It was 2016 and the Powerball Lottery was $1.6 BILLION. It was all over the news. Everyone in your office was talking and joking about what they’d do with their imaginary winnings – myself included. No one in my little group of friends ever bought lottery tickets, but we thought it would be fun to participate in the hype. We each got a ticket…. And then the stress set it. What started as exciting visions of grandeur turned into heavy conversations about unwanted attention, broken relationships, stress, and personal responsibility. (We all worked in financial services or accounting after all).  One of my friends literally said, “Thank God” after the winning numbers were announced and it wasn’t him…

Last week, the Mega Millions Lottery was up to $1.1 billion! I have some lighthearted comments on what to do after winning the lottery (but they are also quite serious!). 

~

1. Sign your lottery ticket & store it VERY safely!

I wasn’t aware of this, but anyone can claim the ticket is theirs. There isn’t real proof you bought it unless you are the one holding it. Sign it, take a photo with it, and make sure it is clear it is yours. I would probably put it in a safety deposit box and not tell anyone about it until I decided I was ready to go claim it. If you lose or have your ticket stolen, the rest of the article is pointless.  

Don’t worry… since you are 300 more times likely to be struck by lightning in a given year than win the mega millions with a single ticket, you probably don’t have to worry about this anyways. 

2. Do NOTHING for a bit…

Don’t run and tell people. Don’t buy anything. In fact, don’t even hire a professional yet. Just chill out and gather yourself. Remember that the same sun that rose yesterday is the same sun that rose today, and will be the same sun that rises tomorrow. The lottery win doesn’t change the core of what’s important. 

Go ahead and get a little excited though. 😊 Just refrain from dreaming too much. 

3. Understand the ACTUAL amount you’re likely to get.

If you take the lump sum, you only get about 60% of the winnings and then you have to almost cut that in half again to account for taxes. You’re likely to only walk away with less than $400,000,000. That is still an enormous amount of money, but it’s a far cry from the island-buying wealth of $1.1 billion. 

Realizing this might help you be a little bit more rational with your daydreams!  You could probably still buy a little island though… 

4. Think about what your loved ones would want you to do with the money. 

When I say your loved ones, I mean only the people that truly love you and have cared for you before the lottery winning. They can often have the best insight into your values and happiness. I suggest thinking of what they would want you to do BEFORE you think too much about what you want to do with it. Once you decide what YOU want to do, everyone else’s suggestions tend to fall on deaf ears. 

Would they like to see you have a nice home? Further your education? Take care of grandma’s long term care facility bill? Don’t misinterpret me– this is YOUR money to use. However, we can’t ignore that our family is important to our overall happiness and how we spend our money does often impact them. Don’t verbally ask them yet. Just consider what you know to be true about what they would hope you to do for yourself and the family. 

5. Think about what YOU want to do with the money.

Start dreaming. Consider both fun and very serious ways you want to use your money. Thing short term, mid-term, and long. If your long term goals are to retire on a beach, your short term goals will have to be moderate enough to not blow it now. 

Think through your values. Who are you now? Who do you want to become? Ensure the way you are dreaming to spend your money aligns with those values. Otherwise, don’t even dream them up.

 6. Hire an attorney with a capable team!

Before you claim your lottery winnings, hire a well-respected attorney. Ask around for some good referrals. You want to see the attorney because in many states (Ohio included), you can actually claim anonymously through a trust. They will also help connect you with other competent professionals. 

7. Hire an accountant.

You might be surprised that I’m suggesting you find a good accountant before a financial advisor (considering I am one). I’m a little surprised at myself too. Here’s why, though. Accountants tend to know who the competent professionals in town are. They’ve probably had really bad experiences with some advisors, and they know which ones tend to be the most communicative. In addition to being able to assist with the tax planning, they can probably refer you to a trustworthy advisor.  

8. Hire a FEE-ONLY financial advisor!

Full disclosure – I am a fee-only financial advisor at Hixon Zuercher Capital Management. I appreciate the fee-only aspect because it helps to remove most conflict of interest with serving clients. NAPFA is an organization that only admits fee-only advisors who’ve earned their Certified Financial Planner designation. You can find NAPFA member advisors in your area here. And hey, if you’d like to connect with me – go right ahead!

If you’d like to learn more about the organization, I’ve written about why I appreciate NAPFA before, here 

~

Well, if you are that lucky person – congratulations 😊 You have an exciting and kind of rough road ahead of you. To the rest of us who are more likely reading this, we just have to save the old-fashioned way, so be sure to read my blog on how much to save for retirement.