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What to do if you win the lottery

Congratulations, you won big money! Here’s what to once you claim your lottery winnings.

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If you’ve experienced a sudden financial windfall, you’re probably bursting with excitement! But, you likely also have a million questions swirling around in your head about what to do next. That’s okay – we’ll walk through what you need to know to get your money, stay safe from pushy outsiders and settle in financially.

What to do in the first few days of winning the lottery

It’s OK to celebrate your lucky day — just keep the news to yourself.

When people come into a small fortune, they often become overwhelmed by the attention they draw. Long-lost friends and acquaintances from decades ago have a knack for showing up right when you acquire a lot of money.

This is precisely the time when you don’t want to be the center of attention. You’ll first want to square away professional help to keep from making unwise decisions.

Here’s what to do now:

  • Sign your ticket. Sign the back of your lottery ticket and hide it. It doesn’t officially belong to you until you’ve given it your autograph.
  • Don’t tell anyone outside of your partner. If you live in a province or territory where lottery winners must be announced
  • Get off social media. Shut down accounts like Facebook and Instagram. With all the attention you’ll receive, you don’t want people invading your privacy by browsing through your photos or sending unsolicited messages
  • Consider leaving town for while initially. Just as people will want to find you online, they’ll want to find you in person. It’s best to avoid any scrutiny while you get a professional team in place to help you manage your money. Going away for the first while can allow the initial buzz to die down while you get your finances in order.

    Can I remain anonymous after winning the lottery?

    Unfortunately, maintaining your privacy isn’t quite as simple as asking the lottery to mail you a cheque. Lottery organizations often require that winners take publicity photos in order to prove to the public that the lottery has real winners and isn’t a scam.

    According to rules set by the Interprovincial Lottery Corporation, or ILC (which jointly owns all 5 provincial lottery organizations), winners are not entitled to receive prizes unless, upon request, they consent to the publication of their name, address and a recent photograph reflecting their true appearance. By buying a lotto ticket, you’re agreeing to those terms and conditions.

    Graphic showing someone suspending a rock above a wealthy man's headThe dangers of winning the lottery

    Tragically, the threat to lottery winners’ privacy can go beyond merely fending off the greedy public. In 2006, a Florida woman befriended a man who won a $30 million jackpot only to murder him and take his assets – she was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. And in 2016, an American woman who won less than $500,000 was murdered by a gunman at her door after he demanded that she give him money.

    The threat is no less real in Canada, where police managed to catch a man before he invaded the home of a couple in Quebec who had won a $27 million jackpot – investigators alleged that he intended to commit murder. Fortunately, the couple and their 3-year-old daughter were out of town at the time, and the plan was foiled.

    Winners may also have to be on the lookout for people nursing a grudge against them or who want to get revenge. Doctors and other medical people often try to remain anonymous to avoid a sudden onslaught of malpractice lawsuits from former, unsatisfied patients.

    Furthermore, police members, private investigators and people with abusive spouses have sometimes been known to get a pass on lotto publicity requirements to protect them and their families from being targeted.

    If you win the lottery, don’t take you or your family’s safety for granted. Act cautiously, and speak to your local police if you believe there is any threat to your safety or the safety of anyone you know.

    Provincial and territorial lottery privacy policies

    Provinces and territories have differing standards for enforcing publicity rules, which may afford you some privacy in the event of winning the lottery. Below is a quick summary of the privacy laws in each province and territory with regards to large prizes. Smaller prizes – often under $1,000 – can usually be claimed at lottery retailers or by cheque from the lotto organization itself.

    Speak with a representative of the lottery organization in your province or territory to find out exactly what rules apply to you.

    PlaceCan you remain private?
    British Columbia
    • Yes, if there is a real concern for the winner’s safety. Evidence of this concern must be verifiable and capable of independent confirmation.
    Alberta
    • Requires winners to show up in person to claim their prize, but does not state that their identities must be publicized.
    Saskatchewan
    • Requires winners to show up in person to claim their prize, but does not state that their identities must be publicized. Prizes of $10,000+ require an in-person appointment.
    Manitoba
    • Requires winners to show up in person to claim their prize, but does not state that their identities must be publicized.
    Ontario
    • Winners’ identities are generally published in accordance with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s (OLG’s) policies and prize claim form. However, OLG staff may make exceptions on rare occasions based on individual circumstances.
    Quebec
    • Requires winners to show up in person to claim their prize, but does not state that their identities must be publicized.
    New Brunswick
    • To claim prizes of $10,000+, you must allow the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) to publicize your identity. Only general information like your name, occupation, hometown and the amount of your win will be released along with your photo.
    Newfoundland & Labrador
    • To claim prizes of $10,000+, you must allow the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) to publicize your identity. Only general information like your name, occupation, hometown and the amount of your win will be released along with your photo.
    Prince Edward Island
    • To claim prizes of $10,000+, you must allow the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) to publicize your identity. Only general information like your name, occupation, hometown and the amount of your win will be released along with your photo.
    Nova Scotia
    • To claim prizes of $10,000+, you must allow the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) to publicize your identity. Only general information like your name, occupation, hometown and the amount of your win will be released along with your photo.
    Yukon
    • Requires winners to show up in person to claim their prize, but does not state that their identities must be publicized.
    Northwest Territories
    • Requires winners to show up in person to claim their prize, but does not state that their identities must be publicized.
    Nunuvut
    • Requires winners to show up in person to claim their prize, but does not state that their identities must be publicized.

    Masked winners

    Woman holding a white mask in front of her face

    You might have seen photos of past lotto winners wearing masks or even full-body costumes while receiving their cheques. Far from eccentric, these winners are trying to accept their winnings while avoiding unwanted public attention. While wearing a mask for publicity photos may not stop general information about winners’ (like their names) from being published, it may help reduce the scrutiny from strangers.

    However, as per the ILC’s rules, winners may still be required to allow the publication of their true photos, names and other basic personal information before collecting their prizes. So you may not have the option to wear anything that disguises your true identity.

    Assembling a team of professionals

    You’ll first want to speak to a trusts and estates attorney that specializes in helping people who have experienced large financial windfalls. Search through the Canadian Bar Association website, your provincial bar association website or sites like Lawyers.com to find reputable attorneys that specialize in cases like yours.

    Take your time vetting your attorney. Later on, you’ll want them to sit in with you when you hire a financial adviser and an accountant. Your attorney will also help you create a trust — an entity that lets you claim your windfall without revealing your name.

    Claiming your prize

    Because policies for claiming lotto prizes differ depending on where you live, the first step after winning is to contact the lottery organization in your province or territory to find out what its exact requirements are for making a claim. You’ll likely be required physically go to a nearby lottery office to present 2 pieces of ID (one of which has to have your photo on it, like a passport or driver’s license) and have publicity photos taken.

    Graphic of a hand holding a warning signImportant!

    Whoever signs the back of the lottery ticket gets the money. Be sure to sign your ticket and keep it safe, because it won’t officially belong to you until you’ve given it your autograph.

    You typically have 1 year to claim your winnings, but lottery tickets often have expiry dates printed on them – so if it’s past that date, you cannot claim the prize.

    You may also have the option to choose between receiving winnings as a lump sum (all at once) or as an annuity (smaller payments split over many years), although annuities are not as prevalent in Canada as in the US. If you win a lottery advertised as “cash for life” or something similar, your winnings are automatically disbursed as an annuity.

    What to do right away after winning the lottery

    After you’ve collected your windfall, you can lay the foundation for a solid financial future. Here are a few wise things to do.

    Get your money into your accounts

    If you won more than $100,000, consider spreading your money out across multiple banks because the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC) only insures up to $100,000 per account owner per bank. The amount of coverage may differ for credit unions.

    If you need to get your money back into a bank account internationally or send money to family overseas, compare international money transfer services that are best equipped to help you with a large transfer.

    Work with your financial adviser to get your funds into your trust or bank account before you start spending it.

    Compare savings accounts to grow your lottery winnings

    Name Product Interest Rate Promotional Interest Rate Min. Bal / Min. Deposit Account Fee
    EQ Bank Savings Plus Account
    1.25%
    N/A
    $0 / $0
    $0
    Enjoy zero everyday banking fees, free transactions and no minimum balance with a Savings Plus Account from EQ Bank.
    Neo Financial High Interest Savings Account
    1.30%
    N/A
    $0 / $0
    $0
    Get a competitive interest rate and unlimited free transactions with no monthly fees or minimum balances.
    KOHO Earn Interest
    1.20%
    N/A
    $0 / $0
    $0
    Opt into earning interest for free and earn 1.2% on your entire balance in KOHO plus an additional 0.5% in cash back on every purchase you make.
    CI Direct Investing High Rate Savings Account
    0.50%
    N/A
    $0 / $0
    $0
    With no fees and no restrictions, you'll earn 0.5% interest with the CI Direct Investing High Rate Savings Account.
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    Pay off debts

    The longer you hold onto debt, the more interest you’ll accrue over the long run. Now is the perfect time to pay off everything you owe: credit cards, student loans, mortgages and more. It’s a responsible first step that will save you money over time.

    Put money into a rainy-day fund

    You might be surprised by how many lottery winners end up broke. Whether through poor spending habits or plain bad luck, it’s easy to squander a large windfall. So plan accordingly and create a backup fund.

    A rainy-day fund is typically stocked with 6 months’ worth of your salary. Since you’ve just received a large sum of money, you may instead want to put a percentage of the windfall into an emergency fund. To find the right amount to save, speak with a financial adviser.

    Consider waiting for a while before doing anything else

    Once you’ve accepted the money, paid off your debts, created an emergency fund and handled any immediate expenses, consider doing absolutely nothing. Your winnings aren’t going anywhere.

    Many financial advisers recommend letting the excitement die down before taking any other actions. You might want to live as you normally would for the at least a few months or even a year. This will give you time to carefully plan out your next steps.

    For example, work with your financial adviser to determine how much of your windfall you’ll give to family and friends. You may even consider meeting with a personal counselor to help you deal with the emotions and confusion that can come with receiving a large sum of money.

    Compare brokers to invest your money

    Now that you’ve taken care of your short-term needs, your goal is to protect your earnings for the long term.

    Name Product Available Asset Types Stock Fee Option Fee Account Fee ETF Transaction Cost Feature Table description
    OFFER
    Wealthsimple Trade
    Stocks, ETFs
    $0
    N/A
    $0
    Free
    Get 2 free stocks when you open a Wealthsimple Trade personal account and deposit and trade at least $150.
    Pay no commissions when you trade Canadian stocks and ETFs with Wealthsimple Trade.
    Interactive Brokers
    Stocks, Bonds, Options, ETFs, Currencies, Futures
    Min. $1.00, Max. 0.5% of trade value
    $1.50 min. per order
    $0
    Min. $1.00, Max. 0.5% of trade value
    Extensive trading capabilities and global investment tracking.
    Access market data 24 hours a day, six days a week and invest in global stocks, options, futures, currencies, bonds and funds from one single account.
    BMO InvestorLine
    Stocks, Bonds, Options, Mutual Funds, ETFs, GICs
    $9.95
    $9.95 + $1.25 per options contract
    $0 if conditions met, otherwise $25/quarter
    $0 - $9.95
    Buy and sell a select group of Canada’s most popular ETFs without paying commissions.
    An easy-to-use online trading platform with access to research, tools, and the option to access InvestorLine adviceDirect for additional professional support.
    Scotia iTRADE
    Bonds, Options, Mutual Funds, ETFs, GICs, International Equities
    $4.99-$9.99
    $9.99 + $1.25 contract ($4.99 + $1.25 contract if completed 150 trades or more a quarter)
    $0
    $9.99 ($4.99 if completed 150 trades or more a quarter)
    Pay no annual account fees.
    Buy, sell and trade ETFs, Equities, Options and more with competitive commissions.
    CIBC Investor's Edge
    Stocks, Bonds, Options, Mutual Funds, ETFs
    $4.95 - $6.95
    $4.95 - $6.95 (+$1.25 per contract)
    $0 if conditions met, otherwise $100/year
    $6.95
    $4.95 - $6.95 is applicable for online stock, ETF and option trades only. Pay $4.95 when you qualify as an Active Trader (trade 150+ times per quarter).
    An intuitive and easy-to-use platform with access to a variety of tools that help you make smart decisions and trade with confidence.
    Questrade
    Stocks, Bonds, Options, Mutual Funds, ETFs, GICs, International Equities, Precious Metals
    $4.95-$9.95
    $9.95 + $1 per contract
    $0
    Free
    Get $50 in free trades when you fund your account with a minimum of $1,000.
    Opt for self-directed investing and save on fees or get a pre-built portfolio and take some of the guesswork out.
    OFFER
    Qtrade Direct Investing
    Stocks, Bonds, Options, Mutual Funds, ETFs, GICs
    $6.95 - $8.75
    $6.95 - $8.75 + $1.25 per contract
    $0 if conditions met, otherwise $25/quarter
    $0 - $8.75
    Get up to 50 free trades. Be one of the first 100 new Qtrade clients to use the promo code 50FREETRADES and deposit a minimum of $10,000 (or top up to $15,000 to get $150 transfer fees waived). Valid until December 31, 2021.
    Qtrade Direct Investing offers low trading commissions and an easy-to-use platform with access to powerful tools and a wide selection of investment options. Trade 100 ETFs free of charge and thousands more for $8.75 or lower.
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    Create an investment strategy

    Work with your financial adviser to assemble an investment strategy. This strategy should be consistent with your tolerance for risk.

    To get your feet wet, you might first look at investments like short-term corporate bonds, government securities and short-term municipal bonds. These are considered relatively safe investments. Depending on the size of your windfall, you may generate more than you would expect off of these low-risk investments alone.

    After consulting with your financial adviser, you could expand your investment portfolio to include investments in stocks or real estate. Your financial adviser can help you create a portfolio with the right mix of stocks, bonds and other securities.

    See our comprehensive guide to investing

    Invest in the market

    The only thing better than winning a jackpot is making money on those winnings. Whether you want to have a financial advisor invest for you, use a robo-advsior to manage your portfolio, or handle things yourself through a self-directed trading account, you’ll need to make sure your trading account is up and running. Keep in mind that any gains you earn on your winnings within a TFSA or RRSP are tax-exempt and tax-deferred, respectively, but there are annual limits to contributions to these accounts.

    See our beginner’s guide to open a trading account and buy stocks online

    Start planning your estate

    With the right planning and help from wise and qualified professionals, it’s possible to live the rest of your life without any financial worries.

    You may want your children and relatives to enjoy the same comfort, so begin the process of estate planning. In short, this means you’ll decide what happens to your assets when you pass away.

    Work with a financial adviser, tax professional and a highly experienced estate planning lawyer to settle matters of your estate — preferably sooner rather than later.

    Do I have to pay taxes on my lottery winnings?

    Close-up picture of Canadian tax forms

    In Canada, lottery winnings are tax free! However, this is not the case in the States, so if you visit the US and buy a lottery ticket there, you’ll have to pay the IRS a withholding tax of around 30% if you win. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to claim tax credits in Canada for this payment.

    If you can prove you have experienced gambling losses, you may be able to file a tax return in the US (a 1040NR) to get back some of the American taxes you paid.

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