"A privacy, an obscure nook for me. I want to be forgotten even by God."
"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't really coming after you."
I am neither an attorney nor an accounting professional. And if I was a lottery jackpot winner, I probably wouldn't tell you (grin). However, to research this article, I contacted representatives at 38 state lottery agencies in the USA. Also, more recently, I received personal input from two actual lottery jackpot winners - one in Oregon, one in Georgia - both of whom will remain nameless.
While I'm personally confident in the advice you're about to read, I urge you to run my advice past a lawyer first before implementing that advice. The American Bar Association in all states provides a lawyer referral service, giving access to a cheap ($35 apx.) initial consultation.
A gorilla??? Explained later.
The advice on this page has been pared down for simplicity's sake and given in chronological order - starting from before the lottery ticket is purchased. However, one piece of advice remains unchanged. And, it remains the primary focus of this article:
First, a preface statement. This site has been given a reboot to take recent changes in lottery rules into account - in my state, in particular, and in other states in general.
1. Advice on Buying a Ticket
If you live in a state that allows you to buy tickets either online or from a vending machine, do it. If not, buy tickets only from stores you don't frequent - and from store clerks who don't know you personally. Why? The following story was told to me by Chip Polston, Vice President of Communications, Government, and Public Relations for the Kentucky Lottery Corporation.
A lottery winner did, what he thought, was everything in his power to remain anonymous. However, when his jackpot was won, the retailer who sold the winning ticket received a "bonus check" from the lottery commission. Along with the check, the lottery commission provided the ticket's ID number to the retailer. The retailer used his lottery terminal to track down the ID number - to determine the date and time when the ticket was sold. Most retailers nowadays have surveillance videos. And, the retailer watched a video showing cash register activity that matched the timestamp of the ticket sale. When he saw the ticket being purchased, the retailer looked at the buyer's face and said, "Hey, I know that guy!" And the next time the buyer came into the store, the retailer congratulated him in front of everyone else in the store - including some patrons who also knew the winner personally.
In this particular case, the surveillance video was not shared (or sold) to the media. But, it could have been. Even so, the winner's "cover" was blown. And information about his good fortune spread throughout his neighborhood.
OK - you know you're a jackpot winner. Now what? The first piece of advice most lottery agencies give you is to sign the back of tickets you buy. This is the single WORST piece of advice you can take - so don't take it. Instead, if your ticket is a jackpot winner, place the unsigned ticket in a safe-deposit box at your bank. You'll find out why later. Make no attempt to contact the lottery agency by phone, mail, or email until then.
2. Winners vs. Lottery Agencies
Keep uppermost in your mind that you, as a jackpot winner, are in a somewhat adversarial relationship with a lottery agency. You are trying to retain your anonymity. They, on the other hand, want as much free publicity as they can get out of you. When first writing this article, I contacted a number of lottery agencies to get advice for winners wanting to retain their anonymity. One of those agencies was the Washington State Lottery Commission. And they told me specifically that media hounds don't haunt their facilities ... waiting for lottery winners to show up. Uh-huh...
Remember the gorilla graphic earlier on this page? Well, a very smart winner showed up at the Vancouver, Washington office to redeem his jackpot - wearing a gorilla costume. And as soon as he walked through the door, waiting media hounds surrounded him and began to pepper him with questions. One of the media people reached out and pulled at his gorilla mask, trying to remove it. And the winner swung around, flailed his fists at the jerk, and said, "Back off!" This was caught on camera and broadcast on a local TV station.
So, once you know you've won, don't redeem the ticket right away. Instead, "prepare" to redeem the ticket.
3. All Lotteries Are Created Unequal
To my knowledge, there are only 6 states that allow winners to retain their anonymity - but only if they request it. They are (presumably) Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, and South Carolina. But do they really keep your identity secret?
Before redeeming your ticket, see an attorney and ask them to request that the Lottery Commission send them a letter on lottery commission letterhead, signed by someone in authority, stating clearly that your anonymity will be honored - and a claim form that indicates this pledge. If the Lottery Commission is unwilling to send the attorney such a letter & form, there's probably a reason. In that event, click here to skip to the next section on claiming jackpots though trusts or LLCs. Or, if you're curious, I recently checked the claim forms of all six states above and this is what I discovered.
1. Delaware -- On their web page showing how to claim prizes, there is no downloadable claim form. Further, winners of any lottery prize greater than $5,001 must "show up" at the lottery HQ office in Dover with a photo-ID (showing name and address) and their Social Security card (got a good gorilla suit?). What their claim form may say is unknown. But if it doesn't include a place for you to request anonymity, beware! If it "ain't in writing," it ain't guaranteed.
2. Kansas -- Their claim form has no place on it for winners to request anonymity. As before, if it "ain't in writing," it ain't guaranteed.
3. Maryland -- Their claim form has no place on it for winners to request anonymity. As before, if it "ain't in writing," it ain't guaranteed.
4. North Dakota -- Their claim form appears to be an honest one. There is a block on the claim form (the last block) to specify your request for anonymity. But you might want to run this past an attorney anyway. Better to be safe than sorry.
5. Ohio -- Like North Dakota, their claim form appears to be an honest one. There's no block to request anonymity. But this statement appears on the form, quote, "I understand that my name, voice, signature, photograph, image or likeness will not be used by the Lottery for commercial purposes without my separate written consent." It seems pretty straightforward - but it might not be. In a separate email, a lottery rep, Linda Fenn, sent me this form (a "Media Acknowledgement Form") that says the only way to ensure anonymity is by claiming it through a trust. On 1/20/2016, I asked Linda to explain the discrepancy between what their claim form seems to "promise" and what the new form says. As of today, I've received no reply. When you see conflicting info from a lottery agency, it's time to see a lawyer.
6. South Carolina -- Their claim form is interesting (ahem). There is one block on the form where you can check "NO" to the release of video, audio, or photograhic representations of winners. But there's no place on the form where you can request that your "name" be kept secret. And above the area where you'd sign the form is this statement in bold print, quote, "INFORMATION FROM THIS FORM MAY BE SUBJECT TO DISCLOSURE UNDER THE S.C. FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT (FOIA). I release SCEL from all liability or claims relating to information provided to or used by a party obtaining information pursuant to FOIA." For sure, run this by an attorney first. If it "ain't in writing," it ain't guaranteed.
There are also (presumably) 3 other states that guarantee anonymity by claiming the jackpot through a trust of LLC (limited liability company). They are Colorado, Connecticut, and Vermont. But should you trust them? In my state, Washington, winners "used to" be able to shield their identities by claiming the jackpot in the name of a trust or LLC. This changed in December 2007. Click HERE to read the news story. They even fooled the trust's lawyer into thinking his clients would remain anonymous. Point is, rules like this can change without notice. And if you read the news story, pay particular attention to who challenged the couple's right to remain anonymous. It wasn't a media entity nor was it a curious private citizen. It was the Lottery Commission itself! If you were laboring under the fantasy that lottery commissions really "care" about your privacy concerns, this story should be your wake-up call.
So, before you give an attorney your unsigned ticket (they have to sign it to claim it under a trust or LLC), ask your attorney to request a letter from the Lottery Commission on their letterhead, signed by someone in authority, stating clearly that the identities of winners in a trust or LLC will remain confidential. If the Lottery Commission won't send your attorney such a letter, there's probably a reason ... and you should just thank the attorney for his/her time and continue reading the advice on this page.
Other states are more demanding - requiring jackpot winners to submit to a publicity event (photo shoot and/or press conference) as a condition to redeeming a ticket. Most states, however, simply have rules requiring them to provide specific information to the media - the winner's name, the winner's city of residence, the amount of the jackpot, and the name of the retailer from where the ticket was purchased. This article will provide advice to persons in ANY of the situations mentioned.
Now, let's proceed to "prepare" you to redeem your ticket.
4. Getting Your Ducks In a Row
Remember ... lottery agencies will do almost anything to "use" you for free publicity. So, to retain your anonymity, you must be clever, cunning, and even somewhat deceptive. The first order of business is to get yourself an "anonymous" pay-as-you-go cellphone - the kind that can be activated and loaded with "airtime cards" over the phone. These phones and cards are cheap and can be purchased with cash at Walmart, Kmart, Target, and a number of convenience stores. Tracfones are my personal favorite. Tracfone will enable such a cellphone without knowing any personally identifying info about you. In addition, set up a free web-based (Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, etc.) email account. If you want to contact the lottery agency for informational purposes, use that cellphone or email address. And give out that cellphone number and email address only to them. If you do contact them, and if they ask you for any personally identifying information (name, address, etc.), don't give it to them. That will come later.
If you get any lottery-related calls or emails from anyone other than the lottery agency, it means they've leaked that information - either by accident, or on purpose. If that happens, abandon the phone and web-based email - because your Lottery Commission has proven that they cannot be trusted. In that event, make no further contact prior to redemption time.
The second order of business might surprise you. But it's based on many lottery winner horror stories. I'll get to that shortly. But first, consider this.
Lottery agencies will ask you to do things you're not required to do under lottery law ... a press conference, a photo shoot, grinning like a Cheshire cat while holding up an oversized check, etc., etc. It might be a good idea to have a brief visit with a lawyer to get a list of things they can and cannot require under the law.
They'll tell you that a media event is a good idea - to get media attention "out of the way" to allow your life to return to normal. Nonsense. It's not the media attention, specifically, that you need to worry about. It's the attention by others who see and hear the media attention. Bottom line? Learn to say NO to ANY and ALL media exposure that isn't REQUIRED of you by law.
I shake my head every time I see some lottery winner make a public statement to the effect that, "Winning the lottery won't change my life." Perhaps if you're already a wealthy person, the statement might be true. But if you're middle-class (like me) or poorer, such a statement is incredibly naive. Maybe you, personally, will remain the same kind of person you've always been. But your quality of life is largely predicated on the way those around you relate to you.
Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde," is very descriptive of what you'll encounter. Businesses, charities, friends, relatives, neighbors, bosses, coworkers, and even complete strangers will change the way they treat you once your identity as a lottery jackpot winner becomes public knowledge. Some people who treated you decently beforehand (Dr. Jekyll) could transform into monsters (Mr. Hyde) in the twinkling of an eye. Because of this, your life will change in several fundamental ways.
Businesses that wouldn't give you the time of day before your good fortune will suddenly realize you're a potential new customer and a rich one at that. They'll send out a cadre of salespersons to hunt you down to make offers and proposals for products and services they just know you'll appreciate. Charities that would never knock on your door prior to jackpot day will suddenly realize you're a cash-cow prime for the milking. And they'll send out a cadre of solicitors to plead for your financial assistance with their desperate needs. Some charitable solicitors won't represent "entities," either. Individuals with personal needs will approach you as well to help them out with short-term (or long-term) loans. Some individuals will even ask you for outright cash gifts to "pay for my daughter's eye surgery," or "pay for my son's liver transplant," etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum.
Confidence racketeers (con-men/con-women, gold diggers, gigolos) make it a point to hunt down lottery winners. They will attempt to woo/seduce/flatter you into a relationship, then latch onto your assets at first opportunity and disappear. More nefarious criminals will realize that your children, brothers, sisters, parents, or spouse would make perfect targets for kidnapping ... to extort money from you.
Relatives and friends (even close ones) may begin to think of you as either (A) a potential "savior" who has the money to solve their financial problems, or (B) a greedy/insensitive prick if you won't help. Bosses and coworkers will begin to resent working side by side with a "rich" person who doesn't need the job ... especially if they don't get showered with gifts or cash they just know you'd want to give them.
And don't forget about your "ex." Many lawyers say that one of the first people winners hear from are former wives or former husbands. They will either ask you for money upfront or "suggest" that it might be a good time to renegotiate their divorce settlement. And, lawyers would know about that. Faced with the prospect of such wealth, many lawyers would be willing to take your "ex's" case on contingency, hoping to carve out a piece of your jackpot pie for themselves. Your bank accounts can be frozen for months awaiting such a trial.
The good news is that you can keep all those people in the dark about your good fortune. How? Create a legal (and effective) "shadow" identity. Remember that you have at least 180 days to redeem your ticket. So, the second order of business is to legally change your name ... BEFORE you redeem the ticket. It's a relatively cheap process and takes about 90 days on the average. In fact, many people do legal name changes all by themselves by simply filling out their own forms and turning them in to the county court clerk. I did (grin).
Before you do this, there are one or two places you must call. First, call your lottery agency and ask them how long they give winners to decide between a lump-sum payout and an annuity payout (over several years). Most states allow winners up to 60 days after the ticket is validated (redeemed). But some states (like Florida) only give winners up to 60 days after the "drawing date" to decide. If winners don't decide within the allotted window of opportunity, the lottery agency will automatically "assume" you want an annuity payout. And once that window closes, that's that. If you want an annuity, fine. Otherwise, if your state is like Florida, it's doubtful you'd have time to complete the legal name change process before getting "stuck" with an annuity. So, if you want a lump-sum payout but don't have the time for a legal name change, click here.
One additional note. If you choose to "share" this jackpot with one or more or people - or if you live in a state that (like mine) requires you to redeem a jackpot ticket "in person" and "by appointment only," your only chance to retain your anonimity is by claiming it through a trust. True, some states allowing trusts (like mine) will reveal your name even though an attorney redeems the ticket. But if you legally change your name "before" you create the trust, who's going to know (grin)? But, if you're in this situation and live in a state that doesn't allow trusts to redeem tickets, click here.
Secondly, call a local court to find the jurisdiction in which you must file a petition for legal name change (District Court, Superior Court, Municipal Court, County Circuit Court, etc., etc.). There may be more than one jurisdiction that handles legal name changes. In my case, there were two (District Court & Superior Court). I chose District Court because they were the cheapest and the fastest (60 days at the time). In any case, ask the appropriate court jurisdiction(s) how much time the process would take from petition to approval based on their current caseload.
If the amount of time it takes puts you dangerously close to the 180-day redemption deadline, a legal name change would be a waste of time. Click here if a legal name change is not an option for you.
If you can safely go through the legal name change process timewise, Lucky You (grin). Oddly, some winners are hounded so badly after they win that they feel compelled to change their names. And I've always wondered why they didn't change their names first. Then, after the ticket is redeemed under the new name, simply reverse the name change process to reclaim your old name. If George Doolittle is your real name and you change it to Peter Franks before redeeming your ticket, media people and other interested persons will be looking for someone who only exists on paper - and only for a short space of time.
Name Change Advice -- When you legally change your name, you're attempting to avoid scrutiny, not magnify it. So, don't be "cute." Silly names like "Bozo D. Clown" should be avoided. Don't choose one-word names like "Madonna" or "Cher" or names of other celebrities or famous people. And don't choose names too common like "John Smith" or "Jane Doe." Also, on a name change form, you're asked "why" you want to change it. Do NOT say, "To avoid media scrutiny after winning the lottery."Note that there are three things you must do after your name change is approved and before you redeem the ticket. First, fill out this form, sending it to the Social Security Administration along a certified copy of your legal name change order (and other documents they may require) - and wait for them to send you a new card (usually a fast process). Secondly, show a certified copy of your legal name change order to your bank - and order new checks under your new name, waiting for them to arrive (again, usually a fast process). This will allow your bank to recognize and honor transactions under "both" names. To a bank, this is not a big deal. Many women do this following a marriage or divorce. Finally, take a certified copy of your legal name change order to your driver licensing agency and get a new license, waiting for it to arrive ... unless ... a publicity event is required of you. If it is, I'll give you advice on that soon.
Then and only then should you redeem the ticket. Remember, to verify your legal identity and wire funds to your bank, the lottery commission will want to see your driver license, your Social Security card, and a "blank" check with your bank's routing number & your account number on it.
5. Ticket Redemption Time
If you are required by the lottery agency to submit to a photo shoot or press conference, I'll give advice on how to handle that later. For now, I'm assuming only the most basic information about you will be released to the public.
OK ... you've established your prepaid cellphone and your new legal identity. NOW is the time to sign the back of your ticket - with your new legal name. Your next step is call your lottery agency to find out if you can redeem the ticket via registered mail. This varies widely between one state and another. Some allow you to redeem this way, others don't. If they do allow it, download an online redemption form from their website - filling it out with your new name. If they don't allow this method of redemption, consider yourself up for a publicity event (advice on that coming up) - whether you want one or not. Why is registered mail redemption better?
The registered mail method is the safest possible redemption method for those wishing to retain anonymity. Remember the guy in the gorilla suit? Media entities may hire "stringer" reporters to "hang out" in lottery agency offices waiting for winners to show up. And even if they don't have stringers waiting, your ticket's validation process takes about 2 or 3 hours. Guess who they'll call to say a winner has "stepped forward" during that timespan? Besides, winners NEVER get their money on the same day they redeem a ticket anyway. It's either sent to them as a cashier's check via registered mail or, in most cases, wired direct to a winner's bank account.
This "process" of getting your money to you usually takes a minimum of two weeks. Remember that the first thing you "win" when you redeem a lottery jackpot ticket is a few free background checks. Before they pay you a dime, the lottery agency wants to know if you have any kind of outstanding Federal obligation (such as an I.R.S. tax lien or an unpaid Federally-funded student loan). And they want to find out if you have any other legal liens or encumbrances ... unpaid court-ordered obligations, state taxes, regional taxes, county taxes, city taxes. And lastly, they want to check to make sure you aren't a "deadbeat parent" who owes back child support. Lottery agencies will deduct these obligations from your payment.
Then, there's one other kind of delay if you win a regional lottery. If you win a Powerball or Megamillions jackpot, their headguarters has to tally up the nationwide take so they know how much to send to the states where winners are. Though usually a fast process, this can delay your "pay day" even further - beyond the time it takes to run the background checks. Bottom line? There's no reason whatsoever to "show up" at a lottery office unless it's required by law.
6. The Publicity Event
Winners required to participate in publicity events usually resign themselves into believing that their anonymity is history. This is absolutely NOT true. By this time, you should have already performed a legal name change. The attention of the media and other interested persons is focused on someone who doesn't really exist. And the information you give these people will go unquestioned. So, make it all up. But what about your appearance?
Lottery jackpot tickets must be redeemed at a central or main lottery agency office. And such offices are always located in or near major metropolitan centers. Fortunately for winners, metropolitan centers are also home to a number of salons or theatrical groups that can perform "extreme makeovers" (EXAMPLE), making you look completely different than you'd normally appear.
If a publicity event is required, have this makeover done "before" you visit your driver license agency so the new driver license you show the Lottery Commission will reflect your "new you" appearance.
FWIW, while I'm a Caucasian person, I have friends who do theatrical work in makeup & costumes who could easily make me look Asian. I could, therefore, have them make me appear "Japanese" and acquire a Japanese name via a legal name change. This would allow "J. Alec West" (me) to remain anonymous while media hounds try to hunt down "Yoshinobu Takagi" (not me, hehe).
At a publicity event, armed with a name no one would recognize and an appearance no one would recognize, your anonymity is assured. Just remember to keep your answers short if a press conference is required. For example:
Them: "What do you do for a living?"
You: "I'm unemployed."
Them: "What do you plan to do with the money?"
You: "Not sure. I'll see a financial advisor first."
Them: "Do you have any family in the area?
Give them "ordinary" and "non-informational" answers that can't be followed up on. You may be required to "show up" at the publicity event. But you're not required to be unique, interesting, or newsworthy. You're not even required to smile. Give the media hounds a real poker-face and show NO excitement whatsoever. The interview process will conclude quickly if you do.You: "No. I'm single, have no siblings, and my parents are both deceased."
7. The Big "Reality Check"
So, you think YOU are the big winner, eh? Yes and no. The truth is, a lot of hands can go out when you win a lottery jackpot - all expecting their piece of your pie. This is especially true if you choose a "lump sum" payment instead of an annuity spread out over several years. Accountants usually suggest winners take the lump sum. I agree. You "know" what the tax rates are now. You don't know what they'll be 10 years from now. If you had to guess, would you predict tax rates will go up or down over the next 10 years? I'd predict "up." There was a sizable change in tax rates between 2013 and 2014 (higher). So, it's best to grab the cash right away to avoid higher tax rates on your principal in the future.
In lump-sum payouts, the first hand to go out is from your lottery commission itself. Let's use my state, Washington, as an example. Megamillions, Powerball, and state lotto tickets are sold ... and they each have their own distinct cut. This "cut" can vary from one drawing to the next. But judging by a recent set of lottery games, Megamillions winners keep more of their pre-tax winnings than in other games - roughly 68.5%. Powerball follows with roughly 57.5% to winners. And Washington state lotto winners only get to keep roughly 48.3%. So, let's do the math.
Let's assume I've won what the lottery commission claims is a $10,000,000 jackpot. And let's assume I choose to take a lump-sum payout. In reality, their pre-tax check to me would be for $6,850,000 (Megamillions), $5,750,000 (Powerball), or $4,830,000 (state lotto).
Remember we're talking about Washington state payouts ... and that Washington has no state income tax. And in my area, there are no county income taxes, city income taxes, or other income taxes (ie., a metropolitan service district) either. If you're unlucky enough to live in places where state, county, city, or MSD income taxes exist, you'll have to figure out their tax bites on your own. In my case, only one other hand goes out - the hand of the I.R.S.
This is when you realize there's a reality check WITHIN a reality check. Lottery commissions are always lying by omission when they tell jackpot winners what their "after taxes" check will be. To lottery commissions, "after taxes" only means they've taken out the 25% "mandatory withholding" taxes required by the I.R.S. However, in virtually ALL cases, you'll owe the I.R.S. more. Read this Forbes Magazine article to see 2016 tax rates for all filing categories.
As a single person, I fall into the highest tax bracket possible. The I.R.S. will stick out its hand a second time when I file my 1040 (unless it's paid earlier). My tax rate for tax-year 2016 is 39.6% of income above $415,050 plus $120,529.75. So, let's revisit those payouts again:
$6,850,000 pre-tax Megamillions = $4,181,230.05 after all Federal income taxes
Those final figures are better than a kick in the crotch, I suppose (grin). But they're a far cry from the $10,000,000 jackpot advertised and promoted by the lottery commission. What you "see" is not what you "get."
One other thing. I receive Social Security & pension payments each month. This income is not considered "ordinary income" by the I.R.S. and is taxed at a lower rate. BUT ... if I took a lottery payout greater than SS/pension income, SS/pension income would magically "transform" itself into ordinary income - and be taxed at the same rate. Of course, if I took a lump-sum payout, it would only affect me in the tax-year I received it. After that, no matter how rich I still was, SS/pension income would revert back to the lower tax rate.
8. The Aftermath
OK. You've redeemed your ticket, waited, and now have your money. Great! It's now time to turn back the clock. Legally change your name back to your original name. And, though it may be a thing you'd rather not do, reverse your "appearance" back to your original appearance (if a publicity event was required). Even if you have to reverse your appearance, it would only be for a short time. If you liked your extreme makeover appearance, you can gradually reclaim it - after the lottery interest heat has died down.
At this point, to retain your anonymity, you only need to remember the most important advice:
Try to keep your wallet or purse shut as well ... at least for the near-term future. Most money experts, at this point, would advise you to seek out and hire a financial planner. But not me. Why seek out and hire a financial planner when you can BE one? Many colleges and universities like Boston University in Massachusetts or Pepperdine University in California offer self-paced financial planning courses you can take online in the privacy of your own home. They entail 6 courses (or 7 courses if "Capstone" training is required). Once you complete these courses with a passing grade, these universities give you a certificate of completion (eg., a diploma suitable for framing) that attests to your competency as a financial planner.
During this training period, do not increase your lifestyle-level in a manner that would raise eyebrows or be publicly noticed. Yeah, you can quit your job (grin). Tell friends and relatives that you "know what you're doing" ... and are taking training to be a freelance financial planner so you can work out of your home.
This training solves two problems:
1 - KNOWLEDGE --- By spending the first few months of your post-jackpot life learning how to wisely handle your money, you'll be less inclined to spend it recklessly or give it away recklessly. The "spending" and "giving" can always come later - after you've learned to do it wisely.
2 - THE EXCUSE --- Once you have your certificate of course completion, you now have an "excuse" to explain away a job resignation or a rapid increase in the level of your lifestyle. Think about that.
If you're living in an apartment and driving a fifteen-year-old Chevy Astro one week - and living in an upper middle-class house and driving a brand new Mercedes the next week, a lot of people around you might become curious. If they do become curious, satisfy their curiosity by showing them your framed certificate. Tell them you're making considerably more money as a freelance financial planner than you did while you were employed. If they ask you questions about your clientele, simply tell them that client information is considered confidential. And if they ask if they can become one of your clients, simply tell them you're already serving the maximum number of clients that you can handle professionally - and are no longer taking on new clients. Because financial planners earn a very good income, your sudden good fortune will be explained to their satisfaction.
Technically speaking, you wouldn't be lying to them. You'd merely be omitting the fact that YOU are your only client.
I decided to add this "suggestion" recently - to be used in conjunction with your financial planning training period. Before you get your money, put all your valuable belongings into a storage facility. Buy a WIFI-enabled laptop computer if you don't already have one. And once you get your money, do the one thing that will guarantee your privacy:
It's kind of hard for media people and others to touch bases with you when you're "on the road." In addition, almost every hotel & motel has free or cheap WIFI - allowing you to do your online financial planning courses while you travel. When you complete your training, it'll be time to return home - unless, of course, you find a new place you'd like to live in during your travels and choose to relocate (grin).
Set your ISP's email account to "autoresponder" mode - telling people you're temporarily away - somewhere. Then set up a free web-based email account to communicate with. Make sure the college offering your financial planner training knows it. And be very very careful about who else you share that address with. But even if you screw up and give it out to the wrong person, you can always abandon that email address and create a new one (grin).
Lottery winner horror stories not only involve how winners mismanaged their anonymity but also how their money was mismanaged - sometimes by others. That's why I recommended that you take training to be your own financial planner instead of seeking out and hiring one.
Remember Bernard Madoff? A number of wealthy and influential persons (like Steven Spielberg) trusted Madoff with their money - only to see it vanish in the wind. Even banks like HSBC and educational institutions like Tufts University trusted this man. The Madoff example should have taught us that impressive credentials and impressive client lists are meaningless. In a world where financial shenanigans are more commonplace, the best advice to take comes from poet & playwright, William Shakespeare - "To thine own self be true."
BTW, Madoff isn't alone. Check out THIS example of bad advice given specifically to a lottery winner.
I wanted to add one final note to this. In 2015, I received a slightly angry email from someone who I'd guess was a certified financial planner. He suggested my advice to be your own financial planner was bad advice - that people should just be "careful" when they seek out and hire a professional who has a track record of experience. I replied, quote, "Careful? Don't you think that insanely rich people like Steven Spielberg, banks like HSBC, and educational institutions like Tufts University exercised care in selecting Madoff before they gave him a penny? I do. So if these people and institutions exercised care in selecting a financial advisor, please explain to me how common people like Joe & Suzy Sixpack are supposed to do better?"
No reply (grin). Of course, if you "want" to hire an experienced professional, go ahead - knock yourself out. Not me. I'd rather trust my own "educated" guesses on how to handle a once-in-a-lifetime windfall than the educated guesses of someone to whom I'm a profit center (via fees & commissions).
Now I'll share some "gut" advice on what to do with your money - subject to change after taking financial planner training. For wealth preservation purposes, it's best to invest your money ONLY in "insured" vehicles. TIPS securities (U.S. Treasury) and high-yield CDs (or standard savings accounts) come to mind. Technically speaking, Treasury securities aren't "insured." But when it comes to FDIC-insured bank deposits and Treasury securities, one truth emerges. While these investments might not pay returns as high as growth funds recommended by (ahem) "experts," the only way you'll lose your principal is if the U.S. Government goes bankrupt. And if that happens, it won't matter where you have your money invested since it would all be worthless anyway.
On bank deposits, just remember they're only insured up to $250,000 BANK BY BANK, not BRANCH BY BRANCH nor ACCOUNT BY ACCOUNT. Make certain you entrust no more that $250,000 to any single bank. If you do and the bank goes into default, you'll lose anything above that first $250,000.
What would I personally do with a large jackpot windfall? This changed recently in Washington state, depending upon whether the jackpot is more or less than $100,000. Jackpot tickets over $100,000 must be redeemed in person at the state lottery headquarters office ... and only by appointment.
I wasn't born yesterday. The ticket verification process is the same, regardless of the jackpot amount. So, while the lottery commission says they'll do whatever they can to respect your privacy concerns, the reason for the "appointment" is clear. When you show up to redeem such a ticket, you won't show up alone. The lottery commission requires an appointment for only one reason - to give them time to set up a media feeding-frenzy. So, what would I do?
My state allows me to claim the jackpot through a trust - allowing an attorney to redeem the ticket. But my state also will not allow my name to remain anonymous, even if claimed through a trust. The solution? Legally change my name first, then form the trust, and "then" have the lawyer redeem the ticket (grin). Note, this is something I'd do "only" if I was keeping the money all to myself. But since I plan on sharing the jackpot with others, I'd do this instead.
Still, I'd take an online financial planning course from an accredited college or university. And afterward, I "might" ask a CFP (certified financial planner) for advice - as long as the advice didn't give him/her power of attorney over my money. After my training, I think I'd be able to recognize bogus suggestions when I heard them.
In any case, what follows is what I'd "like" to do based on current gut feelings on personal finance (subject to change based on "training" and "advice" I can trust).
Regardless of the jackpot amount and once the money is in my hands, I'd first buy, accessorize and remodel (if necessary) a good middle-class home. Then, I'd get two good middle-class cars (one for a backup if the other has to go into the shop). If people ask me how I did it, I'd just tell them I dipped into my retirement savings (without telling them a lottery jackpot was part of it).
The remaining money would be divided into two parts - "my" money (to live on) and "charitable" money (to give to friends, relatives and charities). The "charitable" part could be quite large - depending on how big the jackpot is. I don't plan on "living large" myself. My needs are simple (grin). So, what would I do with "my" money?
I'd put $500,000 into my two credit-union savings accounts ($250,000 each at two "different" credit unions). Both allow unfettered online transfers into checking accounts. Any remaining money would be split into four parts - to be invested in treasury securities in four countries:
#1 - SwitzerlandWhy them? The EWI Stable Currency Index, maintained by Elliott Wave International (the world's largest market forecasting company) chooses four international currencies as the most stable. To make this determination, EWI takes 8 factors into consideration - the liquidity of its banking system, its national savings rate, its central bank's integrity and transparency, the history of its legal system, the extent of its political neutrality, the degree to which it is isolated geographically, its prospects for inflation, and geographical detachment from the other selections.
Point is, the likelihood that any of these currencies would fail is very very low. But even if one of them failed, the stability of the other three currencies would remain largely unaffected by the failure. In short, you should never put all your eggs in one basket (grin). Four baskets are better than one.
Later, when my 2 credit union savings accounts are near depletion, I'd sell treasury securities to replenish the accounts back to $250,000 each - reinvesting the remaining money in the treasury securities of whatever EWI says are the 4 most stable currencies at the time.
The EWI Stable Currency ratings can change at any time without notice. So, click here to see the current four countries whose currencies are considered most stable.
One final note. In charitable giving, assuming the charity is a "tax exempt" entity, you can take your gifts off (to a point) as a tax deduction. But there has been a major change in gift tax for gifts to non-exempt persons or entities.
First, a little "giving" wisdom on gifts to non-exempt persons (friends, relatives, etc.). When you give any money to a friend or relative, the money ceases to be considered "ordinary income" for tax purposes. It instead becomes a "taxable gift." And gift recipients are NEVER held liable to pay those taxes. Donors are.
As of tax-year 2014 (remains the same in 2015 & 2016), you are allowed to give up to $14,000 (per tax-year) to any given person without incurring a responsibility to pay gift tax. In other words, if you wanted to give 100 gifts out to 100 friends for $14,000 each, you'd incur no gift tax responsibility. But, if the gifts are even a penny more per friend ($14,000.01), YOU (the donor) would have to report the gifts to the I.R.S. In either case, your friends would have no tax responsibility whatsoever.
First, be sure to tell gift recipients that they "might" be contacted by the I.R.S. if you give them more than $10,000. Banks are required to report bank deposits that exceed $10,000 to the I.R.S. If they are contacted, they should simply tell the I.R.S. that the money was a taxable gift from you. They will be satisfied with that explanation. However, this is where gift tax law becomes "complicated."
Once the sum of all your gifts (the ones you're required to report) exceeds a certain amount (a lifetime exemption), you (the donor) will have to pay gift tax. The lifetime exemption is currently $5,450,000. After that much taxable giving, donors are required to pay 40% of subsequent gifted amounts to the I.R.S. Example? If, after reaching the lifetime exemption amount, you give someone a million dollars as a taxable gift, be prepared to cut a 2nd check to the I.R.S. for $400,000.
Final Disclaimer From The Author - I should tell you that a financial professional in the state of Wisconsin has "challenged" my advice to change your name before redeeming your ticket, then changing it back afterward. To be fair to site visitors (and to him), please click HERE to see his challenge and my response to it.
Parting Thoughts --- One of the first things many jackpot winners say they'll do after winning is start their own business. Statements like this boggle my mind - for two reasons. First, winning a lottery jackpot doesn't mean you'd be a "smart" businessperson. If you had no acumen for business before winning, what makes you think you'd suddenly acquire that acumen afterward?
True story. A coworker at my last employer won a $1,000,000 lotto jackpot. She gave the money to her husband so he could start his own business. The business failed in less than six months, the money was all gone, and she was STILL working for my employer when I retired. Whether or not she was still married is something I don't know (grin).
The second thing that boggles my mind? Most people have "jobs." If winning a jackpot has just freed you from the clutches of someone else's timeclock, why in the heck would you want to re-imprison yourself with a timeclock of your own making? For Heaven's sake, you're a jackpot winner!!! Go out there and ENJOY yourself - free from the constraints of ANY timeclock.
Who needs time?
Stop the clock at half-past nine.
Take out some cheese and laze around....
From "Fig Tree Bay" by Peter Frampton
Visitors Since 1/1/2006