- 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.
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.
FLORIDA LOTTERY LAW: http://www.flalottery.com/faq
- 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 over in 30 installments over 29 yearsin the form of an annuity. With a lump sum payment, you must immediately pay tax on the entire amount. 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, 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.
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.
- 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 splurges—it’s only natural to want to celebrate your windfall.
- Pay off all your 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 Treasury’s, 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.
- 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,” Rather than signing on to a group of advisors that someone else has put together, handpicking your own lawyer, accountant and investment advisor, and requiring them to work together.
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. 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.
- Invest prudently. Put 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Plan charitable gifts. You can offset the additional income from your lottery winnings with a charitable deduction. But you must make your donation by Dec. 31.
If you 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.
NOTE: If you don’t want to be badgered by requests, see, “How To Stay Anonymous When You Give To Charity.”
- 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. Each person has a $5.43million 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.