Thinking of Going Off the Grid After Winning the Lottery? Not So Fast
Everyone dreams of it: having a small piece of paper with the right numbers printed on it and winning the life-changing $200 million, $700 million or $1 billion jackpot. But what happens after you win?
Many winners decide to remain anonymous — or at least try to — but that can be difficult when many states demand that the winners of large jackpots show their faces at news conferences.
At his own news conference in Madison, Wis., Manuel Franco, 24, who in a Powerball drawing last month won $768 million, the third-largest jackpot in United States lottery history, seemed to be trying not to divulge too much information about himself, perhaps to keep random family members from coming out of the woodwork. Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, he declined to say where he grew up, where he lived, what kind of car he drove or where he used to work. (He quit two days after winning.)
Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Texas, North Dakota and Ohio allow lottery winners to conceal their identities if the winnings exceed a certain dollar amount, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Other states, like New York, make it easy for winners to collect their prizes under the cover of an L.L.C. or an entity. But states like Wisconsin want winners to come forward to claim their prizes, although Wisconsin does not require them to appear at a news conference as Mr. Franco did.
After Mr. Franco’s $768 million win, “it seems a little ridiculous that there isn’t privacy when it comes to that,” Gary Tauchen, a Wisconsin state representative, said. “Certainly you have a lot of fourth and fifth cousins and it is just a situation when you’re under high stress.”
While Mr. Franco was answering questions about his lottery winnings as concisely as possible, Mr. Tauchen was introducing a bill seeking to ensure the privacy of lottery winners in Wisconsin.
“I know that it is one of those life-changing experiences when you need some time to adjust,” Mr. Tauchen said. “You don’t need the stress of other people putting pressure on you.”
And for jackpot winners like Mr. Franco, the pressure comes nearly immediately.
“For the next two weeks, people are going to be outside of his house,” Jason M. Kurland, a lawyer who has represented several winners of large lottery jackpots, said on Wednesday.
“I get those letters every week,” Mr. Kurland said, referring to the mail he receives intended for his clients. “They range from congratulatory letters to individuals having a tough time asking for handouts, to organizations looking for donations, to business men and women asking for investors.”
Mr. Kurland, who calls himself the Lottery Lawyer and represented the person in South Carolina who won the $1.54 billion Mega Millions jackpot last year, advises his clients to delete all their social media accounts before they claim their winnings. He also tells them to try to remove their address from public view as much as they can and to get new phone numbers. If there are children involved, he will hire security for the first couple of days.
Mr. Kurland tries to help his clients retain some privacy after they win, but if privacy is hard to achieve in 2019, anonymity is nearly impossible.
“It is very hard to participate in civil life and be anonymous,” Albert Gidari, the privacy director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, said on Wednesday. “You can’t buy a car in cash and avoid disclosing who you are because now car dealers are financial institutions,” Mr. Gidari said, adding that it was nearly impossible to transfer money in and out of the United States without disclosing who you are to the government.
“He can get a lot of lawyers and accountants and figure out how to move and hide a lot of that money at great risk to himself for not complying with government reporting,” Mr. Gidari said. “You can’t get very far, but you can get far enough to get some degree of obscurity, even if you can’t get anonymity.”
Last year the winner of a $560 million Powerball jackpot in New Hampshire took the state to court to retain her anonymity while claiming her prize. The woman’s lawyers argued that she would be accosted with requests for money, and the state argued that lottery winners must be disclosed to make sure that winners are not related to lottery employees and that winnings are distributed fairly. The court decided disclosing the winner’s name would be an invasion of privacy and allowed the woman to anonymously claim her winnings.
“You want to be able to enjoy this crazy amount of money you luckily won, but at the same time you want to keep your privacy, so it’s a balance,” Mr. Kurland said.
But going off the grid, setting up shop on the beach and enjoying the fruits of your ticket are not necessarily possible without informing the government.
“If you leave the country, it’s worse,” Mr. Gidari said, adding that leaving the country and failing to report assets in the United States and abroad could lead to losing those assets.Some states allow the winners of large jackpots to remain anonymous, but is it ever possible to retain your privacy after a life-changing windfall?
5 things to know about winning Mega Millions or Powerball in California
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The lack of a Mega Millions winner Tuesday means the jackpot will be at least $750 million on Friday, and the Powerball draw on Wednesday is for an estimated $550 million jackpot.
If you plan to claim one of the fortunes, the California lottery office lays out the details in its “winner’s handbook.” Among them:
You can’t remain anonymous. California makes public the name of the winner and the location where the ticket was bought. Even if you create a trust to claim the prize, your name will be revealed. You are not, however, required to show up for the press conference and the photo with the large check.
If you have a common name and buy your ticket outside your home city, you can get a degree of anonymity. For instance, little is known about Steve Tran, who in 2013 bought a Mega Millions ticket worth $324 million while he was on a work-related visit to San Jose.
Some other states allow winners to conceal their names. All that is known about the winner of the largest single-ticket U.S. jackpot ever — $1.54 billion, in October 2018 — is what she allowed to be revealed: She was taking a “scenic drive” out of town when she bought the ticket in Simpsonville, South Carolina, and she allowed another customer to go ahead of her in the checkout line.
You have up to a year to claim the prize. That’s for the big jackpot; smaller prizes must be claimed in 180 days.
The lottery office advises winners to take some time to prepare for the life-changing event — engaging an attorney, an accountant and a financial adviser, establishing a trust or charitable foundation for tax purposes, and such. But keep in mind that a longer wait means you’ll be missing out on the interest you could be accruing. The abovementioned South Carolina winner waited five months to claim her prize — which, as a lump sum of $877,784,124, would have earned substantial interest even in a savings account.
The California lottery office often publicizes when a deadline is nearing for a big prize with no winner having stepped forward. In 2012, it took the unusual step of releasing a video image of a presumed Mega Millions jackpot winner after the winning ticket had been run several times through a check-your-prize scanner. A Fremont couple then claimed the $52 million and said they hadn’t realized the ticket was a winner because the scanner said only “see the clerk.”
You’ll get the prize in 30 yearly installments unless you specify otherwise. The figure given for a jackpot is always the annuity amount, and that is the default method of payment. Most winners, however, choose to take the smaller lump sum. The California lottery site lists the “cash amount” of each jackpot. — for instance, a $750 million annuity would be a $550,600,000 lump sum. You have 60 days after your claim is approved to turn in the form requesting the lump sum. If a group is sharing a jackpot, all members must elect the same type of payout.
You can designate someone to receive the remaining years of your annuity. Don’t think you’ll make it 30 years? You can designate a beneficiary through the lottery office. You can also sell your future prize payments or use them as collateral for a loan.
Your federal taxes will be withheld from your winnings. The lottery’s 2019 guide says that’s 24% for U.S. citizens or resident aliens, 30% for anyone else. In California, no state or local tax is withheld.
One coronavirus note: Because of the pandemic, the lottery’s district offices — including those in Milpitas and Richmond — are closed to the public, and prizes of $600 and up can currently be claimed only by mail.If you plan to claim one of the fortunes, the California lottery office lays out the details in its "winner's handbook." ]]>