Every year, tens of millions of Americans will play the lottery with dreams of winning the jackpot. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them will walk away with nothing.
Only a tiny percentage of lotto players will win a prize. In national and state lotteries, having a winning lottery ticket with any winning numbers is highly unlikely. Maybe a few hundred people will win a significant prize. You can usually count the people that pick up jackpot-winning tickets from lottery retailers on two hands or less.
It’s not breaking news that the odds of winning the lottery are virtually nonexistent. You should view playing the lottery as a fun game to pass the time and not a long-term investment strategy. However, everyone has the same odds of winning, and there’s no reason why you can’t hit the jackpot.
If you are lucky enough to hit the jackpot, whether the Powerball jackpot or Mega Millions jackpot, life will come at you very fast. The next few months will be crucial to determining if your lottery winnings are a blessing or a curse. It sounds bizarre, but winning the lottery was the worst thing to ever happen to several people.
To avoid such a fate, you’ll need to take care of several things as soon as possible. Try your best to stay calm, keep your wit, and complete the following ten tasks before claiming your prize:
1. Sign the Back of the Ticket
Losing a lottery ticket that would have won you the jackpot would be devastating. You might have some options depending on where you live, but it’s unlikely that you’ll succeed. That’s why the first thing you should do after you win is to sign the back of your ticket.
Lottery tickets are considered “bearer instruments” by the legal system. The person possessing the ticket is viewed as the owner unless that’s a signature. If you were to lose your unsigned ticket, it would most likely end in a court ruling of “finder’s keepers.”
You don’t just lose your ticket — you lose your prize claim too.
The best way to avoid such a ruling is to sign the ticket. You should print out your name before writing your signature below it. You’ll want to leave a little room at the top if you decide to form a trust (more on that later).
Additionally, taking several pictures of the ticket and you holding it would be a good idea. You can take a few videos if you prefer, but you shouldn't post them anywhere. These photos and videos are merely records to help validate your lottery claim if the ticket is lost.
After signing the ticket and taking pictures, you’ll need to store it somewhere safe. It’s best to rent a safety deposit box at your local bank, as they’ll provide the best security. You could use a personal safe if you have one or just hide it somewhere that no one would ever look.
2. Check Your Timetable
As long as you play it cool, you’ll be the only one that knows about your win. You’ll be holding all the cards.
There’s no need to rush to claim your prize and potentially make critical mistakes. You’ll have plenty of time to fill out your claim form and go through the claim process at a lottery office after you finish this list. However, you won’t have infinite time, as lottery tickets expire.
Each state sets different laws for claiming a lottery prize. California lottery winners will have different timelines than lucky scratchers in South Carolina.
Most time frames are 180 days to 12 months from the draw date. The exceptions are New Mexico, where you only have 90 days, and Maryland, where you’ll have 182 days to claim your prize.
It’s also important to note that states also place time limits on taking a lump sum payout. A few states will only allow you to take a lump sum payment if you claim the prize within 60 days. Take a little time to research the laws in your state to figure out your timetable.
You don’t have to use the entire claim period. You just need to wait long enough until you’ve got all your ducks in a row. Life will move at warp speed as soon as you claim your winnings. The period before you claim your prize is the last time your life will be “normal.” Use it wisely.
3. Hire a Legal Expert
The first people that should find out about your good fortune are your immediate family. The next person should be a legal expert.
There are a ton of legal ramifications that come with winning the lottery. Unless you’ve extensively studied financial law, you will need a legal expert’s help.
There is such a thing as a “lottery lawyer,” and it might be worth scheduling an appointment. You’ll need your lawyer to help you protect your assets and identity as much as possible. It’s best to look for people with specific experience assisting lottery winners.
Look for lawyers that can offer different ways for you to claim more of the jackpot while still staying anonymous. These are the two most essential factors in the early stages of winning the lottery.
If the lawyer can’t offer advice on these two matters, you should consider hiring a different one.
Hiring someone who can protect you from frivolous lawsuits is also a good idea. You should never underestimate the depths that a greedy, jealous, and desperate person will take. A lawyer can help protect you from these nefarious individuals.
The best lawyers are naturally going to charge the most amount of money. However, their services can be invaluable for increasing your prize money, keeping your identity safe, and helping you win any lawsuits. They’ll most likely pay for themselves with all the possible money they’ll save you.
4. Commission an Accountant
Once you’ve put your lawyer to work, you’ll need to find an accountant as soon as possible. Winning the lottery will mean you’ll be paying an almost unbelievable amount in taxes.
You can expect the government to automatically withhold around 25% of your winnings. This money goes toward estimated taxes for the year. It’s practically a guarantee that you’ll pay even more when you file your annual tax return.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, you might also be paying a large percentage in state income taxes. Each state has the right to decide if its residents should pay an income tax. A few states have no income tax, but some can reach as high as 13.3%.
A good accountant can help guide you through the complex process of paying these taxes. Spending a few million dollars in taxes isn’t as easy as paying a few hundred dollars. The last thing you want to do after winning the lottery is to get into hot water with the IRS.
5. Consult With a Financial Planner
Financial planners aren’t quite as crucial in the first year as lawyers or accountants. However, they’re monumentally important for the future. It’s never too soon to start planning for the future. You should take action sooner rather than later.
The first thing that you should do is write out a list of your dreams and goals.
Think about what you want to do with your money for the rest of your life. Think about the quality of life that you would like to have. Think about your loved ones and how much money you want to share with them.
With the list in hand, you should consult with a financial planner. They can help you create investment strategies with significant returns to keep your family rich for generations. You might have just won more money than you could ever spend. However, why let it sit in your bank account and stagnate when you could quickly grow it into much more?
6. Check the Rules for Anonymity
If paying a ton of taxes is the worst part about winning the lottery, then losing your privacy has to be a close second. Each state has its own rules for lottery winner anonymity.
Some states take multiple steps to protect the privacy of lottery winners. Others publicly announce winners in the name of full transparency. Depending on your state, it might be challenging to stay anonymous.
One possible option is to form a trust, but more on that in a minute. Another option is to sue the state so that you can stay anonymous. A Powerball winner in New Hampshire recently won her case to remain anonymous while claiming her prize. The lawyer you hired earlier should help you determine the best way to protect your identity.
7. Form a Trust
Forming a trust and using it to claim your lottery winnings is one way to stay anonymous. Only the name of the trust and trustees will become public knowledge. You’ll have a much better chance of remaining anonymous this way.
Unfortunately, this is only an option for a few states, as many have laws that disallow trusts from claiming prizes.
If you won the jackpot as part of a lottery pool, then forming a trust is the best way to move forward. An irrevocable trust will ensure equal dispersion of the funds without the possibility of people trying to cheat their fellow winners.
You should still form a trust even if you didn’t use it to claim your winnings or win the prize by yourself anonymously, especially if you select annuity payments instead of a lump sum.
Annuity payments for lottery winners usually extend over 30 years. Forming a trust will allow the payments to continue even in the event of your death. The heirs to your fortune won’t have to take the matter to court, as the trust will immediately pass to them.
8. Delete Social Media
The entire point of social media is that it helps people to connect easily with others. That’s fine for anyone looking to reconnect with an old pal from high school. It’s not ideal for anyone looking to stay anonymous after winning the lottery.
It’s just a matter of time before the people in your life figure out that you’ve won the lottery.
The general public could find out, too, if you live in states requiring public winner announcements. When this happens, you can expect a ton of friend/follow requests and an avalanche of direct messages.
Deleting your social media is the easiest way to avoid the barrage of people looking for some cash. The “long lost relatives” you’ve never met before will simply have to wait until the next family reunion to see you.
You don’t have to delete it forever; a temporary suspension might be enough. At the very least, you should switch your account to private.
9. Change Your Phone Number
The same reality of social media is possible with your phone number. It’s a little more difficult for people to find your phone number than your social media account. However, it’s much more of a hassle whenever they learn it.
You don’t want a phone that doesn’t stop vibrating with calls and text notifications. That’s not even mentioning the likely flood of scams heading your way. Con artists are more crafty than you think and will stop at nothing to get their hands on your lottery winnings.
To avoid all this, you should change your number and only give out the new one to people who need it. Significant others, family members, friends, and your lottery team are the only ones that need your number. Text them your new number and tell them to keep it quiet.
10. Crash With a Family Member or Friend
Finding your address is a little more complex than social media or phone numbers. The problem is that it can be the most dangerous information in the wrong hands. A recent lottery winner in Georgia was killed in his home by armed robbers who specifically targeted him for his winnings.
The thought is unsettling, and the incident in Georgia is rare. However, it’s not worth taking the risk and winding up being another cautionary tale.
You should ask a trustworthy person to let you stay with them for a while. They’ll surely be willing to grant your request when you tell them the reason.
On the other hand, you could take a short vacation by renting out a hotel for a while. After all, you’ll be able to afford a hefty bill at a fancy hotel. You could treat the room as your lottery headquarters and use it to celebrate your newfound wealth.
Take a Breath Before You Dive Into the Deep End
Winning the lottery will change your life in ways you’ve never imagined. The majority of these changes will be positive, as your dreams will finally be able to come true.
Unfortunately, there is the potential for a lot of negative changes too. You’ll need to be careful to ensure your dreams don’t become nightmares.
Following the steps listed above can help you avoid such a fate. The lottery team you hire will play a significant role in the early days after winning.
You need to be careful and very selective about who you choose. You’ll also need to take a few steps to protect your privacy as much as possible.
The good news is that everything will eventually settle down. It might take a year or two at the most, but you’ll soon be able to relax and enjoy your life as a part of the super-wealthy. Making smarter decisions in the early days can result in a much better experience later.
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