NEW YORK (MainStreet) Last month an unknown Californian won one of the largest PowerBall jackpots in history. By anyone's measure the $425 million prize is an absolute fortune. Whether winning that money will save your life or ruin it, there's no question the ticket will change it forever. Many brand new issues and problems come with that windfall, things most of us don't have to worry about while we're working for the weekend and cashing a modest paycheck.
According to the experts, here are five issues that lottery winners should consider to keep the money from taking over their lives.
The Death of Privacy
Lotto jackpots can create so many problems that an entire sub-industry has evolved to counsel winners. Sudden wealth advisors guide people through large windfalls, whether inheritances, lottery tickets or massively overvalued companies. According to Robert Pagliarini, President of Pacific Wealth Advisors, one of the first things winners need to consider is their privacy.
A sudden fortune is big news. While someone who gets into a large inheritance or builds a company might see it coming, a lottery winner gets dropped into that mess of attention out of nowhere. Suddenly, a quiet 9-to-5 life becomes a media circus. Even friends and neighbors pay attention and, according to Pagliarini, it can feel like the money begins to take over.
There's only so much you can do to buffer against that, he said. Even with fancy accounting tricks, in the long-run a winner's name generally comes out, and once it does, it becomes very hard to lead a normal life. Some people might enjoy that, may have been looking for a way out of their normal life to begin with, but others end up having to leave behind homes and routines that they enjoyed.
It's sad, but when reporters camp outside your apartment and every conversation with your next-door neighbor Earl begins with, "so have you decided what you're gonna do with the money yet?" starting over is the lesser of two evils.
Managing the Money
Even a vast fortune needs management.
The first question for any lottery winner is how to collect the money. Prizes come in two forms, lump sum or annual payments over 20 to 30 years. The payments can mean a larger win over time, depending on taxes and how the prize is calculated, but it also limits your ability to manage and invest the money independently. Winners can make bigger plans with a lump sum than with structured payments.
On the other hand, Pagliarini said, people who worry about their self-control might benefit from structured payments.
You also have to figure out how to manage the taxes. Any fortune creates complicated tax issues, and lottery winners need to have expert advice helping them to figure it out.
Although collection and taxes are the threshold issues, managing any vast amount of money is a complicated process and needs careful thought. Common advice includes paying off all debts immediately and avoiding any major purchases in the early months after your win. Move slowly. The money isn't going anywhere and you can always pick up that new house later.
Finally, think long-term. Keeping $100 million all in cash is easy, but it's also incredibly inefficient. With wise investment, that money can do a lot more good than drawing negligible interest off a bank account. Talk to advisors about investment strategies, money management and charitable donations. It's a complicated issue. There's no need to go it alone.
Whom to Trust
Unfortunately, finding that advisor isn't easy.
As Pagliarini explained, one of the first things lottery winners need is good advice about managing the wealth and integrating it into their life. Winners need someone they can trust at the same time as their family and friends start to see only the money.
It's generally not malicious, Pagliarini explained, or even individually irrational. To the friend of a big winner, asking for money seems like a small thing. A few thousand dollars to pay off debt or even a five-figure investment was a lot to ask when your friend worked in Geico's HR department, but with half a billion dollars it's chump change. The winner has so much that any request seem perfectly reasonable.
For the winner, though, it's not just one request. It's an endless tide of friends, family and long lost acquaintances each with their one little thing. And, of course, not everyone is benign. Some people resent a winner's sudden wealth and get angry when he or she won't share.
Let your advisor be the bad guy, Pagliarini urges. He drafts a standard reply for clients deflecting all requests to him and recommends a standard system for deciding whether to give money (say, for a nephew's tuition) or reject it (perhaps for that cousin's bait shop in Manhattan). It isn't that you can't trust your family for advice, they're just not disinterested parties. Everyone now has a stake in how you spend the money. Your advisor shouldn't.
The Endless Honeymoon
Every lottery winner goes through what Pagliarini refers to as the "honeymoon phase," that rush right after collecting the money and realizing you can have anything you've ever wanted with a price tag.
The honeymoon is normal. People buy cars, take trips and go on shopping sprees with a checking account that suddenly seems like it can never run out. The difference between success stories and tragedies, Pagliarini cautions, is realizing that even millions of dollars can run out.
For most winners this ends after a couple of months he said. They spend wildly, enjoy their luck and then sober up. Some people don't, though. They live in an endless honeymoon phase, buying big-ticket items over and over again. These are the people who go broke.
Everyone's heard about lottery winners who end up bankrupt, Pagliarini said, and that's how it happens. They think the big party will never end, but any big payday can eventually run out if you spend enough. Bad habits can set in like drugs or gambling, but even avoiding outright sin, winners can still blow through everything on an endlessly extravagant lifestyle.
Winners need to think about their money in real terms, not like a magical number too big to fail. Remember, Pagliarini cautions, this is a single payday, not an income. Buy enough yachts and it will run out.
A Sense of Purpose
While living a life of leisure sunning yourself on a beach might sound like a good idea up front, the shine eventually comes off that apple. According to Pagliarini one thing he works on with his clients is keeping a sense of purpose in their lives.
Even working at a job you hate pays the mortgage gives someone a reason to get out of bed in the morning he said. You have workplace friends, people you see during your daily routing and a sense of building something. Rolling out at noon to spend another day spending money just doesn't replace the satisfaction of even doing a lousy job well and looking around at the life you built with two hands.
Instead, Pagliarini said he urges his clients to find something that they want to do with their newfound wealth, something they'll need to work on. If you don't need to apply for jobs anymore, create your own. Open a foundation, work with charities or start a company.
The important thing is to find something actively to do. No matter how great a lifelong vacation sounds, the reality is that sooner or later a purposeless life loses its appeal. Boredom sets in and against all odds you would actually be happier at Kinkos flipping copies than in Saint-Tropez.
Pagliarini isn't saying don't go to Saint-Tropez. Just spend a few hours on that beach managing your investments or answering emails. It will make each day feel worthwhile.
If you're ever lucky enough to have that problem.
--Written for MainStreet by Eric Reed, a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website www.wanderinglawyer.com.