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There’s a chance that a Mega Millions player is going to wake up Saturday morning with a $410 million windfall in their lap.
That’s the advertised jackpot amount for the lottery game’s next drawing, set for Friday night. It’s the third time this year the top prize has crossed the $400 million mark, but remains far below the $1.34 billion jackpot won in July.
Powerball’s jackpot isn’t far behind for its Saturday night drawing: $378 million.
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While the chance of a single ticket hitting all six numbers drawn in either game is slim — it’s 1 in about 302 million for Mega Millions and 1 in 292 million for Powerball — it’s worth remembering that if you do actually win, it’s not as simple as picking up a check and going on with your life.
“Understand that this might be a wonderful event, but people are caught off guard by how stressful it is,” said Susan Bradley, a certified financial planner and founder of the Sudden Money Institute in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
While stress from winning a life-changing amount of money may be tricky to avoid, there are three key things you can do right out of the gate to protect your winnings.
1. Tend to your ticket
It’s important to keep your ticket safe. Experts recommend taking a photo of yourself with the valuable slip of paper and then storing it somewhere safe, such as a lockbox.
It’s also generally recommended that you sign the back of the ticket as proof that it belongs to you. However, before you do so, it’s worth making sure you know the rules for claiming your win in the state where the ticket was purchased.
Some states allow you to remain completely anonymous. But if you bought the ticket in a state that requires the winner’s name to be publicly shared, you may be able to avoid identifying yourself by claiming the prize in the name of a trust or other legal entity.
Also, while you don’t need to immediately rush to lottery headquarters to claim your prize, be sure you check your state’s claiming deadlines — which can range from 60 or 90 days to a year.
2. Tell as few people as possible
Additionally, share information about your windfall with as few people as possible, Bradley said. News has a way of traveling, and long-lost friends or family — or scammers — could show up on your doorstep.
“It’s hard for even your inner circle of people not to say anything,” Bradley said. “This is an emotional experience and it’s hard not to blurt out.”
3. Get professional help
Be aware that some pretty weighty financial decisions lie ahead of you, which make it worthwhile to have a team of pros assisting you. That group should include an experienced attorney, financial advisor, tax advisor and insurance expert.
For starters, you’ll have to decide whether to accept your prize as a reduced lump sum or as an annuity paid in yearly installments over three decades. Either way, the IRS will take a slice before the money reaches you.
The cash option — which most winners choose — for this $410 million Mega Millions jackpot is $213.8 million. A mandatory 24% federal tax withholding would reduce that amount by about $51.3 million. For Powerball’s $378 million jackpot, it would mean $47.7 million being withheld from the $198.7 million cash option.
However, because the top marginal rate is 37%, winners should anticipate owing much more at tax time. Additionally, state taxes typically are withheld or due, depending on where you live and where the ticket was purchased.