Many people dream about winning a big Powerball jackpot, but do you know what to do if your winning number actually comes up? If your first instinct is to rush out and cash your ticket immediately, think again. Once you claim your jackpot, lots of things start changing very quickly, and you want to be prepared. Here are 8 sensible things to do before you claim a Powerball prize.
1. Protect Your Winning Lottery Ticket
If you've just found out that you have won a Powerball jackpot, the very first thing that you should do is to sign the back of the ticket.
Why? Because no one keeps track of who owns Powerball tickets. All you have to do to claim a Powerball prize is to show identification that matches the signature on the back. If your jackpot-winning ticket gets lost or stolen, anyone could claim your cash if you haven't signed your ticket.
One thing to be aware of before you sign: some states allow winners to let a trustee or foundation sign their ticket to help protect their anonymity. In 2018, a New Hampshire jackpot winner sued for the right to remove her name and add a trustee instead. She won her case, but you'd save yourself time and effort if you research whether you want to do this before you win your jackpot.
It's a good idea to take pictures of the front and the back of the lottery ticket, to give you some legal standing as the owner if you lose your ticket.
Once you've taken care of that, find a safe place to store your ticket while you get everything else straightened out. Since you won't cash it in immediately, you're going to want the peace of mind of knowing exactly where it is and that no one can get to it. A home safe, a lockbox, or a safety deposit box at a bank are all good options.
2. Check How Much Time You Have to Claim Your Powerball Prize
Your life is going to change as soon as you cash in your ticket, so you want to make sure that you have everything in order before that happens. To plan your time, it's important to know how long you have before you claim your prize.
Every jurisdiction that sells Powerball tickets has its own rules about when you have to claim your prize. Even the prize value affects how much time you have; jackpot winners sometimes have longer than winners of other prizes.
To find out how much time you have, look at your ticket. There should be a date there. If not, contact your local lottery and ask about their prize claim policy. Then put that time to good use; wait until nearly the end of your term before you cash in your winning ticket.
3. Find Out Whether You Can Remain Anonymous
Many winners want to stay anonymous after winning the lottery. There are many advantages to anonymity. For example, you won't be pestered by people and organizations looking for money, or by journalists wanting an interview, and you'll have more control over how and when your life changes.
Unfortunately, anonymity isn't always possible. Most jurisdictions want to announce their jackpot winners to show that the prizes are being awarded legitimately.
Before you tell anyone about your lottery win, find out what your options for anonymity are.
In some jurisdictions, you must reveal your name, place of residence, and photo when you win a Powerball jackpot and the lottery commission must relay that information to any third party who requests it.
In other areas, you can claim the prize under a trust, which can shield your true name. Sometimes, winners are allowed to use their first initial instead of their full first name, which can grant some protection.
If you live close enough to a state that protects its Powerball winners' anonymity — such as Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, and South Carolina — consider traveling to those states to buy your tickets. Privacy laws depend on where you bought your ticket, not where you live.
4. Make Yourself Harder to Contact
Many lottery curse victims said that being constantly barraged by people who wanted to ask for interviews, appearances on reality TV shows, handouts, and more turned a dream win into a nightmare. Before you have to face that kind of pressure, make yourself harder for the paparazzi to get in touch with.
Change your telephone number, and only give the new number to people you trust. Set up a P.O. box for your mailing address. Delete your social media accounts or start new, anonymous ones and follow only your closest real-life friends. Consider hiring a virtual assistant to handle calls and schedule any appearances you want to make.
Although taking these steps might seem excessive, you'll be grateful for the ability to control who can get in touch with you once you're in high demand.
5. Hire a Team of Experienced Professionals to Help You Manage Your Winnings
Before you claim your Powerball prize, you want to have a team in place who can protect you from legal problems and help you manage your money. At the very least, you are going to need a lawyer, an accountant, and a financial advisor. You're going to need help setting up trusts, protecting yourself from frivolous lawsuits, and more.
It's a good idea to look for professionals who have experience managing windfalls. Forbes has a list of questions to ask to ensure you find the right professional for you.
Aside from professionals to deal with your money, also consider hiring a therapist. You might be surprised by the emotions that surround winning a big lottery prize and the strain it can put on your personal relationships.
You might feel stressed, overwhelmed, or even guilty for winning when someone else might have deserved it more. You might feel betrayed by so-called friends who let your money change their feelings toward you. A therapist can help you deal with these emotions in a healthy way, before they start getting you down.
6. Think About Your Options When Claiming Your Powerball Jackpot
When you win a Powerball jackpot, you need to decide whether to receive a lump-sum or annuity payout. There is no one right answer; the correct decision depends on your personality and financial situation.
Consult with your financial advisors to help you determine the right course of action.
7. Write Down Your Goals and Dreams
Dreaming about what you would do with a huge Powerball payout is an exciting part of playing the lottery... and you don't have to wait for a win to do it. If you actually win that jackpot, you'll have the chance to make those dreams come true. But even a seemingly endless amount of money can disappear if you don't have a plan for it.
To avoid this, take the time to set some concrete goals to achieve with your windfall. On that list should be paying off any debt. After that, consider what's important to you — maybe helping your friends and family, contributing to specific charities, buying big-ticket items for yourself like a new house, a new car, and a dream vacation, or perhaps even setting up a legacy like a trust to help your community or a wing in a local hospital.
If you need some inspiration, check out these Lottery Success Stories to see what other big lottery winners have accomplished with their millions.
Once you have your goals written down, you can take them to your financial advisors to help you find the best way to achieve them.
8. Think About What You Want to Stay the Same
A lot of things in your life are going to change once you have won a big jackpot, but there are probably some things that you want to stay the same. Thinking about those things ahead of time can help you protect them when things start getting crazy.
For example, while some people can't wait to quit their jobs, others want to hold on to them. Your relationships might be very important to maintain. You might want to ensure that your children stay grounded or that you remain in a community that you care about. Thinking about these things before you claim your Powerball prize gives you firm goals to work toward.
Things NOT to Do Before Claiming Your Powerball Prize
There are a lot of wise things to do before you claim your Powerball prize, but there are a few things you definitely should not do as well. For example, you shouldn't make any big changes right away including quitting your job, selling your house, or starting or ending a relationship. The time right after you win the lottery is very emotional, and you might not be making sound decisions.
There are other good reasons for keeping your job after winning the lottery. You might find out you're not quite as rich (or at least, as cashflow positive) as you expect right away. And keeping your job might keep you grounded.
You also don't want to start throwing your money around. It takes time for the money to show up in your bank account, and you want to have a solid plan and a strict budget before you start spending.
Don't worry, there will be plenty of time for the good life, but you need to ensure that you stay responsible and don't make choices you will regret later.