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How a $254M Powerball Ticket Changed This Man's Life

Jason Kurland with some of the winning lottery tickets. (Photo: David Handschuh/ALM)

The ticket to the Powerball game that would seal Jason Kurland's fate was sold in Connecticut in 2011. When the six numbers were selected that night, he didn't give it a second thought.

But before Kurland knew it, he had become a national celebrity of sorts. His latest claim to fame? Helping whisk away the $1.5 billion Mega Millions jackpot in South Carolina this month.

So how does Jason Kurland pick those six lucky numbers? And can he tell us which Long Island convenience stores sell the most winning tickets?  Well, not from personal experience. Actually, he never plays!

He has found a more sure bet as the country's pre-eminent lottery lawyer. The position comes with a website, Twitter handle and of course the requisite photos of him with the oversized checks. Starting with helping that first Connecticut winner of the $254.2 million in 2011, he has now advised winners of a collective $2.5 billion.

Thelotterylawyer.com got more than 10,000 hits a day in October when the Mega Millions jackpot rose over $1 billion. But even when the fervor died down a bit this month, the website was still attracting a healthy 3,000 views a day.

In May, Kurland joined Long Island-based Rivkin Radler in the real estate, zoning and land use and trusts and estates practice groups. He picked the firm because he wanted to double down on the lottery practice, and the firm did too.

"He adds depth and expertise to our commercial real estate team, especially in regard to hotel development," said Evan Krinick, managing partner of Rivkin Radler. "And the lottery practice was just a fascinating niche practice which we felt we could help expand with our marketing team and with our expertise in trust, estate and tax areas."

So what advice does Kurland have for the instant millionaires and occasional billionaire who seek his counsel?

"As soon as someone comes to me, I get the story of their life before they won," he said in an interview. "And then I help go through the immediate process of what’s going to happen. Emotionally just knowing that someone can walk you through it, step by step, so there are no surprises is invaluable. "

A key decision is whether to remain anonymous.

"There are pros and cons of both, but I would say having to put your name out there, especially if it’s a large jackpot with the nation paying attention, is a very scary thing," Kurland said.

In most states, including New York, lottery winners cannot remain anonymous. But South Carolina does allow it, and the woman who bought the $1.5 billion ticket decided to do so after hiring Kurland.

"You’re going to get bombarded by financial advisers and friends and family coming out of the woodwork," Kurland says. "Remaining anonymous is also difficult, because you have all this newfound wealth, and if you are going to spend what you can, it’s sort of obvious to people."

To the surprise of most working stiffs, some of Kurland's clients don't want to quit their job immediately. But a lot of them ultimately do, sometimes at the request of the boss who suggests they no longer need the job and are becoming a distraction around the workplace.

What's the first thing a lottery winner should do? Sign the ticket and put it in a secure location such as a safe deposit box. But even signing it can be tricky, because the procedures vary by game and state. If it falls into the wrong hands, it can become the property of its new owner, Kurland warns.

One of Kurland's winners hid a ticket worth $300 million in a Bible for weeks. Another winner with a $250 million ticket was out of town and didn't know about his good fortune. The ticket sat unguarded on the kitchen table until the family's return.

"The biggest mistake people make is doing it on their own," Kurland says. "All the horror stories you hear is when people do it on their own."

Winners might, for instance, buy a house or car that's seemingly within their price range but then realize they cannot afford the upkeep. Or they may give out gifts without understanding the tax consequences. Or make charitable contributions without knowing the most advantageous way to donate.

The proper way, Kurland explains, is consulting a tax and estates lawyer, an accountant and a financial planner before even claiming the winnings. But enough of this serious talk.

What's the coolest way any of the lottery winners spread the news?

A gentleman in his 80s bought the same 1920s-era green car in which he'd learned to drive. He then drove it to the house of his brother, who had been his teacher.

And that's how the brother found out his younger sibling had won the lottery.