Advisor Insight

Powerball jackpot jumps to $363 million, Mega Millions' top prize is $376 million. How winners can protect their windfall

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Key Points
  • The first thing winners should do, before even heading to lottery headquarters to claim their winnings, is assemble a team of experienced professionals to help.
  • While a big chunk would go to taxes, there may be strategies you can employ to reduce what you'd owe.
  • Preparation and planning are key to successfully navigating sudden wealth, experts say.
Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

Powerball and Mega Millions players can let the daydreaming continue.

With no one hitting all six numbers drawn in either game over the weekend, the Mega Millions jackpot is at $376 million for Tuesday's drawing and Powerball's top prize is now $363 million, with the next drawing set for Wednesday night.

Of course, those advertised amounts are not what you'd end up with if you manage to beat the astronomical odds of a single ticket winning ( 1 in 302 million for Mega Millions and 1 in 292 million for Powerball).

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What to do when you win the lottery

Nevertheless, the sudden windfall in your life would likely feel overwhelming, experts say. And while you might be eager to claim your winnings, experts say it's best not to rush over to lottery headquarters the day you discover your good fortune.

In other words, take a deep breath.

"The first thing I'd recommend is to build a team of professionals to handle the many aspects of coming into that kind of money," said certified financial planner Doug Boneparth, president of Bone Fide Wealth in New York.

That team should include an accountant, financial advisor and attorney. Here are some other considerations if you hit the jackpot.

Annuity or lump sum?

You get to choose between taking your winnings as either a lump sum or an annuity paid over 30 years. For the Mega Millions $376 million jackpot, the cash option is $287.4 million. For the $363 million Powerball prize, that amount is $279.2 million.

Experts usually recommend getting the money all at once — which is what most winners go with.

"Taking the lump sum distribution would be the preference," Boneparth said. "Doing that puts you in greater control of the money."

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He added a caveat, however.

"If you're not disciplined, or you're scared of how to invest it even with assistance, the annuity may be the better option," Boneparth said.

The tax hit

Before the money reaches you, 24% will be withheld for federal taxes. For Mega Millions' $287.4 million cash option, that would mean about $69 million coming off the top to leave you with $218.4 million. For Powerball's $279.2 million lump sum, the withholding would be $67 million, with $212.2 million remaining.

That's not the end of it, though. The top marginal rate of 37% applies to income above $518,400 for single tax filers ($622,050 for married couples filing jointly), which means much more would be due at tax time. And, there may be state taxes withheld or due.

"In some places, when you consider city, state and local taxes, you could be looking at [close to] 50% going to taxes," Boneparth said.

There may be strategies to reduce what you pay in taxes, which is why it's key to have a tax advisor on your team.

Other stuff

If you can't claim your prize anonymously — it depends on the state — you may want to skip town for a while. Unwanted attention can come from both the public and extended family.

"Your fifth uncle once removed may get hold of you," Boneparth said. "Find somewhere comfortable and get away."

Additionally, if you want to share some of the money with family or friends, plan in advance for those gifts, Boneparth said.

"You want to avoid getting hit up repeatedly," he said. "You can set up expectations ahead of time. That's when planning really comes into play."