Managing Lottery Winnings

by Dyanne Weiss, Demand Media

    We’ve all had the fantasy of winning the lottery, inheriting a fortune, or selling a business idea for millions. But the reality of sudden wealth doesn’t always offer a rosy future. We routinely hear about lottery winners who blew through their millions quickly. So, if you win the lottery, take time to celebrate ... then proceed carefully.

    Careful First Steps

    Once the news hits that someone won the lottery, that person is faced with a never-ending cascade of salespeople, long-lost relatives, needy friends, people with investment ideas and others asking for money and donations. Steering clear of making commitments is an important first step to protecting your financial health. The only person to discuss the winnings with is a tax professional or financial planner who works with wealthy people. The professional can help you evaluate whether you should take your winning as a single payment or opt for annual payments through an annuity. With a lump sum payment, you immediately pay tax on the entire amount. With an annuity, you are taxed only as you receive the payments. People who have trouble controlling their spending might prefer the discipline of receiving the money as an annuity.

    Don’t Make Big Changes Right Away

    It may be tempting to quit your job right away or splurge on something to celebrate. However, realistically, it could take a month or two for the money to be paid out. Once it is, your first priority, besides a financial plan, should be paying off any existing debt. Paying off your debts, including your mortgage, can help you live a relatively secure lifestyle and determine how much money you really have. It also will help you fix bad spending habits you may have so you don’t overdo it again with your new riches. Once you do eliminate debt, aim to pay cash for any new car or home so you stay out of financial trouble and get used to your new situation.

    Plan Your Indulgences

    Sudden wealth offers a head-spinning array of options to consider -- buying a mansion, splurging on a sports car, funding a charity, paying for college for your niece and taking your friends on a memorable vacation. But, go slowly so you can better determine how much your new wealth will allow you to spend. Brainstorm all the things you would want to own or do with the money and what they would likely cost. Rank them and evaluate the list with your financial adviser.

    Set a Budget for Yourself

    Once you know how much money you have to work with and a sense of what you would like to spend it on, your top priority should then be setting an annual budget. Determine exactly what you can spend each year. Make preserving your principal your goal and don’t chase after any risky investments or make any sudden purchases. Set a rule for how much you can spend impulsively and what spending level requires a conversation with your financial adviser to make sure it fits in your overall plan. You should meet with your adviser at least quarterly to ensure you remain on track.

    Protect the Assets Long-Term

    You should also consider the impact on your family and the money if something happens to you. Asset protection strategies can include trusts, family limited partnerships or other tools. You also need to redo your will. Lastly, consider what steps to take to ensure your spouse or children don’t have an issue with estate tax if you die before the annuity is completely paid out or if you invest the lump sum. In such situations, people often use universal life insurance policies to shelter some of the money tax-free in investments or ensure that death benefits cover the estate tax bill.

    About the Author

    Dyanne Weiss has more than 20 years experience in human resources and corporate communications. Her communications strategies' have aided employee engagement and understanding of health care benefits, retirement planning, performance planning and compensation. Weiss has also worked in several industries: energy, insurance, banking, financial planning and health care. She has an MBA in management and organizational behavior.