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What to do if you win the lottery

Congratulations, you won! Here’s what to do when claiming your cash prize.

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You played the lottery, and you won! Congratulations. You’re bursting with excitement, but you also have a million questions swirling around in your head about what to do next. That’s okay. All you need to do is take a deep breath and follow these steps.

What to do in the first few days

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 state where lottery winners must be announced:
      • Get off social media. Shut down accounts like Facebook and Twitter. With all the attention you’ll receive, you don’t want people invading your privacy by browsing through your photos or sending unsolicited messages.
      • Be ready to leave town if necessary. 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.

The following 10 states allow lottery winners to remain anonymous — although some only let you if you’ve won over a certain dollar amount:

States with anonymity Minimum winnings required for anonymity
Arizona (only lasts for 90 days) $600
Delaware $0
Georgia $250,000
Kansas $0
Maryland $0
North Dakota $0
Ohio $0
South Carolina $0
Texas $0
Virginia $10 million

Assemble a team of professionals

You’ll first want to speak to a trusts and estates attorney that specializes in such financial issues as large windfalls. Don’t just contact your local lawyer. Instead, search resources like Martindale or US News and World Report’s list of best law firms for a reputable attorney.

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.

Claim your lottery money

You typically have 180 to 365 days to claim lottery winnings and decide whether to take one lump sum or an annuity.

Lump sum

A lump sum is when you receive all your earnings in one payment.

Pros

  • Receive all the money at once. With a lump sum, you have full control over your winnings.
  • Easier to tackle large goals. If you aim to pay off large amounts of debt, make a big investment or buy a home, it may be easier to accomplish with a lump sum.
  • Guaranteed tax rate. You’re guaranteed to pay taxes at the current year’s rate, not a potentially higher rate as with annuities.

Cons

  • Easy to squander. You’re more likely to blow your winnings on extravagant purchases when you receive it all upfront.
  • Don’t receive the advertised amount. Advertised winnings are typically based on annuity payments, so you won’t take home as much if you choose the lump sum.
  • No guaranteed income stream. It’s up to you to make sure your winnings last for years to come.

Annuities

An annuity is when your winnings are broken up into smaller payments over a 30-year period.

Pros

  • Guaranteed income stream. With an annuity, you’re guaranteed to have money coming in every month.
  • Receive the advertised amount. Winners who choose an annuity receive the advertised jackpot.
  • Protection. Family members, friends and strangers are less likely to ask for handouts when you receive fixed payments.

Cons

  • Not as flexible. Smaller payments mean you don’t have the same flexibility to spend, invest, give and pay off debt.
  • Potentially higher taxes. Each annuity payment is taxed at the current year’s rate, so you may pay more in taxes if rates increase.
  • Uncertainty. If something happens to you within the 30 year period, you’ll miss out on all your earnings.

After you’ve claimed the money

After you’ve collected your windfall and paid taxes on it, 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 $250,000, consider spreading your money out across multiple accounts because the FDIC only insures up to $250,000 per owner per bank unless you open a special type of account, like a trust.

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.

Consider a savings account for your lottery winnings

You may want to consider opening an account to spread out your money or simply to earn a higher interest rate. Here are some options to help you earn interest on your winnings.

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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 six 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 your financial adviser.

Consider waiting awhile before doing anything else

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

Many financial advisers recommend letting the excitement die down before taking any other actions.

For several months or even a year, consider living as you normally do. 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 hiring a psychologist to help you deal with the emotions that come with receiving a large sum of money.

What to do in the long term

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

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, US Treasury securities and short-term municipal bonds. These are considered relatively safe investments. Depending on the size of your windfall, you may generate a sizable income off of these “boring” investments alone.

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

Start planning your estate

If all goes well, you’ll live the rest of your life without having to worry about money.

You’ll 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 your financial adviser, an estate planning attorney and a tax adviser to settle matters of your estate — preferably well in advance.

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