Learn the Advice I Just Gave Lottery Winners on CNN

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By Daniel Scott Johnson

Friday the 13th is a day a dread. But this last January’s Friday the 13th turned out to be very lucky indeed for someone in Maine. That night, one fortunate individual learned they had defied 1-in-300 million odds, picking the six numbers needed to win the MegaMillions Lottery jackpot of $1.35 billion, the fourth largest lottery jackpot in U.S. history. 

The next day, I—in my role as a sudden wealth financial advisor—was invited onto CNN and before that, CNBC, to offer advice to the as-yet-unidentified winner on how to handle new-found fortunes. This advice, which applies to anyone fortunate enough to win big in state, regional, or national lotteries, included:

  • Sign the back of your ticket, TAKE A PICTURE WITH YOU HOLDING THE SIGNED TICKED, BETTER YET VIDEO YOURSELF SIGNING THE BACK OF THE TICK. Then put it in a secure place.  Many states, Maine included, provide no warranty should a lottery ticket be lost, stolen, or damaged. Seriously. Therefore, immediately sign the back of your ticket to prove ownership, then safeguard it in a locked safe or, better yet, a bank safe deposit box. (The odds that your house will burn down in the next 30 days are probably rather slim. But then again, so were the odds of clinching the lottery!)
  • Stay anonymous For your security, please stay anonymous! States that grant anonymity include Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, and Minnesota, New Jersey, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming. If your state requires public disclusre of the winner, hold off on claiming. There’s no rush to claim, most states allow 180 days to 1 year. During this time, you can set up a “Blind Trust” to claim. Once the public knows the winner, you immediately become a target for scammers, cyber-thieves, identity theft gangs, long-lost relatives, and anyone else who wants to sell you something. Unless you want your life to suddenly become a living circus, keep the news of your windfall to yourself. At most, tell your spouse. Don’t tell your children (yet). Don’t tell your parents (yet). Don’t tell your siblings (yet). And certainly, don’t tell your friends or co-workers. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead.” Tell someone you just won $1.35 billion and, regardless of any promises made, that news will spread fast. Lightning fast. And you will suffer the consequences.
  • Assemble a team of experts. Very few people know how to handle a million-dollar windfall, let alone one that’s 1,000 times greater. For this type, you’ll need the help of financial and legal advisors, preferably ones specializing in precisely this kind of situation. (Multi-million-dollar windfalls are more common than you might think, coming from business sales, inheritances, and high-end divorce settlements as well as lotteries.) A team of sagacious lawyers, accountants, and financial management experts can help you keep as much of your winnings as legally possible and create an investment plan that not only protects your new-found fortune but sets it up to grow even larger over time, creating an estate that can protect you, your children, and your children’s children for generations to come.
  • Lay low for a while. I know it will be hard to resist the temptation to march into work the next morning and quit your job. (And if you’re the company owner, you may even feel the urge to lock the doors, send everyone home, and donate all the office furniture to Goodwill.) Whatever your employment status, I advise those who’ve enjoyed a sudden cash windfall to take a deep breath and try to continue living their lives as if nothing has happened. (Easier said than done, I know.)
  • Create a “Blind Trust to claim your winnings. Please don’t even think about walking into the lottery office and claiming the money yourself. Instead, have your legal team create a trust to claim the money for you. Using a trust allows you to remain anonymous, protecting you from potential harassment, theft, or scams. Setting up a trust will be needed for you and your family down the road, so getting this done now is critical. This move also lets you take advantage of tax planning strategies to potentially minimize the amount of taxes owed on the winnings.
  • Decide how you want to collect your prize. Virtually all lotteries give winners the choice of collecting their funds either as an annuity whose annual payments total the grand prize amount after 20 to 30 years, or as a smaller lump sum payment. (In the case of the recent $1.35 billion MegaMillions prize, the winner can choose to receive either 30 annual payments of about $45 million each, or a single lump sum payment of $724.6 million.) Both are, are of course, subject to both state and federal taxes. This will bring the actual lump sum payment down to about $456.5 million, about a third of the actual $1.35 billion grand prize total. Which option you take depends on many factors including your age, personality, investment knowledge, experience, and degree of self-control. We’ve all heard stories about mega-jackpot winners who ended up broke and destitute after blowing through their winnings in just a few years. If you fear you lack discipline, the annual annuity may be the best choice as it guarantees you’ll have money for decades to come—even if you continue to spend it less than responsibly.


Once you have your winnings in hand, the real challenge begins. How will you choose to use your sudden wealth? Some people decide to help needy family members, friends, and neighbors. Others lean into the fun times, buying luxury homes, boats, sports cars, and jewelry. Yet others become philanthropists, using their wealth to help worthy causes in their communities. 

Whatever you choose to do with your winnings, please contact us for a complimentary consultation. It’s my belief you will substantially benefit from a simple call. A call that could save your estate hundreds of thousands or possibly millions over time depending the amount at play.

It’s best to utilize the financial support of a team, one dedicated to your best interests. That’s what Windfall Advisors is here for. We’re a Fee-Only, Fiduciary, RIA Registered Investment Advisor specialized expert advising, planning, and managing financial windfalls into successful legacies. Should you be so lucky as to become an overnight millionaire—or billionaire—you now know where to turn for help. Feel free to reach out. Together, we can navigate this uncertain, yet highly exciting time! 

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