Too bad you didn’t win a share of that recent $1.6 billion Powerball lottery.
What would you do if that much cash landed in your lap?
Months later, the three top winners of the Powerball drawing are probably still wrestling with that question. How they choose to handle their sudden wealth will determine whether it really improves their lives or leaves them suffering.
Indeed, 44% of those who won previous large lottery prizes were broke within five years, according to a 2015 Camelot Group study. The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards says nearly a third declared bankruptcy — meaning they were worse off than before they became rich. Other studies show that lottery winners frequently become estranged from family and friends, and suffer a higher incidence of depression, drug/alcohol abuse, divorce, and suicide than the average American.
Yup, if you have enemies, give ’em a lottery ticket.
The good news is that you needn’t suffer an awful fate by winning a jackpot. Just take these three steps.
First, realize that tickets are like cash; whoever has possession is the owner. Sign your ticket as soon as you buy it and store it in a secure place.
Second, the first two people you should tell after you win (don’t you love my optimistic tone?) is your Financial Advisor and an estate attorney — not your spouse, your mom, or your best friend. The reason: Your life is about to change in ways you can’t anticipate.
Although some lottery commissions let winners remain anonymous, today’s social media world makes that virtually impossible. As soon as you start wearing nice jewelry, buy a new wardrobe or an expensive car, or give cash to anyone, you’ll be outed. And everyone — parents, siblings, friends, neighbors, co-workers, charities, and strangers — will want some of your money. Many will ask for it and some will demand it, arguing they would have shared their winnings with you if they had won. Guilt and manipulation will start quickly.
Also, expect to get plenty of investment pitches: Open a restaurant! Buy a car dealership! Put money into an oil well!
Requests and demands for money begin your path to ruin. That’s why we’re here. As your financial advisor, we’ll serve as your buffer. “Call my advisor” is all you have to say. You won’t have to say no when someone asks for cash, and blaming us will help you preserve your relationships (and your sanity).
Third, realize that your newfound pile of cash is far smaller than it seems. Forget that nonsense that taxes will eat about 45% of the $1.6 billion. It’s far worse than that. If you give your best friend $100 million, you (not the friend) will be subject to gift taxes. So, unless you get very good tax and estate planning advice, keep all the money, or donate it all to charity, you could very well lose 90% of the prize to federal and state income and gift taxes.
If you win a big prize and expect it to bring you happiness, stop dreaming and start thinking about the realities of managing a fortune.
And remember: We are always here to help you.