Luck is a tricky thing. And when it comes to those lucky Americans who have won windfalls in the lotteries, it seems to be short-lived. Winners become losers at breakneck speed.
Studies show that lottery winners are more likely to declare bankruptcy within three to five years than the average American.
In fact, nearly one-third of lottery winners declare bankruptcy, and it doesn’t end there. It’s usually followed by depression, drug and alcohol abuse and estrangement from family and friends.
Still, the average American will be riled by feelings of envious excitement at the stories of lottery winners in the early days when the elation is still real. The most recent story to gain widespread circulation was the March Mega Millions drawing that won an astounding $521 million for a single ticket sold in New Jersey, making it the fourth-largest payout of all time.
The pressure of winning is often enough to send someone into depression, particularly when they are publicly outed and soon to become the best friend of anyone who is hoping for a handout.
That fact alone has led to recent moves to keep their winning identities secret. The winner of the March Mega Millions drawing is a case in point, and it’s not easy. New Jersey—like many other states—makes it difficult to shield your identity because winners aren’t technically allowed to anonymously claim their prizes.
Another massive lottery winning in January in New Hampshire netted a ‘lucky’ Powerball Jackpot ticket-holder $560 million. Citing concerns for safety, the winner requested anonymity and fought and won a legal battle in the process.
But security is only the initial issue faced by lottery winners – many of whom are not equipped to handle a new breed of financing that runs into the hundreds of millions.
For many, sudden wealth is sudden despair. Everything from squandering earnings, making bad investments and falling prey to con artists awaits the winner.
In one publicized case, a West Virginia man won $315 million in a 2002 Powerball drawing and lost it all in about four years. His misfortune reportedly included thieves stealing $545,000 from his car and lawsuits over gambling debts.
“I wish I’d torn that ticket up,” he said afterwards.
It’s a high-stakes game for people who have no experience handling massive amounts of cash.
“The average lottery winner is a blue-collar individual, and all of a sudden you give them tens of millions of dollars and you post their name across the world, and then you expect them to act responsibly — it’s an unenviable expectation,” attorney Andrew Stoltmann, who has represented lottery winners, has said.
Of course, the lawyers and wealth managers are keen to descend on this unsuspecting crop of lottery winners for the lucrative fees but trying to manage sudden wealth alone doesn’t usually bear fruit.
Jason Kurland, who calls himself the “go-to” attorney for lottery winners, claim that most important thing the winner can do is to stay low, avoid publicity and hire a financial planner.
Kurland said lotto winners should assemble a team of professionals who are experienced in for that specific situation, and it shouldn’t just be a wealth manager. Everyone needs to have checks and balances, with that team that includes a lawyer, accountant and financial advisor.
Lottery-based investments also may tend to the high-risk, presumably on the notion that the lucky streak is going to be sustained.
And rather than going on a spending spree, lawyers advise lottery winners to take their winnings as an annuity—not all at once.
Hoarding a massive lump sum of cash is a losing move and taking it all at once means getting less. The latest Mega Millions $521 million turns into $317 million if taken out all at once.
This is one way to beat the bankruptcy forecast.
Another study says that lottery winnings raises the risk of bankruptcy even among the winners’ neighbors by roughly 2.4 percent. Researchers say that lottery winner lifestyle upgrades then tempt their neighbors to boost their own spending on visible markers of prosperity, even though they haven’t had a sudden run of financial luck.
None of this stops anyone from dreaming of winning the lottery, though. Lottery sale profits have consistently risen over the years:
(Click to enlarge)