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?
Meet the man who pays out the money
Ever wondered how winners are paid their money or who looks after them? From the moment they realise they’ve won to actually getting their prize money, winners are looked after every step of the way by a dedicated team of Winners’ Advisors. It is their job to support winners through the entire process so they can begin to enjoy their life-changing win.
Read what Senior Winners’ Advisor, Andy Carter, the head of the team paying out all major winners has to say.
How do you help winners keep their feet on the ground?
Our first piece of advice is to always take your time, do nothing in haste and have a holiday, so you can allow the news to sink in.
Winners are often in deep shock in the initial days after the win, but we often find that their family and friends play an important role in keeping their feet on the floor, as despite the win, family life tends to go on as normal.
The vast majority of winners are very grounded and just want to ensure the win lasts them as long as possible, and that they can leave a legacy to future generations.
Does the money go into a special account so that the win is tax free?
There is no tax on the win itself, but if the win produces an income through interest, then that will be taxed as part of your normal income tax.
What’s the biggest cheque you’ve written out?
I had the great pleasure of dealing with Colin and Christine Weir from Largs in Scotland who won £161,653,000 in July 2011, making them Britain’s and Europe’s biggest lottery winners!
If the winners wanted anonymity instead of going public, would you still advise them?
Absolutely yes. It’s entirely the winner’s decision if they want to share news of their win. We have an aftercare programme in place to ensure that all winners have access to legal and financial advice.
It’s often the case that when a winner decides to remain anonymous, we are the only people that know about their win so we keep in touch with them for as long as they want to. Often they like to talk to someone or just let us know what they have been up to.
How big is the team?
There are seven Winners’ Advisors in total, and we are based all over the UK. We see around 1,500 big winners a year, and when we aren’t visiting their homes to validate claims, we are chairing follow up meetings for them with lawyers and financial experts, or attending press conferences or media events.
As a Camelot employee you can’t play but do you ever feel jealous?
No, not at all. People have won substantial amounts of money through luck. It’s a real privilege to be part of their life at a time that they will never ever forget. I get let into winners’ lives for a short period and help guide them through the initial stages of a life-changing event. It’s fantastic to go back to them later to see just how their win has changed their lives and the lives of their family.
What would you do if you did win?
Don’t for one second think that this hasn’t ever crossed my mind! First of all, a nice holiday somewhere warm and relaxing so that I can make a plan. I’d buy a bigger house, invest for the future, put money aside for my children’s future, gift money to other family members (what’s the point of you having money to do things if those closest to you can’t afford to come with you), and go in style to any sporting event I choose.
The National Lottery has been changing the lives of winners and supporting good causes across the UK since 1994. In that time, there have been more than 5,900 new millionaires created and by playing The National Lottery you raise £30 M Million for good causes every week.
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