MARK RALSTON | AFP | Getty Images
There’s a chance that at least a couple of people will start off 2021 far wealthier than they expected.
With no ticket matching all six numbers drawn Wednesday in Powerball, the jackpot has jumped to $384 million for Saturday night’s drawing. Mega Millions’ top prize is even higher: $401 million for Friday night’s drawing.
If you’re lucky enough to be the next big winner, experts say part of protecting your windfall is shielding your identity if you can.
“Four hundred million dollars would attract a lot of [attention],” said attorney Kurt Panouses, founder of Panouses Law Group in Indialantic, Florida, and an expert in helping lottery winners.
Keeping your win quiet helps protect you from strangers and scammers who want a piece of the prize.
Yet, states don’t always make privacy easy: Only a handful allow winners to remain completely anonymous. In others, you may be able to claim the prize via a trust or limited liability corporation, or LLC, that doesn’t have your name on it — yet you need to plan for that.
Here are tips for big lottery winners to try to maintain their privacy.
Handling your ticket
The standard advice is to sign the back of your ticket. However, if you happen to be in a state that allows a trust or LLC to claim the prize, you might want to hold off with that signature if privacy is important to you.
“Obviously you want to protect the ticket, but whatever name is on the back of the ticket is what is identified as the payee,” said Panouses. “The back of the ticket is important for privacy purposes.”
In most states, he said, if you use an LLC or trust to claim the money, you can get around public disclosure of your name.
Panousas said he also has created trusts whose beneficiaries are so-called sub-trusts instead of the winners. This adds an extra layer of privacy protection.
While you might be eager to share your exciting news, experts say the fewer people who know, the better.
“Keep the circle small of people who know, or tell no one,” Panouses said.
Additionally, if you are claiming the win in conjunction with, say, other family members — i.e., via a trust or LLC as a shared prize — everyone involved should sign non-disclosure agreements, Panouses said.
In addition to choosing experienced professionals to help navigate the windfall, it also might be wise to avoid your home-town professionals if you’d worry about news of your win leaking.
“Someone in that office could tell others, ‘Oh, that’s the lottery winner,'” Panouses said. He relies on a large investment and trust company with a track record of serving wealthy households.
“When I open accounts with them, I know the information won’t be disclosed,” Panouses said.
Plan an escape
It’s probably a good idea to skip town for a bit after you claim your prize.
“We make sure the winners have a plan to go somewhere for a week or so after they claim,” Panouses said. “If people find out you won, they might show up at your house.”
It’s also worth changing your cell phone number, he said. If you have a landline, that should be changed as well.
You also might want to shut down your social media accounts if you cannot remain anonymous.