Nobody correctly picked all six numbers — 15, 23, 53, 65, 70 and Mega Ball 7 — in Friday night’s Mega Millions drawing, NBC reports. That sets up a record-breaking jackpot of $1.6 billion for Tuesday night. And while there wasn’t a jackpot winner on Friday, lottery officials said that there were 15 “second-tier” winning tickets of at least $1 million.
There’s no secret to winning the lottery. It just takes some incredible luck in the face of staggering odds. But what should you do if you play — and win — the $1.6 billion jackpot? Here’s what experts advise.
1. Hold onto your ticket
According to CNBC, the first thing you need to do if you win the Mega Millions or another jackpot is to hold on your ticket. Sign it and make several copies. The publication advises that “If you are somehow separated from the ticket, your signature should help ensure you still get the prize. To avoid that separation in the first place, put the original in a protected place, like a safe-deposit box.”
While CNBC recommends signing your ticket, The New York Times advises thinking twice. “If you signed your name on the back of the ticket, it could be difficult to remain anonymous,” the publication notes. “A New Hampshire woman who recently won $560 million signed her ticket after the drawing but then wanted to stay anonymous. She had to successfully sue to keep her name private.”
2. Keep quiet about your win
CNBC reports that the first thing that experts recommend to lottery winners is that you keep quiet about your win. You don’t have to tell everybody you know — and you also don’t have to present your ticket immediately. CNBC notes that “Lottery winners typically have three months to present their ticket, but they often come forward much more quickly.”
Before you claim your prize, first call your attorney. Then call your financial planner and your accountant. An attorney can help with legal claims. And The New York Times reports that a wealth adviser will help you invest your money so it lasts for years, while an accountant can reduce what you might owe in federal, state, and local taxes.
3. Try to stay anonymous
Speaking of keeping quiet, CNBC reports that you should try to stay anonymous if your state allows it. You can enlist an attorney to create a legal entity such as a revocable trust or a family limited partnership to protect your identity. The New York Times reports that accepting your prize under the name of a trust can help you successfully avoid the limelight.
And if your state requires publishing your identity, you might want to change your phone number or live somewhere else temporarily to avoid media attention (and requests for money from long-lost relatives or friends). Forbes reports that you can only remain completely anonymous if you win the lottery in six U.S. states: Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina. The remaining states “require that winners publicly disclose their identity, including their name, city and prize amount.”
4. Choose a strategy
When you claim your prize, you’ll need to decide whether you want to get all the money at once, or in a series of payments over 30 years, known as an annuity. Some experts think the annuity is a better choice, so that you can avoid making big mistakes, while others think you should take the lump sum to make the total of your winnings start working for you right away. You should rely on the advice of professionals to choose a strategy.
Forbes recommends that you should “consider the time value of money — that is, how much you can earn under each scenario comparing the timing of the payments that you receive.” With a lump-sum payment, you can invest the proceeds and earn a financial return. However, the annuity option helps to limit any reckless spending. “Overall, you should compare the after-tax proceeds and your intended investment return of each option,” Forbes recommends.
5. Don’t make hasty decisions
CNBC notes that experts also advise against making any big decisions too quickly. Nearly a third of lottery winners eventually declare bankruptcy, and you can avoid that fate by being disciplined about how you spend your money — even if you suddenly have a lot more of it. You should give yourself time to process what’s happened.
Whatever you plan to do with the money, The New York Times reports that you shouldn’t react to your win by buying expensive things (unless you can already afford them) or by quitting your job. “Slow down and be methodical,” the publication advises. It can take months to receive your winnings, and you’ll need to plan out your decisions.
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