Warren Buffett's employees could win $1 million a year for life—here's what to do with a windfall

Warre Buffett and his Omaha-based company will be rooting for the 8th-seeded Creighton Bluejays
Andreas Rentz | Getty Images
Warre Buffett and his Omaha-based company will be rooting for the 8th-seeded Creighton Bluejays

Warren Buffett's annual March Madness bracket contest is a little more high-stakes than the typical office pool: Berkshire Hathaway employees can win $1 million a year for life if they correctly guess which teams make it to the Sweet 16.

This year, the stakes are even higher: If a Nebraska team wins it all, the prize will double. "So, instead of $1 million, it'll be $2 million," the Oracle of Omaha told "Squawk Box."

Buffett, who has been running the contest since 2014, doesn't have much to worry about. Last year, of the 18.8 million brackets filled out on ESPN, only 18 people picked a perfect Sweet 16.

That said, last year, one of Buffett's employees nearly won the grand prize after correctly picking 31 out of the first 32 games. The employee didn't bring home $1 million a year for life but did receive a check for $100,000, the amount Buffett awards the person with the longest surviving bracket.

The odds of winning Buffett's jackpot may be quite slim, similar to the chances of winning the lottery, but if you do beat the odds in a contest like this, here is the smartest way to handle a sudden windfall.

Keep quiet

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

Holeman tells CNBC Make It that coming forward too early can lead to hasty decisions and can make lottery winners targets of crime and greed.

It's also smart to come up with a media plan, whether that means hiring a spokesperson or staying in a hotel to avoid reporters who may be flooding your front lawn, before you cash in the winning ticket.

Move slowly and strategically 

Experts also suggest not making any rash life changes. By slowing things down, you're less likely to be reckless with your newfound wealth and risk losing it all.

Find a trusted financial planner so you don't have to deal with the windfall all on your own, says Holeman: "This is one case where you should work with an advisor. When you're talking about that large of an amount of money, your situation gets very complicated very quickly."

Some experts also recommendcontacting an attorney to help with estate planning and gifting your wealth. Ideally, your advisor, CPA and attorney will all work together to help you make smart financial decisions and plan for the future.

Treat yourself but beware of lifestyle inflation

If you win the lottery, Buffett's $1 million a year grand prize or even Buffett's $100,000 longest-standing bracket prize, you should celebrate and enjoy yourself. But come up with a plan before buying anything. For starters, "you should account for taxes," which will take about half of your winnings, Holeman notes.

Next, think about your financial goals. What big, future purchases do you want to save for? How much do you want to donate, and to which charities and organizations? Do you want to gift money to family members?

In general, "you should be saving the majority of it and also looking to donate and help out others. Then, you can go ahead and splurge a little, but give yourself a spending cap," says Holeman. "There's the type of person who's the big spender, who will immediately buy a bunch of Lamborghinis, a yacht or a mansion.

"If you get used to having this lifestyle and don't track how much you're spending, then it's easy to forget that the money is not necessarily guaranteed if you're not smart with it." Which is how former NBA No. 1 draft pick Joe Smith went from a $61 million fortune to owing $157,000.

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