$1.5 billion Mega Millions winner claims jackpot in South Carolina—here's why it's smart for them to stay anonymous
A South Carolina resident has come forward to claim the $1.5 billion Mega Millions jackpot from last October, the largest payout to a single winner in U.S. history.
The winner has decided to keep their identity a secret. That's wise, experts say.
While coming into money can be exhilarating, you might not want to "shout this life-changing news from the rooftops," says Rich Ramassini, a certified financial planner and the director of strategy and sales performance at PNC Investments.
Instead, keep a low profile and tell only a few people you're close to, if that's possible, because "money can change, disrupt or end relationships," Ramassini says. "It can lead to you hearing from relatives or friends you never knew existed."
Tomorrow Rodriguez, who won $1 million on "Deal or No Deal" in 2008, says she still hesitates to talk about her winnings for that reason: "The worst part of winning is sometimes you find the people closest to you treat you a little different," she says.
"They say you've changed, but it's not that you've changed — they've changed when they can't get what they want."
And the New Hampshire woman who won the $559.7 million Powerball jackpot in 2018 actually went to court for — and won — the right to remain unnamed.
It's likely she would have been "subject to an alarming amount of harassment, solicitation and other unwanted communications" had her identity been made public, the judge wrote in his ruling.
Luckily for this Mega Millions winner, South Carolina is one of a handful of states that allow lottery winners to remain anonymous.
If you live in a state that will publicize your identity, you can usually create a trust fund or another legal entity to receive your winnings.
And if you come into a windfall and can't keep your identity hidden, then you may have to learn to say "no," says Nick Holeman, certified financial planner at Betterment: You may risk being called selfish or stingy but, even if you win millions, he says, "you have to be smart with who you lend money to and who you help out."
While it's wise to limit news of your winnings to just a few people, you may want to loop in a financial advisor to get some help with managing your wealth. Lottery winners are more likely to declare bankruptcy than the average American, according to a report in the MIT Press Journals.
"The first thing to do is contact a financial planner and an accountant," says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at consumer financial company Bankrate. "Don't quit your job or make any big decisions. That can wait until the dust settles."
Consider placing a significant portion of the winnings in an emergency fund, a high-interest savings account and/or a retirement account, such as a 401(k) before you splurge, experts suggest. Get rid of your loans and other obligations. You could also invest in the stock market if you follow expert advice.
A planner can help prioritize your needs and create a budget, and can also help you decide whether to take the money in a lump sum or in a series of payments. The South Carolina winner opted for a one-time payment of nearly $878,000,000 instead of the annuity, according to the release, but there are arguments for each option.
The odds of winning the Mega Millions are slim: about one in 302.6 million. So, it's no wonder the winner "marvels at how every decision made that day" that brought them into the store, the release says.
The winner "even allowed a fellow customer to make a Mega Millions lottery ticket purchase" in front of them. So "a simple act of kindness led to an amazing outcome."
Hogan Brown, the South Carolina Education Lottery Commission's executive director, is "delighted" about the win, according to the release. Had the ticket gone unclaimed by the deadline of April 19, the money would have been redistributed to the 44 states, along with Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands, that partake in the contest. Now his state will get $61 million in income taxes from the winner.
"We are delighted that the winner is a South Carolinian and has come forward to claim this remarkable prize," Brown says. "We respect the winner's decision to remain anonymous, and we will honor the winner's wishes."
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