What to do if you win the lottery jackpot
It’s definitely not likely you’ll hit big in the lottery. But if you win, you could be happy for years to come — no matter what the naysayers tell you.
Here are some things to remember before you buy a ticket:
Your chances of winning big are itty bitty
You’re more likely to get elected to Congress than to strike it rich in the lottery. According to Powerball, the odds of winning any prize are about one in 25, but the chances of winning the big money jackpot are less than one in 292 million.
With Mega Millions, the odds are even worse: less than one in 302 million for the jackpot. Still, the allure of a multimillion-dollar jackpot tempts. Who hasn’t fantasized about how they’d spend the money?
Lottery scams abound
Sadly, you’re way more likely to lose to a lottery scammer than you are to win a jackpot. According to FBI statistics, more than 8,500 victims lost a total of more than $61 million to scams involving lotteries, sweepstakes and inheritances in 2020.
In these scams, victims are typically contacted about winning lotteries or sweepstakes they never entered. Scammers say that to collect your prize or increase your chances of winning, you must pay fees, taxes or even customs charges or provide personal financial information.
“If you pay,” the Federal Trade Commission warns, “you’ll lose your money and find out there is no prize.”
Everyone finds out who won the lottery (usually)
Information about big lottery winners is frequently made public in many states, so your chances of joining the anonymous rich are even lower than winning.
Adding fame to fortune might not sound so bad, but public awareness of your luck could make you a target of scammers or people looking for handouts. You might be amazed by how many “cousins” you suddenly have.
Some good news for jackpot winners is that new laws are being passed in some states to provide some privacy. According to Powerball, Maryland, Virginia and 14 other states offer winners a measure of anonymity.
Some of these states limit the protections to people who have won more than a certain amount. (For example, winners in Arizona must have won at least $100,000 to have their identities protected, while winners in West Virginia must have won at least $1 million.)
Winning the lottery isn’t always a nightmare
You’ve probably heard plenty of stories about people who won big in the lottery and died penniless. And to be sure, this has happened. Some people’s unbelievable good luck was canceled out by subsequent, really bad luck.
Plus, as we mentioned, scammers are ubiquitous and taxes have to be paid.
But a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that overall, people who win big money are likely to hold onto their wealth for years, and to be both happier and more financially secure over the long run.
Lottery winners need financial professionals
If you do beat the crazy odds and hit it big, take your time cashing in your ticket until you’re ready. Lotteries give you a few months, and it’s not a bad idea to use at least some of that time to prepare.
Take a picture of your ticket stub, put it somewhere safe and start assembling your financial dream team. No, your cousin’s brother’s tax guy won’t suffice.
If you’ve won serious money, start out right by lining up an array of experts in handling large sums of money. Consider hiring an investment adviser, estate-planning lawyer, certified public accountant and a certified financial planner or private banker. You might even consult an insurance expert.
Lump sum or annuity?
Large jackpot prizes usually offer a choice between collecting your winnings as a lump sum (minus taxes) or receiving disbursements over 20 years or more (30 years for Mega Millions.)
There are pluses and minuses to each. A lump sum, if properly invested, will grow in value. If you’re a smart money person, the jackpot could grow a lot.
An annuity, on the other hand, can protect you against any problems you might have with self-control. Even if you blow through all the money you receive one year, you’ll get another payment the following year.
Unless you sell your future payments at a discount or get a loan against them (don’t do that), the funds will keep rolling in as long as the annuity continues.
Give, but be a smart giver
It’s tempting to hand out wads of cash, but that kind of charity can wreak havoc on relationships and your bank account. At the same time, hoarding your big win like Scrooge McDuck might also not be good in the long run.
Setting up a trust or family foundation can simplify the giving process. Your advisers can help you set up donations of tax-smart assets.
© 2022 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.