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what do you do if you win powerball

What Happens When You Win Powerball?

If you win the Powerball jackpot there are a number of important steps to follow. You will be guided through the process by lottery officials, but the first thing you need to do is claim your prize and have your ticket validated. You may be required to attend a press conference and will have to decide whether to accept your money as an annuity or a one-off cash payment. Read here all about what happens when you win Powerball.

How Long To Claim?

If you win a Powerball jackpot, it is important to know the length of time you have to claim a prize. This varies from state to state, ranging from 90 days in New Mexico to a year in several states. Visit the How to Claim page to view a full list of the participating jurisdictions and the claim period for each one. Any Powerball prize must be claimed in the state in which you bought your ticket.

Who Should You Tell?

Make sure to keep your ticket safe and sign the back of it until you are ready to come forward. You may wish to see an attorney or financial advisor first, and you should then contact the relevant state lottery and inform them that you have a winning ticket. The officials will ask you a series of simple questions about your ticket and check the information you provide against their own records, before setting up a meeting to validate the ticket.

This meeting will be arranged at a suitable time, and you will be asked to provide identification as well as your winning ticket. The lottery officials will complete the relevant paperwork and you will be able to ask for expert advice.

It is your prerogative to tell whoever you want about your win, and winners have taken very different approaches in the past. Tennessee couple John and Lisa Robinson, who won one third of the record $1.58 billion Powerball jackpot in January 2016, went on the Today show before verifying their ticket with lottery officials. Marvin and Mae Acosta from California, winners in the same draw, didn’t come forward to claim their prize until six months later, after they had consulted a professional financial advisor to plan what they would do with their newfound wealth.

Receive Your Money

Before the money can be transferred to your account, you need to decide how you would like to be paid. Powerball winners can decide whether to accept the full amount in annual instalments over 30 years or accept a one-off lump sum. Take a look at the Cash Vs Annuity page to find out more. If you win the Powerball jackpot, you have to pay tax regardless of which option you choose.

Players should be aware that there is an immediate federal tax withholding of 24 percent for any winnings over $5,000, and the top federal graduated tax rate is 37 percent. You can check out the Powerball Taxes page for more information.

To Go Public or Not?

There are a growing number of states in which you are allowed to remain anonymous when you win the lottery – Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming all allow winners to shield their identities. In some of these states there are conditions, where you must have won a certain amount to be able to stay private. Winners in Puerto Rico can also remain anonymous.

In other states, it is a condition of playing that the identity of winners is revealed, and it is customary for a press conference to be held. However, you are not required to speak at the press conference and some winners prefer to alter their appearance so they are not so easily recognized. Only your name and place of residence (your town or city) will be made public; all other personal information will not be disclosed.

A number of states also allow winners to claim their money through a trust fund or limited liability company, where a вЂ˜lottery lawyer’ would come forward on your behalf, thus maintaining your anonymity. Of course, some winners embrace the publicity as it can help with business opportunities or charitable causes, and can take away the stress of having to live with such a big secret.

Live the Dream

Once the news has sunk in, you have received your money and considered the issue of publicity, you can start to enjoy your winnings. You should consult a financial expert for advice but it is up to you how to use your money, now that you are richer than some celebrities. The minimum Powerball jackpot is $20 million ( * During the Coronavirus pandemic, the starting jackpot may be lower than this), the same amount that BeyoncГ© once reportedly spent on a private jet for Jay-Z, so you could buy something similarly extravagant, move into the house of your dreams or travel the world in style, all while providing financial security for life for you and your loves ones.

Find out what steps to take if you win the Powerball jackpot, including how to claim your winnings, should you go public or not, and the different options for claiming a jackpot.

10 Things To Do When You Win The Lottery

Gallery: 10 Steps To Take When You Win A Lottery Jackpot

Editor’s note: This post was updated on January 12th, 2016, to reflect the current $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot and the 2016 lifetime exemption from estate and gift taxes.

The jackpot for tomorrow’s Powerball drawing has hit $1.5 billion. If you win it, you won’t ever have to worry about money again–right?

With good money management you–and your heirs–could live handsomely for many, many years. But from the moment that you claim that prize, you will be descended upon by vultures who want a hefty helping of those winnings. And if you didn’t have smart money habits up until now, you could easily turn out to be your own worst enemy by quickly squandering the fortune. (See my post, “Thieves And Forgers Rush In Where Big Spenders Dare To Tread.”)

The first precautionary step you should take between now and the drawing is to sign the back of the ticket, says Carolyn Hapeman, a spokeswoman for The New York Lottery. A lottery ticket is a bearer instrument, she explains, meaning that whoever signs the ticket and presents a photo ID can claim the prize. So if you haven’t signed the ticket and it blows out of your hand while you are waiting for a bus, or if you show it to a buddy in a bar and accidentally leave it on the counter, you’ve lost the loot.

Here are some steps to help you steer clear of additional risks. Most of them work well for other windfalls too–for example with sudden wealth that comes from an inheritance or the sale of a business.

1. Remain anonymous if your state rules permit it. Once people know you’re suddenly wealthy, you’ll be badgered by requests for handouts from everyone from charities to long-lost friends and relatives–not to mention all the financial “experts” who will be vying for your business. So check state rules to see whether you can dodge them all by remaining anonymous.

Rules on winner publicity vary by state. In New York, for example, winners’ names are a public record. Elsewhere it may be possible to maintain your anonymity by setting up a trust or limited liability company to receive the winnings, says Beth C. Gamel, a CPA with Pillar Financial Advisors in Waltham, MA. A client of Gamel’s who won a past lottery did that, and had a lawyer claim the prize on behalf of of the trust. In South Carolina, it’s also possible to remain anonymous.

Depending on where you bought the ticket, prize winners have between 180 days and one year from the date of the drawing to claim their prize. So find out what the state rules are and plot a course.

2. See a tax pro before you cash the ticket. You have the choice between taking the prize money all at once or having it paid out in 30 installments over 29 years in the form of an annuity. With a lump sum payment, you must immediately pay tax on the entire amount, says Michael A. Kirsh, a financial planner in New York. With an annuity, you are taxed only as you receive the payments. People who have trouble controlling their spending might prefer the discipline of receiving the money as an annuity. But this payout form has other drawbacks, Kirsh notes. You will want to compare the effective yield of the annuity with what you could earn by taking the money as a lump sum, paying the taxes and investing the proceeds.

Another issue to consider is whether taking an annuity will leave your family without the cash they need to pay estate tax if you die before the 30-year period is up, Kirsh says. In such situations people typically buy life insurance policies to cover the estate tax bill. (Powerball also says in its FAQs that it will cash out an annuity prize for an estate.)

You have 60 days from the time you claim your lottery prize to weigh the pros and cons. During this time, ask advisors to crunch the numbers and help you decide which type of payment suits you best.

3. Avoid sudden lifestyle changes. For the first six months after you win the lottery, don’t do anything drastic, like quitting your job, buying a home in Europe, trading up for a luxury car or building a collection of Birkin handbags. Meanwhile, set aside a fixed amount for splurgesit’s only natural to want to celebrate your windfall.

Save the big purchases for later. For example, you could rent a house in the neighborhood where you were thinking of moving, before you make any commitments, says Guerdon Ely, a financial planner in Chico, Calif. If you need a new car, buy a budget model for now.

4. Pay off all your debts. As I wrote in my post, “The Best Investment Advice I Ever Received,” there is no better investment than paying off debts. Whether it is credit card debt or a mortgage, your rate of return equals the interest rate on the loan. With today’s abysmal yields on relatively secure investments like CDs and Treasurys, that’s especially true. When you’ve paid down a dollar of debt, that’s a dollar you no longer owe. When you invest a dollar, you can’t be sure whether it will grow or shrink.

5. Assemble a team of legal and financial advisers. In situations like this it’s very hard to know “who’s trying to help you and who’s trying to use you,” says Ely. Rather than signing on to a group of advisors that someone else has put together, he recommends handpicking your own lawyer, accountant and investment advisor, and requiring them to work together.

Carefully vet each advisor before discussing your situation. Check broker records at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. For attorneys and insurance agents, see whether there have been any complaints filed with state disciplinary authorities.

If you live in a small community and don’t want lawyers there to know your business, seek out a professional in the nearest large city. Names can be found on martindale.com, the nationwide lawyers’ directory that you can search by location and area of practice, and on the Web site of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, a group of trust and estate lawyers.

In effect, the team you put together will function as your board of directors, Ely says. You can start by having a fee-only advisor put together a long-term financial plan and running it by the group for comment. Once you’ve decided on a plan, they can provide checks and balances on each other. You can ask one of them to serve as quarterback, coordinating the group effort. That person can also play the “bad guy,” declining requests from people or organizations for gifts that you don’t want to make.

6. Invest prudently. Ely recommends putting the money in safe, short-term investments and not even touching it for the first six months. Then ask your advisors is to put together an investment portfolio divided half-and-half between equities (such as stocks) and fixed income (like bonds). Don’t fall for investments that you don’t understand or that sound too good to be true.

7. Live within a budget. Especially if you’re not accustomed to having a lot of money, it may take some discipline to preserve your winnings and not go on a wild spending spree. One way to restrain yourself is to only spend income–not principal. Especially in today’s investment world, “It takes a lot of principal to generate income and once you start spending principal, the principal quickly dissipates,” says Dennis I. Belcher, a lawyer with McGuireWoods in Richmond VA.

8. Take steps to protect assets. People who are worth a lot of money need to guard against losing assets to creditors. They include everyone from disgruntled spouses and ex-spouses to people who win lawsuits against you. If people think you have deep pockets they may look for reasons to sue. “If you win the Powerball, everyone’s going to be laying in front of your car so you can run over them so they can sue you,” says Ely. It’s prudent to ensure you are not an easy target.

The best defense is to erect a variety of roadblocks that make it difficult, if not impossible, for creditors to reach your money and property. These asset protection strategies, as they are called, can range from relying on state-law exemptions to creating multiple barriers through the use of trusts and family limited partnerships or limited liability companies. It may be possible to rely on a variety of strategies, either separately or in combination with each other.

9. Plan charitable gifts. You can offset one of the additional income from your lottery winnings (or the annuity payments if you take it that way) with an annual charitable deduction. For gifts to a public charity, donors are entitled to an income tax deduction for up to 50% of adjusted gross income (AGI) for cash contributions and up to 30% for donations of other appreciated assets held more than 12 months.

If you are take the $1.5 billion prize in a $930 million lump sum, and are unable to decide between now and year-end which charities to support, it may be worth considering a donor-advised fund. With a donor-advised fund, you can make a charitable donation this year and claim a federal tax deduction for your irrevocable contribution but postpone recommendations about which charities should receive grants from the account until some time in the future. If you don’t want to be badgered by requests, see my post, “How To Stay Anonymous When You Give To Charity.”

10. Review your estate plan. If your winnings have made you suddenly wealthy, this may be the first time that you need to plan for estate tax. The 2012 tax law offers more flexibility than ever before. As of 2016, each person has a $5.45 million limit on tax-free transfers, which can be applied during life, when you die or some combination of the two. So if you want to share some of your largess with family and friends, this is the ideal time to do that. For details, see my posts, “6 Ways To Give Family And Friends Financial Aid” and “Give Your Estate Plan a Checkup.”

I’m a financial journalist and author with experience as a lawyer, speaker and entrepreneur. As a senior editor at Forbes, I have covered the broad range of topics that…

I’m a financial journalist and author with experience as a lawyer, speaker and entrepreneur. As a senior editor at Forbes, I have covered the broad range of topics that affect boomers as they approach retirement age. That means everything from financial strategies and investment scams to working and living better as we get older. My most recent book is Estate Planning Smarts — a guide for baby boomers and their parents. If you have story ideas or tips, please e-mail me at: deborah [at] estateplanningsmarts [dot] com. You can also follow me on Twitter

If you didn’t have smart money habits up until now, you could quickly squander the fortune.