A woman in New Hampshire says she's the winner of a $559.7 million Powerball ticket, but she hasn't cashed in yet because she doesn't want to reveal her identity. That kind of thinking makes sense to Nick Holeman, a certified financial planner at Betterment.
While winning the lottery can be a life-changing event, it can also come with challenges, he says, so he advises anyone holding a winning ticket to try to stick to some ground rules — like, to the extent possible, remain quiet about it.
"I would recommend not telling people," Holeman previously told CNBC Make It. Publicity can subject winners to greed and crime. So, "I wouldn't go broadcasting it to the world."
The desire to stay low-profile has kept this winner, called "Jane Doe" in the lawsuit she filed against the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, from claiming the winnings yet. Her attorney, Steven Gordon, says she "wishes to continue this work and [keep] the freedom to walk into a grocery store or attend public events without being known or targeted as the winner of a half-billion dollars."
Unfortunately for Doe, New Hampshire's lottery rules require the winner's name, town and the winning amount to be made public information. And Doe already signed the back of the ticket.
She argues she was following instructions posted on the ticket and on the state lottery website by signing before consulting with a lawyer. Still, officials want her to play by the rules. In a statement, New Hampshire Lottery Executive Director Charlie McIntyre said, "While we respect this player's desire to remain anonymous, state statutes and lottery rules clearly dictate protocols."
The winnings will expire after one year if they remain unclaimed.
Lottery winners are more likely to declare bankruptcy within three to five years than the average American, reports the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. Nearly one-third of winners eventually declare bankruptcy, and that is likely due to the lack of a plan.
To improve your odds, should you ever get lucky, consider hiring a financial advisor and avoid making rash decisions, suggests Holeman. "When you're talking about that large of an amount of money, your situation gets very complicated, very quickly," he says. "You'll be subject to higher rates of taxes, your tax deductions get phased out … and you have new taxes that you weren't even subject to before."
Prepare to say 'no,' too, since it's likely family and friends will come to you with financial requests. Remember that "you can't help everybody, Holeman says. "You're going to risk being called selfish or stingy but, even if you win millions, he adds, "you have to be smart with who you lend money to and who you help out."
And, if you get used to lending away too much money or living an overly extravagant lifestyle, he says, "it's easy to forget that the money is not necessarily guaranteed if you're not smart with it."
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