What would you do if you won the lottery? That is the big question we ask ourselves as the anticipation builds for the $1.5 billion Powerball drawing. After all, there’s nothing wrong with imagining what we would do if we held a winning lottery ticket or hit the jackpot in a casino.
But for the winners, there are some real concerns. Most importantly is how to protect your asset – the winning ticket. The jackpot will be paid to the person who carries the ticket into the State Lottery Commission office. If you are the lucky owner of the winning ticket, keep it in a safe place. Take time-stamped pictures of the ticket to document your ownership. It is often recommended that you sign the back of the ticket to prevent anyone else from redeeming it. Unfortunately, signing the ticket may limit your other planning options, but it may be the best protection from theft.
Before redeeming the ticket, you also need to decide whether to choose a lump sum or annuity payout. That decision isn’t as simple as it sounds. A $1.5 billion lottery jackpot is really the sum of $50 million annual payments over the next 29 years. The lump sum payout is $930 million – 62% of the advertised jackpot. Neither option is bad, but you must consult with tax and investment professionals to analyze the options. In simple terms, the annuity payout only yields around 2.2% annually, but the annuity allows you to pay the income tax liability over 29 years, instead of paying it all up front.
Many of the other concerns are not unique to lottery winners. The issues are no different from those faced by individuals who receive large sums of money from an inheritance, the sale of a business, or the settlement of a lawsuit.
One of the common concerns is privacy. Many people fear being inundated by people offering to help or asking you to share your wealth with them. Gifts to charity, family, and friends are important parts of the process, but the gifts must be pursuant to a plan that addresses both your needs and the needs of the gift recipients.
Some lotteries allow you to remain anonymous, while others require that you release your name. Some lottery commissions allow you to set up a Trust or Limited Liability Company to own and redeem the ticket in a fictitious name, while others refuse this ability. It is possible that specific threats to a lottery winner’s safety can be the basis for claiming anonymity. Except in the few states that allow you to remain anonymous, signing the back of the ticket will likely force you to redeem the ticket personally.
Regardless of the source of the wealth, maintaining your anonymity largely depends on your behavior. To remain under the radar, you must avoid conspicuous spending and other lifestyle changes that will broadcast your new financial situation to the world. Even if the Lottery Commission doesn’t know your name, you will not remain anonymous if you suddenly and uncharacteristically quit your job, buy a big house, and start driving a Ferrari. How you live your life after you have the money will affect how well you are able to maintain your privacy.
Whenever you experience large changes in your financial situation, it is important to assemble a team of professionals to help you with the legal, tax, and investment decisions that you must make. Very few people ever win a massive lottery jackpot; many more people will receive large sums of money from inheritances and other sources. As silly as it sounds, it is never too early to start asking yourself who you would want on your team.