum or annuity payout. There is no one right answer; the correct decision depends on your personality and financial situation.

Consult with your financial advisors to help you determine the right course of action.

7. Write Down Your Goals and Dreams

Dreaming about what you would do with a huge Powerball payout is an exciting part of playing the lottery. and you don’t have to wait for a win to do it. If you actually win that jackpot, you’ll have the chance to make those dreams come true. But even a seemingly endless amount of money can disappear if you don’t have a plan for it.

To avoid this, take the time to set some concrete goals to achieve with your windfall. On that list should be paying off any debt. After that, consider what’s important to you — maybe helping your friends and family, contributing to specific charities, buying big-ticket items for yourself like a new house, a new car, and a dream vacation, or perhaps even setting up a legacy like a trust to help your community or a wing in a local hospital.

If you need some inspiration, check out these Lottery Success Stories to see what other big lottery winners have accomplished with their millions.

Once you have your goals written down, you can take them to your financial advisors to help you find the best way to achieve them.

8. Think About What You Want to Stay the Same

A lot of things in your life are going to change once you have won a big jackpot, but there are probably some things that you want to stay the same. Thinking about those things ahead of time can help you protect them when things start getting crazy.

For example, while some people can’t wait to quit their jobs, others want to hold on to them. Your relationships might be very important to maintain. You might want to ensure that your children stay grounded or that you remain in a community that you care about. Thinking about these things before you claim your Powerball prize gives you firm goals to work toward.

Things NOT to Do Before Claiming Your Powerball Prize

There are a lot of wise things to do before you claim your Powerball prize, but there are a few things you definitely should not do as well. For example, you shouldn’t make any big changes right away including quitting your job, selling your house, or starting or ending a relationship. The time right after you win the lottery is very emotional, and you might not be making sound decisions.

There are other good reasons for ​keeping your job after winning the lottery. You might find out you’re not quite as rich (or at least, as cashflow positive) as you expect right away. And keeping your job might keep you grounded.

You also don’t want to start throwing your money around. It takes time for the money to show up in your bank account, and you want to have a solid plan and a strict budget before you start spending.

Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time for the good life, but you need to ensure that you stay responsible and don’t make choices you will regret later.

Won a big Powerball jackpot? Do these eight wise things before you claim your prize to ensure that you protect your winnings. ]]>