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You've won the Powerball. Now what?

·Lawrence Lewitinn

Millions of Americans are hoping they’re just six numbers away from winning Wednesday’s record-breaking Powerball jackpot, currently at $1.4 billion.

While beating the 1 in 292.2 million odds may seem like a dream, for many winners, the windfall quickly cascades into a nightmare.

According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, 70% of those who receive a huge chunk of money end up losing all of it in within a few years. Stories abound of how newly-minted lottery millionaires find themselves bankrupt and worse off than when they received their cash prize.

But there are a few steps you can take to improve the odds you don’t end up penniless after winning hundreds of millions of dollars, according to David Nelson, chief strategist at Belpointe Asset Management, which counts several lottery millionaires as clients.

  1. Sign the ticket. Though that sounds very basic, it’s a crucial first step. “A lottery ticket is a bearer instrument,” said Nelson. “It really belongs to whoever is holding it.”

  2. Put the ticket someplace safe. A safe deposit box, for instance, is a safe place. Under the mattress, in your car’s glove compartment, or in your wallet is probably not the best way to store a multi-million dollar lottery ticket.

  3. Slow down everything. There is no rush to run to the lottery to claim the prize. That’s because there’s a lot of work to be done, and you may likely find yourself overwhelmed because, well, you’re human. “You're going to feel like you're going a million miles a minute,” Nelson said.

  4. Find an attorney. That’s even before you deal with a financial planner or adviser—or even the lottery commission. If you know people who are very successful, ask them for recommendations for a good trust attorney. If you don't, start with a lawyer or perhaps an accountant you trust. Among other things, they will help you fend off the media frenzy that will likely follow if you tell anyone else about your winnings. Your attorney or accountant will also be important in the next step.

  5. Build a team. “Everybody's going to have an opinion—family, friends, even the lottery commission,” said Nelson. But your attorney or accountant should help you find the people you need to get the right sort of advice. The role of the team is to put a structure in place that will help you accomplish your goals with the money. They will also keep a barrier between you and the many newly-discovered long-lost relatives and friends searching for a handout.

The right team will create a structure to manage your wealth like an endowment, Nelson said. Putting that money to work, even at a 5% return, can net someone millions of dollars each year. Depending on the circumstances, that could mean setting up a trust with a board of trustees to decide how best to invest the money, minimizing risk and how much goes to beneficiaries.

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“You have to learn how to say ‘no’ because a lot of people going to come at you for money,” said Nelson. “It'll be emotional … People who ask for money, they generally really need it. And you're going to want to help, but you can't help everybody. So you're going to need a team in place to field those questions so that you can make the right decisions later on.”

Nelson generally advises to take a lump sum payment rather than an annuity payment, but that ultimately depends on the individual circumstances of the winner. Taking a lump sum, though, means the winner won’t get the full $1.4 billion.

And where the winner lives—or buys the ticket—could also affect the size of the winnings. That's because six states that have Powerball don’t tax lottery winnings while others, including New York and Massachusetts, have higher taxes. Therefore, those hoping to take home the estimated $868 million lump sum payment won't get that amount.

“You're going to have to figure out how to survive on just $400 to $500 million,” said Nelson.

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