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Lottery Financial Advisor: What to do if you Win the Powerball Lottery

Dear Florida Powerball lottery winner, congratulations on your win!

You beat the odds (1 in 175.2 million) and have the distinct honor of being the largest single lottery winner in U.S. history. As someone who has developed a national reputation for working with sudden wealth recipients – or as a client recently remarked a “lottery financial advisor”, I want to share with you a few ideas on how best to handle the rush of emotions of winning — and possibly the anxiety and paralysis over what to do now — with a few best practices I’ve learned over the years of working with clients who come into a windfall.

Here are six things to do before you claim your Powerball winnings:

Sign the winning Powerball ticket

You want to make sure you immediately sign the winning lottery ticket. Lottery tickets are “bearer” instruments. This means that whoever holds the ticket is the winner. I would also suggest you take a photo and video of yourself with the ticket. If something unforeseen happens, these steps go a long way to prove you are the owner of the ticket.

Take care of yourself

This step has nothing to do with your lottery prize and everything to do with you and your health. While everybody handles these things differently, it’s not uncommon to experience anxiety, paranoia, or even strange out-of-body feeling where things move in slow motion as if you were watching your life on a movie screen. For some, these feelings are fleeting, but for others, they can persist and make it hard to sleep, function, and make logical decisions. So, first and foremost is making sure you take care of yourself. Seek professional help if necessary.

Decide if you want a lump-sum or an annuity

The next step – and one that is usually glossed over — is to figure out just exactly how much you’ve won and whether you want a lump sum or an annuity. Although the stated prize is $590 million, it’s a bit misleading. With big lottery wins like yours, you have the option of taking a lump sum payout or to receive the payout over time. If you choose the lump sum option, the amount is $370,896,780.50. If you are a U.S. citizen, the IRS will automatically withhold 25% for taxes – providing you $278,172,585.40. Of course, you’ll be on the hook for more than 25% to the IRS. The real after-tax amount will be closer to $224,000,000.But instead of the lump sum amount, you have the choice of receiving 30 payments of $19,683,000 per year for 29 years. Although a great majority of lottery winners opt to receive a lump sum amount, there are definitely some advantages (and disadvantages) to taking the payout over time. You’ll want your CPA and financial advisor to “run the numbers” for both options and discuss the pros and cons of each. The big advantage of taking the money over time is that it provides you a “do-over” card. We’ve all heard the stories of lottery winners who have lost it all in a few short years. By getting the money over time, even if you are careless the first year, you get 29 more chances to get it right. It’s definitely something to think about sooner rather than later because you have 180 days from the drawing to claim the prize, but if you want the lump sum payout, you only have 60 days from the drawing. Also, the day you claim the prize, you will need to make your decision, so you’ll want to get your team assembled so they can crunch the numbers for you.

Assemble your team

With a lottery win as big as yours, you’ll want to make sure you have a stellar team that can help you make the best decisions. You’ll want an attorney – actually, you’ll undoubtedly use several types of attorneys (business, tax, trusts, and estate), but don’t worry about finding all of these on day one. Find a good attorney to guide you through the initial steps and who can introduce you to others as needed. You will also want a CPA and a financial advisor skilled in managing sudden wealth.

Make a publicity plan after winning the Powerball lottery

Unfortunately in Florida, you don’t have the option of remaining anonymous. As soon as you claim the prize, your little town of Zephyrhills, Florida and the rest of the world will know your name. Journalists and TV reporters will come from far and wide. They will dissect everything you’ve ever done and will want a piece of you. The best approach is to develop a public relations strategy to control the message as much as possible. Figure out what you want to share and what you don’t and decide if you will be your own spokesperson or if you want to have someone else speak on your behalf.

Don’t lose yourself to Powerball lottery winnings

Lottery winners will often complain that after winning their lives are turned upside down and that they are thrust into a new life. It’s hard to keep things exactly as they were when you get a check for over $200 million, but at the same time, you don’t want to lose the aspects of your life you now cherish. Step outside the craziness of the situation for a moment, and make a list of Who and What you love about your life that you don’t want to change. Money is best when you use it to improve your life, not necessarily change it.

Follow these six steps after winning the Powerball lottery to get control of an otherwise seemingly out of control situation. Regardless of what you are feeling now when the lights fade and the cameras go away, things will calm down and you will be able to enjoy your newfound wealth. While you’re here, please read about how we help Powerball lottery winners, sign up for a free email course, or read more related blog posts.

Before you claim the Powerball lottery prize, there are six critical things you must first consider.

Mega Millions’ $970 million jackpot making players ‘euphoric,’ but your odds are . not good

Most people dream of winning the lottery, but making poor choices can turn your life into a nightmare. Buzz60’s Sean Dowling has more. Buzz60

One in 302,575,350. Those are the odds of winning the $970 million prize that is up for grabs in Friday’s Mega Millions drawing.

During months of buildup and the longest stretch in the game’s history without a jackpot winner, millions in smaller prizes were won as the jackpot crept up. Now it’s the third-largest prize in U.S. lottery history, if claimed at its amount now.

“The mood is euphoric. This is what we live for,” Maryland Lottery Director Gordon Medenica told USA TODAY on Thursday.

Adding to the excitement for Medenica: A winning ticket for Wednesday’s Powerball was sold in the small town of Lonaconing, Maryland, at Coney Market. The jackpot reached $731.1 million, making it the fifth-largest U.S. lottery jackpot ever.

But just because there was a winning ticket Wednesday, don’t get your hopes up that you are going to win on Friday, said Ronald L. Wasserstein, executive director of the American Statistical Association.

“People confuse their chances of winning with the chances of someone winning. Sooner or later, someone will win that jackpot. That’s certain. What’s just about nearly as certain is that it won’t be you!” Wasserstein wrote in an email to USA TODAY.

But really, how low are my odds of winning Mega Millions ?

Understanding a 1 in 302,575,350 chance of something is tough, Wasserstein said.

Stand on the corner of a football field and start laying out dollar bills until you’ve placed 302,575,350 of them: That’ll take up about 585 football fields, he said.

What if you had pennies and placed 302,575,350 in stacks as tall as the Empire State Building? It’d be more than 1,000 Empire State Building-tall penny stacks.

“Humans are not naturally equipped to understand such big numbers,” Wasserstein added.

The odds of winning are 1 in 302,575,350 because there are 302,575,350 possible combinations of six numbers when picking five numbers between 1 and 70 and then a sixth, separate number between 1 and 25, he said.

The chances of winning Powerball’s jackpot are a little better: Roughly 1 in 292.2 million, but that’s still a long shot, to say the least.

To feel as if they are increasing their chances, some people turn to lucky numbers, anniversaries or birthdays. Others study past jackpot drawings to notice trends (22, for example, has been drawn 21 times as the Mega Ball in the 337 drawings since Mega Millions last changed its number matrix in 2017, according to lottery tracker USAMega.com.)

But there’s no real advantage there, Wasserstein said.

“Each number in the first five numbers has a 1/70 chance of being drawn. That’s about 1.4%. At any given point, some numbers will be drawn at a slightly higher rate than that, and others lower. Over time, those percentages tend to even out. So one might think the best strategy would be to pick the numbers that had been picked less often. But the math doesn’t support that approach any more than it supports picking the numbers drawn more often,” he explained.

“If people feel they have some lucky numbers, more power to them. It’s another aspect of why playing the game is entertaining,” said Medenica, who added that most people opt for random numbers when buying their tickets.

The only thing someone could do to increase their chances of winning? Buy more tickets. But those are still not great odds.

“If I buy two, my chances are doubled. If I buy 10, my chances are increased tenfold. So, wow, let me buy 100, then at a cost of $200 I have increased my chances by 100 times!” Wasserstein said a player might reason.

“Unfortunately, that just means that I have a 1 in 3,025,753.5 chance of winning. Rounding that to 1 in 3 million is still a very tiny probability, and so you are, realistically, just going to lose $200 (though perhaps you have a small chance a recouping a small portion of that by winning a smaller prize).”

What happens if I do win?

Call a lawyer, and stay quiet. Seriously.

One of the worst things a lottery winner can do is immediately spread the news, Andrew Stoltmann, a securities attorney in Chicago, told USA TODAY in 2016. Lottery winners “become one of most heavily targeted marks in the entire world,” said Stoltmann, who has represented multiple lottery winners in lawsuits over investment scams.

Many financial planners advise lottery jackpot winners to assemble a team of advisers who can help them navigate their financial windfall, guiding their investments, taxes and spending.

Another question many have is should they take their winnings as a lump sum or paid out over 30 years.

If you were to win Friday and take the lump sum, you’d bring home “only” $716,300,000, according to USAMega.com. That’s before federal and state taxes (though some states don’t charge any tax on lottery earnings).

After federal but before any state tax, a potential winner Friday who opted to be paid out at once would get $451,304,928, USAMega.com says. Someone who went for the yearly payments would be paid $20,405,928 for the next 30 years before state taxes.

Both options have pros and cons. Those who opt for the annuity would have a guaranteed income stream for the next 30 years, which largely ensures you never run out of money. But it’s possible taxes increase over the next 30 years, meaning you’ll see less of that money, or you die before it’s all paid out.

Taking the lump sum means you wouldn’t have to worry about tax increases, and you could earn more money over time if you smartly invest the money. But the concern is that lottery winners may not be frugal in where they put their money.

Over the years, a number of winners have suffered from the “curse” of lotteries.

Jack Whittaker, already a millionaire when he won $315 million in West Virginia in 2002, went broke within four years. Abraham Shakespeare, who won $30 million in Florida, was murdered soon after. Ronnie Music Jr. was convicted of investing some of his earnings in a crystal meth ring. And Urooj Khan died of what was later determined to be a cyanide poisoning a day after collecting a lump sum of $1 million.

For protection, some lottery offices allow winners to stay anonymous, but the rules vary by state.

In New Hampshire in 2018, a woman won a battle in court to remain anonymous after winning a $559.7 million Powerball jackpot. State lottery rules required release of winners’ names, but lawyers claimed her good fortune placed her in a small demographic of jackpot winners that “has historically been victimized by the unscrupulous.”

It may seem like the obvious choice to remain anonymous and avoid the infamy, but Medenica said there is value in knowing the winner.

“The counterargument to that is one of public transparency and integrity . to show that real people are winning real money,” he said.

So is it worth it to play the lottery ?

It’s been about 2½ years since Medenica said he has seen this level of excitement around such a big jackpot. In late 2018, the sixth-largest U.S. jackpot and the second-largest were won within days of each other. The largest U.S. jackpot ever was a $1.586 billion Powerball prize won by three tickets on Jan. 13, 2016.

“The fun is back. People are talking about it,” Medenica said. Even if you don’t win the jackpot, there are still plenty of smaller yet still sizable prizes to be had, he added.

And perhaps the main reason people play, according to Medenica: “They’re buying a permission to dream, and that’s the main event.”

Wasserstein, the statistician, added: “I don’t buy lottery tickets. But if I did, I’d probably buy one when the prize is huge, like it is now, because, well, go big or go home.”

Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller

Contributing: Hadley Malcolm, Janna Herron and John Bacon, USA TODAY; Taylor M. Riley, The Louisville Courier-Journal; The Associated Press

One in 302,575,350. That's the odds of winning the $970 million prize that is up for grabs during Friday's Mega Millions drawing.