What to do (and not do) if you win the lottery

Cresset Capital Insights

We’ve all fantasized about what we’d do….

We would quit our jobs. Buy a fleet of Ferraris. Have homes in Paris, New York and Hong Kong. Take our friends and family on a cruise around the world.

But for those lucky enough to actually win the lottery, those types of impulse purchases and spending are actually the LAST thing you should do, according to Vimala Snow, Managing Director and Wealth Strategist for Cresset Family Office.

With the Mega Millions jackpot nearing a record $1.6 billion, Snow offers the following advice for what to do – and not do – when faced with a sudden and unexpected wealth (with a reminder that the odds of winning the lottery are roughly one in 300 million!)

Do

  • Take a breath!  You have time to submit the winning ticket, often months, so it is best to carefully consider your options before rushing to claim the prize.
  • Gather a team of trusted professionals. Those professionals should be qualified financial, legal and tax advisors who can help you navigate complex issues like gift, estate and income taxes as well as the structures that will provide you the appropriate level of protection for your new circumstances.
  • Secure the ticket. Lottery tickets are “bearer instruments”, meaning whoever holds the ticket can claim the prize. Securing your ticket can involve scanning copies of the front and back or taking a picture with the ticket and then putting it in a home safe or safe deposit box. Signing the ticket may actually limit your planning options, so to maintain maximum flexibility, leave it blank.
  • Take steps to protect your privacy. If your anonymity is important, explore forming a trust to claim the proceeds and insulate you from the spotlight. Consider shutting down your social media accounts or changing your privacy settings so that people can’t easily find you online. Think about what you want to share regarding your win, who you want to share it with, and when you want to share it. Decide whether you want to have someone speak on your behalf before being inundated with media requests.
  • Talk to a financial advisor to evaluate whether to take the up-front lump sum payment or the annuity payment. Compare after-tax returns, investment returns, your life expectancy, etc. Careful planning and consideration can result in a higher overall value of your win.
  • Enjoy a portion of your winnings. Sure, treat yourself to a few nice things you’ve always wanted. Maybe a new car or an exotic vacation. But also consider longer-term opportunities your windfall can provide to you and your family, such as paying for college for your children and grandchildren, paying off mortgages, etc. Also think about the impact your new found riches could have on the causes you care about. That can bring great meaning to your new life.

Don’t 

  • Don’t make any large decisions immediately. You might be tempted to quit your job, but you should have something to “retire to” – maybe a part time job, going back to school, volunteer work or a hobby you are passionate about. You need to consider how your employment contributes to your sense of self and your mental well-being.
  • Don’t become an ATM for your family and friends. This is not to say that you should keep all of the money for yourself, but take time to consider how and when you want to give so that you do not become resentful or end up being used for your wealth.
  • Don’t change who you are. Use your good fortunate to improve who you are, not become a different person. Try to keep a healthy mind and body going forward. Don’t lose sight of who you are, your values and what makes life important. Hint, it’s not money!

Whether it’s winning the lottery or coming into a large and sudden inheritance, these tips for how to manage a sudden influx of wealth will serve you well now and long into the future.

Good luck in picking your numbers!