Mega Millions – What Should Those Winners Do?

Shopping cart with many dollars. Isolated on whiteThe formula for drawing mega millions has changed, increasing the likelihood that large jackpots will grow and greatly decreasing your chances of being the jackpot-winning ticket holder.

According to St. Louis Channel 5 KSDK news:

“Originally, customers chose five numbers from 1-56 and one number from 1-46. The new structure has customers choosing five numbers from 1-75 and one number from 1-15. That sliced the odds of winning from 1 in 176 million to 1 in 259 million.”

There were two winners, one who purchased a ticket from a shop in the Buckhead area in Atlanta, GA and the other in a gift shop in San Jose, CA. In addition there were about 20 tickets sold that ended up being worth a cool million.

For the two jackpot winners, if they take the lump sum, each will get 157 million dollars. After loping off about half of that for taxes, they stand to each receive $78,500,000 free and clear.

I don’t know what they plan to do, but if I ever win a large lottery jackpot, like the final jackpot number in this megamillion lottery – which was $636 million, here is what I believe I would do.

Put the unsigned ticket in a super safe place and keep my mouth shut about winning.

I’d probably take it to the bank and stick it in my safe deposit box until I figured out the details on getting the winnings. I wouldn’t even tell family members I had won, because I wouldn’t want them to let it leak and have a bunch of people bugging me before I had things figured out.

Most folks would recommend that you sign the ticket right away as it is a bearer certificate – whoever’s name is on it can claim it. If you lost the ticket or it was stolen, you would have no legal recourse to show that it was actually yours.

Consult a lawyer familiar with tax and privacy laws and the lottery.

Since I am now 65, most of that money would be passed to the next generation in our family. I would want to know what the best way to receive that money will be to minimize publicity and estate taxes.

One option might be to set up a partnership between myself, my spouse our children and their spouses and create a legal entity for that partnership, then sign the lottery ticket in the name of our new family entity. That way, the children would own at least a portion of the proceeds and even though we would be paying income taxes on some of it, at least they could skip part of the estate taxes. Unfortunately, my state requires disclosure of the actual winners name and city making it easy for media and beggars to track you down. If setting up an entity is not possible, I would see if we could somehow put the rest of our immediate family members as signers of the ticket, assuming they would want that.

Another reason to set up an entity is to attempt to preserve some of our privacy. One of the biggest disadvantages in winning a large jackpot is that there are a lot of people in the world who think they deserve it more than you and will do whatever it takes to try to get their hands on it. This results in a loss of privacy, a lot of personal anguish and in some past cases, even death by murder.

If I can’t accept in the name of an entity, then I would plan on taking a trip for about a month to try to avoid some of the press exposure.

Of course, all parties holding shares in the entity, or signing the ticket would need to agree on the method of taking the winnings.

Determine how to take the winnings.

With most lotteries, the winner can choose to take an annuity (mega millions is 29 years) or a lump sum.

If you take the annuity, you get the full amount of the winnings (assuming no one else won), and only pay income taxes as the distributions come out each year. If you take the annuity, you get about half of the full amount of the winnings and you pay taxes on that half in the year that you receive it. You are then free to invest it yourself to earn back that other half.

I would most likely take the annuity, after getting reassurances that my heirs could get the rest if I died prior to collecting it all. Why? I wouldn’t know what to do with the full jackpot. Limiting the amount that comes to me each year would make it easier for me to manage the money and help ensure that I’m not tempted, coerced or cajoled into giving most of it away.

Get the ticket signed and turned into the lottery.

After figuring out who or what will sign the ticket, you need to get it to the lottery headquarters for the state in which you bought it.

Request anonymity if possible from the state. Even with the protection of an entity, folks will still ferret you out. The more anonymous you stay, the more peace you will have.

For a large jackpot, you will usually have to make a trip to the lottery headquarters of the state where you purchased the ticket. They may quiz you about buying the ticket and see if you want to do a press conference. If you are lucky, they will ask if you want to remain anonymous! It’s going to take awhile to process the ticket and get your winnings flowing.

Disappear for a while.

I’d probably hop on a cruise or find a remote vacation spot to hide out in for a month or so, until the publicity died down.

Change contact information.

I’d get a new, unlisted phone number, different cell number, and a PO Box for my mail. Then I would change all of my email ids, getting rid of the old ones and only giving the new ones out to family and friends.  This will help eliminate some of the hordes who will be interested in me because of the new money.

Keep my current lifestyle – for now.

One of the biggest mistakes that receivers of sudden windfalls make is a dramatic change in their lifestyle. Staying low and not buying or investing will help you avoid scammers and making stupid decisions in the rush of the moment.

Save the entire amount for several years.

If I were younger (I’ll likely be dead in 29 years – I’d be 94), I would put the first few years distributions into something like a tax free municipal bond fund, before doing any other spending, giving or investing.  That way, when the annuity period expires, I could still have a continuing source of tax free income for the rest of my life.

Increase my annual family gifting.

We give minimal amounts now to our direct descendents. With an income of millions of after tax dollars, I can certainly increase the amount I give up to the annual exclusion limit as well as the number of people to whom I give.

Deborah Jacobs on the Forbes staff wrote up some additional ideas on 10 Things to Do When You Win the Lottery. 

What will you do WHEN IF you win the lottery?  


Mega Millions – What Should Those Winners Do? — 10 Comments

  1. How very interesting. I never thought about the whole thing like that. What would be my choices? I’ll go with your first two – keep the ticket safe and consult people who know about these things. Then, I’ll do what I’ve always wanted to do – travel places, live there for several months, see the sights, get to know the culture and write. All this will be done in relative confort but no excess. This is it!

  2. I would definitely meet with a lawyer, and try to claim the ticket (eventually, once I had everything worked out) by proxy or anonymously, because I really wouldn’t want anyone to know I had one. That show “How the Lottery Ruined My Life” is absolutely terrifying to me.

  3. Take the lump sum and put it into a trust account or an investment of some type. Then allow only certain family members access to whatever interest is created. That interest would most likely be enough to make a good paycheck each month.

    And I would vanish for awhile. Too many “long lost cousins” would be showing up at the door.

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