Ticket holders for Wednesday night’s $1.5-billion (U.S.) Powerball lottery may be dreaming of a carefree life filled with fancy houses and expensive vacations, but those dreams could turn into nightmares for the actual winner, warns a personal financial planner.
“There’s a big difference between a wealthy person who’s amassed this kind of money over a long period of time and someone who’s suddenly received this money and may not know what problems are going to arise,” said Stephan Desbiens of Exponent Investment Management in Ottawa. Some of his clients are past lottery winners.
But millions will watch with baited breath as the winner of the biggest U.S. lottery jackpot is announced at 10:59 p.m. (EST), including the many Canadians who flocked across the border to buy tickets. (You can find the winning numbers here.) So if a Canadian manages to beat the one in 292,201,338 odds and select the lucky numbers, what’s next?
Here are the five top tips for the winner of tonight’s Powerball:
1. Don’t be too hasty
Your first reaction may be to run to the phone and call everyone you know. Don’t do this, said Mr. Desbiens.
One of his clients, who wishes to remain anonymous so that people don’t identify her as a lottery winner, remembers the feeling of shock that swept over her when she was told that she’d won $1-million in the Dec. 23, 2005 Super 7 draw.
Still, she didn’t let this shock cloud her judgment. After telling her husband and two children the news, she warned them not to tell anyone until they knew what they were going to do with all the money.
This was the right move, said Mr. Desbiens.
2. Protect yourself from scammers – and worse
After winning the lottery, Mr. Desbiens’s client faced telephone scammers, as well as neighbours asking for money and co-workers who wanted to touch her in hopes of ‘channelling” her luck by.
But the stakes will be far higher for tonight’s Powerball winner when their name hits the papers. “If I won that kind of money, my family’s safety would be the priority,” said Mr. Desbiens. “The first thing I would do would be to hire a well-known security company to design a security plan and get personal bodyguards. Even get a panic room.”
In the past, unlucky lottery winners have been kidnapped or even killed over their winnings. Chicagoan Urooj Khan was poisoned with cyanide just days before he could collect his $1-million jackpot in 2012. And after winning $20-million from the Illinois Lottery in 1996, Florida businessman Jeffrey Dampier was kidnapped and murdered by his sister-in-law and her boyfriend.
“I’d disappear for a long time [after winning],” said Mr. Desbiens. “I’d take my friends and family and go on a trip – with the bodyguards.”
3. Be careful who you trust with your money
Financial security is also important, so choose the people who’ll advise you very carefully.
“People aren’t aware of the war going on behind the scenes when someone comes into a bank with this kind of money,” said Mr. Desbiens, who’s worked with two of Canada’s largest banks.
Once you deposit your winnings, you’ll be “barraged with requests for meetings with a banker,” he said. Many banks give their financial planners and other employees incentive pay in the form of bonuses to bring new client accounts into the institution. The bigger the account, the bigger the bonus. This may make it difficult for account holders to switch branches, Mr. Desbiens warned.
“Can you imagine how many people are going to fight over this amount of money? We all want to think people at a bank just want to take care of their client, but with so much money at stake, that isn’t necessarily going to happen.” Mr. Desbiens says you should get an accountant, lawyer and financial planner to help make important decisions.
4. Know the laws
A Canadian winner won’t have to pay Canadian taxes on their prize, although the U.S. IRS withholds 30 per cent tax on money won by those who aren’t U.S. citizens.
But a Canadian winner may have to worry about the U.S.’s “immoral articles law” if they choose to take their ticket back to Canada then return over the border to cash it in. This obscure law prohibits importing lottery tickets, among other things, into the U.S., suggesting such tickets may be seized at the border.
The easiest solution would be to keep your winning ticket in a security deposit box Stateside.
5. Have a plan
While your first instinct may be to collect all your money as soon as possible, it’s better to wait until you have a financial plan in place, says Mr. Desbiens, and know exactly what you’re going to do with the money.
“The biggest mistake people make [after they win a lottery] is making quick decisions.”
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