Last night a 53-year-old hospital worker from Massachusetts won $758 million dollars in the lottery. She promptly quit her job, which is probably the right thing to do when you have a personal net worth greater than that of many island nations.
The question is… what now?
Of course, winning the lottery comes with troubles the size of that giant check. Winners are often plagued by family issues, personal crises and, ultimately, financial problems that drive many of them into bankruptcy. It's called the Curse of the Lottery, and it's so bad that many winners often end up worse off than if they'd never won in the first place.
Fortunately it can all be avoided. For all of us out there on the cusp of making that big win, and for Mavis Wanczyk, if she's reading this, here are three tips for making sure that Powerball ticket spells big dreams, not big problems.
Step One: Slow down, then decide how to collect your money
"The first thing you need to do," said Robert Pagliarini, President of Pacifica Wealth Advisors, "is take a long and deep breath because your life, at least temporarily, will be turned upside down."
"Immediately after you do that," he added, "find yourself a tax expert and financial planner to help you determine the most important financial decision of your life . . . do you take the lump-sum or the annuity. The consequences of this decision are enormous so it is critical to have experienced professionals guiding you through the options."
A little known fact about the lottery is that it offers winners two ways to collect their money. Winners can take their entire winnings stretched out over time (generally 30 years), or they can take a substantially smaller lump-sum payment all at once. Almost all winners take the lump sum payment which, with smart investing, can actually be the right financial play.
It's a multi-million dollar decision that needs to be made fairly quickly. If you ever find yourself making one of those, don't try to do it alone.
Step Two: Get a good lawyer
A lawyer is like a fire extinguisher. You might never use it, but when you need one you really need one.
And once you win the lottery, you really need one.
Getting the right lawyer is a bulwark against everything that follows. They can help protect your assets, connect you with a financial advisor, address your now incredibly complex taxes and even run background checks on all those family members who start coming out of the woodwork.
Uncle Dale's story about his brave battle with alien hand syndrome might sound heart wrenching, until you discover that he's biologically closer to a portobello mushroom than your mother.
Sudden good fortune, whether it's winning the lottery, writing a bestseller, even getting a high-paying job out of school, it can turn someone's head. People make bad decisions -- not because they're stupid, but because the situation gets overwhelming and the ability to write a check becomes an easy source of stress relief.
"It's very easy to get caught up in the excitement and stress of the moment," said Erik Carter, a senior financial planner with Financial Finesse, "which is never a good state to make financial decisions in. You'll also probably be deluged by people asking you for money, giving you unsolicited advice, or trying to sell you things you don't need. Since everyone's needs are so different, I would say the most important thing is to consult with a qualified and unbiased financial planner that can help you define what's really most important to you and map out a plan with the money to make that happen."
Having a good lawyer working side-by-side with that planner to monitor your money and the people making demands on it, that can make the difference in the world.
Or, buy this Lamborghini.
Step Three: Invest and structure your money
Here are a few very bad things to do with several million dollars:
- Leave it in a checking account.
- Leave it in a savings account (although that's somewhat better).
- Put it into a boat.
- Put it into a car.
- Buy your friend's bar.
- Buy your friend's boat.
- Day trade.
- Invest in pogs.
And honestly, if you have to buy something off that list, go with the pogs. They're the most likely to keep their value.
What should you do instead? Invest and structure your money.
Look, for a little while your bank account is a safe place to keep this cash, but that's far too much money to leave in one place for long. Not to mention that any substantial amount of cash can earn real returns when put into even a modest series of investments.
"Get over the initial thrill and then settle down a bit," advised Al Zdenek, president of Traust Sollus Wealth Management. "Surround yourselves with a 'Championship Team of Advisors' that will teach you and not just tell you what to do. Put a 'core' amount aside, an amount that will leave you with a cash flow that will keep you financially independent, no matter how foolish you might be with the rest of your money."
Keeping yourself informed and solvent will be the key to your future, and that involves making smart moves with your money, whether it comes from a lottery ticket or the payoff after years of hard work.
Work with your lawyer and financial advisor to turn that money into investments that make sense for your personal style and financial future. If your resources are large enough, create a series of trusts to help keep assets safe from both family members and the IRS.
This is a long, complicated process, but managing millions of dollars should be complicated. Don't let it all just sit there.
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