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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?

Winning the Lottery: What To Do First

When you win the lottery, there are 5 things you should do before anything else:

1. Double Check, Triple Check, Take a Break & Check Again.

The minute you realize you have all the numbers, you’re ecstatic. But make absolutely sure that what you’re celebrating is real. Check the numbers again. And again. Verify the numbers on the website, and check again that your ticket has the same numbers and the correct drawing date. Avoid embarrassment and disappointment by, before anything else, making sure you are truly the winner of the Jackpot.

2. Sign, Copy and Hide.

Anyone can claim the winning lottery ticket. What makes it officially yours is your signature on the back. Make sure to immediately sign it, and sign it clearly. It’s important to write your name in small letters, and leave room beside your signature. You may want to claim the ticket in the name of a trust, other entity, or partnership, so you will need to have space beside your name to add a title such as “partner,” “trustee,” or “member.”

After you’ve signed the ticket, make a photocopy of the front and back of it. Then immediately put the original ticket away: it’s now worth a literal fortune, and you have to keep it safe. If you don’t have a safe deposit box, find the safest place you know to hide the ticket, and don’t take it out until you take it to claim it.

3. Keep Quiet.

One of the biggest events of your life has just occurred: your financial situation has drastically changed in a matter of minutes. Of course, you’ll want to tell everyone you know that you’ve won, and you’re wealthy, and life will never be the same. But spreading the word at this point would be a huge mistake. The fewer the people that know you’ve won the lottery, the better—the better for you and for those you love.

Once the word is out, the media will follow you. Friends and family members will want to talk to you and often will want to see how they fit into your newfound wealth. Charities will contact you, and people you don’t even know will somehow claim to have a connection to you.

Keeping quiet doesn’t mean that you can’t tell your closest family and friends of your life-changing news. But tell only the people you can absolutely trust to keep your secret safe.

4. Assemble Your Team of Professionals.

Don’t make your plans alone. Call Manfred Sternberg at 713-622-4300 and let us use our experience and knowledge to help you have a wonderful experience as you celebrate your win and know that your future is secure.

Decisions made even before you claim your lottery ticket will drastically affect your money. If you take the correct steps, your family could save numerous millions of dollars. A skilled attorney will know ways to plan your estate that can avoid your having to pay millions of dollars in taxes and ways to create trusts to secure your privacy, as well as the privacy of your family.

While lottery winners do not have to have an attorney to claim their tickets, having an experienced attorney representing you will help you avoid mistakes you will later regret as they significantly affect your fortune. And having a legal team taking each step with you can help you walk through this extremely daunting process with excitement rather than fear and worry.

Once you hire an attorney, ask him or her to suggest financial planners and accountants work alongside you. Hundreds of millions of dollars require a strong team of professionals to ensure that your money is safe and your future secure.

5. Make Plans to Leave Town on the Day You Claim the Prize.

If you are a Jackpot winner in a state that requires your name be publicized, or if you choose to be known as a winner, or if your secret gets out unintentionally, the world will be waiting to meet its newest multimillionaire. Some people will simply be curious, while others will seek a cut of your fortune. Solicitors and the media will seek out your home, your workplace, and your friends and family. While this will not last long, you should leave town with your loved ones for a few days so that you can celebrate your life-changing event in private. Before you go, ask your attorney or spokesperson to handle any questions for you in your absence.

Help Available 24/7 for Your Lottery Winnings Questions

The Texas lottery winners of Manfred Sternberg & Associates are passionate about helping lottery winners secure their prize and their future financial security. Email us or call us today at 713-622-4300. We’re available 24 hours a day, and we will gladly meet you off-site, in the evening, and on the weekend. Hablamos español.

When you win the lottery, there are five things you need to do anything else. Follow this guide and then give our Houston gaming law attorneys a call. ]]>