The Mega Millions jackpot is at a record-breaking $1.6 billion—here's what to do if you win

This is what you do if you win the lottery

The Mega Millions lottery is now at a record-breaking $1.6 billion. CNBC estimates that your odds of winning the Mega Millions are one in 302.6 million.

There's no secret to winning the lottery — the only surefire way to get yourself a winning ticket is to be incredibly lucky. Kimberly Morris of Wake Forest, North Carolina, won the lottery twice in one day, and she can attest that there's nothing to victory but chance. "I wasn't really expecting much," she says. "I just enjoy playing the lottery."

If you do win big, however, there are clear rules experts suggest you follow and traps to avoid. Here are three ways to really beat the odds — by making sure your winnings don't go to waste.

Keep quiet

The first thing that experts recommend winners do is to keep quiet. "I would recommend not telling people," says Nick Holeman, certified financial planner at Betterment. "I wouldn't necessarily go broadcasting it to the world."

Holeman says that coming forward too early can lead to hasty decisions and can make lottery winners targets of crime and greed. Lottery winners typically have three months to present their ticket, but they often come forward much more quickly.

For instance, when Mavis L. Wanczyk of Chicopee, Massachusetts, won the $758.7 million Powerball jackpot earlier this year, she spoke with the press in less than 24 hours.

Move slowly

Experts also suggest not making any rash life changes. The CFP Board of Standards says nearly one-third of lottery winners eventually declare bankruptcy, and lottery winners are more likely to declare bankruptcy within three to five years than the average American.

That's often because winners can become reckless with their newfound wealth. In order to avoid a harsh fate, lottery winners should not make any hasty decisions. Former social worker Sandra Hayes maintains a frugal lifestyle, even after winning a $224 million Powerball jackpot with a dozen of her coworkers.

"I know a lot of people who won the lottery and are broke today," she said. "If you're not disciplined, you will go broke. I don't care how much money you have."

Victoria Vazquez displays $280 worth of Mega Millions lottery tickets for her office pool on March 30, 2012.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Be strategic

Powerball winners have the option of collecting their winnings as a lump sum prize or in a series of payments over 30 years, known as an annuity. Holeman says the annuity is the smart choice.

"If you get a huge lump sum, it's easier to make a mistake, whereas if you choose the annuity, then at least if you mess up and blow the first year's worth, you have another chance."

Jim Cramer, on the other hand, thinks the lump sum option is the right choice, arguing that you want to put as much money as possible to work for you as soon as possible. "Take the money all at once," the CNBC "Mad Money" host said. "Don't let them string it out like that. You want the time value of all that cash working for you. That's vital."

No matter which you choose, thinking strategically can help you avoid making the same mistakes of winners past.

This is an updated version of a post that appeared previously.

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