What winners of the combined $1 billion in lottery payouts need to do

  • The lone winning Powerball ticket was worth up to $570 million, and the Mega Millions winning ticket in Florida scored $450 million before taxes.
  • Note to winners: Your first call should be to your attorney.

It's not every day you become a multimillionaire. But for the lucky holders of the two winning tickets this weekend, that unlikely event just became a reality.

The lone winning Powerball ticket sold in New Hampshire is worth up to $570 million, and the Mega Millions winning ticket in Florida scored $450 million.

The $570 million Powerball ranks as the fifth largest in the game's history, and the seventh largest jackpot in U.S. lottery history. The $450 million Mega Millions jackpot ranks as the fourth largest in the game's history.

Of course, that's before taxes. And choices the winners make now could influence how much they walk away with, as well as how far those winnings go.

Here are a few things that should top the winners' to-do list:

1. Keep the ticket close

Make sure to sign the winning ticket and make several copies. If you are somehow separated from the ticket, your signature should help ensure you still get the prize. To avoid that separation in the first place, put the original in a protected place, like a safe deposit box.

2. Chill

Typically, lottery winners have three months to stake their claim. Before you decide to prove you've won, however, it's best to first enlist the help of a team of pros: an attorney (this should be your first call), a financial planner and an accountant.

It's not uncommon for winners to face legal claims — sometimes from co-workers who either went in on a ticket or declined to but now want a piece of the action.

How investors would handle a multi-million-dollar lottery win

Take the lump sum 74.8% Take the annuity 25.2%
Claim the ticket immediately 43.4% Wait to come forward 56.6%
Consult a lawyer/accountant/financial advisor before claiming 80.1% Claim the ticket with no outside help 19.9%
Remain anonymous 90.7% Step into the spotlight 9.3%
Quit my job immediately 48.1% Keep working 51.9%
Hire a financial advisor 63.6% Manage it myself 36.2%
SOURCE: TD Ameritrade

3. Remain anonymous if possible

It's best not to announce to the world that you've won. An attorney can help create a legal entity — i.e., a revocable trust or a family limited partnership — that protects your identity. If you can't avoid publicity (some states require publishing your identity), consider changing your phone number, or living somewhere else temporarily. That will help avoid media attention and sudden money requests from long-lost friends or relatives you never knew you had.

4. Choose a lump sum or annual payments

Figure out whether to take the lump sum or 30 allotments over 29 years. This decision is often made based on your tax situation. Either way, this weekend's prizes are large enough to put you in the highest tax bracket (37 percent for 2018, down from 39.6 percent in 2017). This is when relying on the advice of pros (and not family) makes sense.

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5. Take a deep breath

Before spending a dime, think about what this sudden wealth means: not only financially, but emotionally.

Before giving in to the temptation to fill your driveway with multiple Teslas, give yourself time to process the magnitude of your win. This is often when winners begin to think about their legacy and what societal contributions they want to make. Some even set up their own charitable organizations.

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