January 27, 2020 Real Estate Publication

If you win the $285 million Mega Millions jackpot, here’s what to do first to protect your windfall

More than a quarter-billion dollars is up for grabs in the next Mega Millions drawing.

After 10 weeks with no one hitting all six numbers, the jackpot has climbed to $285 million for Friday night’s drawing. And while the odds are stacked against a jackpot win — your chance is 1 in about 302 million — at some point someone will get really, really lucky.

Of course, that good fortune would also come with a life-changing amount of money. And experts recommend that big lottery winners take steps right away to protect their windfall.

A customer holds Mega Millions tickets at a newsstand in midtown Manhattan in New York, U.S., October 19, 2018. 

Mike Segar | Reuters

“The days between the drawing and the day you claim will be your last days of normalcy,” said Jason Kurland, a partner at Rivkin Radler, a law firm in Uniondale, New York.

“You want to have a clear head so you can get through a stressful but exciting time,” said Kurland, who specializes in helping lottery winners.

Here are some tips if you win.

1. Keep quiet

Your first urge might be to share your exciting news with, well, the world. However, the fewer people who know, the better.

This is the case even if you’ll be able to claim your prize anonymously.

“The last thing you need is people asking for handouts, or friends and family offering advice about how to claim the money,” Kurland said.

If you won’t be able to dodge publicity due to your state’s law, consider changing your phone number or living somewhere else temporarily to avoid media attention and sudden money requests from long-lost friends or relatives.

“I have a lot of clients plan trips the day their win is announced,” Kurland said. “Those first few days are when the press tries to find you, but it usually has died down after a week or so.”

2. Protect your ticket

The standard advice from experts is to sign the back of the winning ticket so that if you are separated from it, your signature can help ensure you still get the prize.

“You want the ticket signed, because whoever signs it is the winner,” Kurland said.

However, he said, you should first make sure you know the rules for claiming your win in the state where you purchased the ticket. If you bought it in a place that requires the winner’s name to be announced, you might be able to claim it via a trust or other legal entity, thereby keeping your name out of the public eye.

“Just be sure you sign the back of the ticket correctly, and do it as soon as possible,” Kurland said.

3. Chill

4. Consider the bottom line

Jackpot winners get to decide between taking an immediate lump sum or spreading out their winnings over three decades. Either way, the IRS will take 24% before the money reaches them.

For this $285 million jackpot, the cash option — which most winners go with — is $195.7 million. The 24% federal withholding would reduce that by $47 million to $148.7 million. However, because the top marginal rate is 37%, the winner should anticipate owing much more at tax time.

Additionally, state taxes typically are withheld or due, depending on where you live and where the ticket was purchased.

“Winners are surprised by how much is withheld in taxes from the initial payment, and then how much more is owed when they file their taxes the following year,” Kurland said.

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