Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
A single Powerball ticket purchased in Maryland is worth $731.1 million.
After growing for four months with no big winner, the top prize — the sixth-largest in lottery history — was snagged Wednesday night. Still up for grabs is the Mega Millions jackpot, which has also been growing since September and is an estimated $970 million for the Friday night drawing.
For the owner or owners of the winning Powerball ticket, life is about to change dramatically. While the windfall opens up a world of possibilities, it also means leaving your pre-winner life behind.
“On one hand, it’s a fantastic experience, but on the other hand, it may come with necessary changes that can cause anxiety,” said Walt Blenner, an attorney and founder of Blenner Law Group in Palm Harbor, Florida.
Here are some mistakes that the winner should avoid.
Telling too many people
It’s a mistake to share the news broadly, Blenner said.
“Keep it as nuclear a group as possible — tell immediate family only,” he said.
Even then, he said, word may leak out or people in your life may start putting two and two together.
“For these gargantuan wins, everyone is looking for who won,” Blenner said.
Fortunately, Maryland is one of a handful of states that allows winners to remain anonymous. However, you may need to do some fibbing in your efforts to keep the news close. That is, have an explanation if claiming the prize or handling acute emotions means you can’t go to work or you need to beg off social engagements.
“A lot of people don’t like to deceive others, but in this case it’s a matter of self-preservation and security,” Blenner said.
Rushing to claim prize
In Maryland, you get about six months (182 days) to claim your jackpot. In other states, it could be anywhere from three months to a year to claim jackpots in the Powerball and Mega Millions.
In other words, you don’t need to rush to lottery headquarters.
And, generally, it isn’t as simple as wiring that much money to your checking account. When Blenner helped a jackpot winner, the financial institution receiving the money needed to prepare.
“They had to notify the federal government that they were getting that big check and that it wasn’t coming from a foreign country,” Blenner said.
Going it alone
Before you claim, you should assemble a team of experienced professionals: ideally, an attorney, accountant and financial advisor.
“When you get to these stratospheric amounts of money, you don’t even know what you don’t know,” Blenner said.
For instance, there may be ways to minimize your tax bill. While 24% is withheld from big lottery wins for federal taxes, the top marginal rate of 37% means you’d owe a lot more. There also are typically state taxes to consider.
Someone on the team should also serve as a gatekeeper. That is, they can field requests from moochers or scammers or anyone else who wants a piece of your windfall.