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WOW!!! I Just Won the LOTTERY: Now What DO I DO?

If you make the correct decisions, you can sit back, relax, and really enjoy the rest of your life.

MOST PEOPLE have never had the experience of winning the lottery and probably never will. Millions refuse to buy a lottery ticket, and their chances of winning, of course, are nil. Millions of others buy tickets every week or on a less frequent basis, and their chances of winning are almost nil, considering the odds of matching their ticket with the winning numbers (one to 80,089,128 on the Powerball, for example). Nevertheless, there are winners every day, and very big winners many times a year.

Lotteries continue to remain very popular throughout the U.S. Currently. 37 states and Washington, D.C., have lotteries, and several other states are considering adopting them. Lotteries extend over the continents of Asia, Australia, Europe, and Africa, and are also in Latin America and Canada. The first multinational lottery, the Viking Lotto, was introduced in 1992 with the five Scandinavian countries as participants.

Powerball, which is played in 20 states and Washington, D.C., had its first drawing in West Des Moines, Iowa, on Apr. 22, 1992. The drawing is still held at the Same time (10:59 p.m.) every Wednesday and Saturday night at the same place (except at remote locations several times during the year). The largest jackpot in the history of the U.S. and the world so far was in a Powerball game, with an annuitized amount of $295,000,000 and a cash amount of $161,000,000.

Before a drawing, you should put your purchased tickets in a safe place and not forget to check the numbers after it. There have been many instances where lottery participants have lost their tickets or ruined them in the clothes washer. Lottery officials will not authenticate a winner without the complete winning ticket, no matter how many witnesses there may be or the fact that the participant always plays the same numbers. Amazingly, the Powerball lottery has had many unclaimed $100,000 prizes since 1992. The officials for Powerball estimate that 30% of the $1 prizes and about 12% of all prizes go unclaimed. Apparently, a significant number of people lose or misplace their tickets, forget to check the winning numbers, or--hard as it may be to believe--do not want to bother to collect their winnings.

Now that you have checked your numbers and are convinced that you are a big winner, what next? Protect your ticket. Place it in an envelope and seal it. Assuming that you do not plan to go immediately to the necessary headquarters to stake your claim, you should hide the winning ticket in a very secretive location, but don't forget where you stashed it. Putting the ticket in a safe deposit box in a bank would undoubtedly be a wise idea.

Even though you will be very excited and want to tell everyone you know, it is extremely important not to tell anyone (other than possibly your spouse or best friend--someone whom you can thoroughly trust). Especially do not tell anyone from the media, at least not before lottery officials have certified that your ticket was a winning one.

Before you take your ticket to the lottery headquarters, you should consider the possibility of setting up a trust at a bank or other financial institution. You could either go directly to the trust department of the bank or hire an attorney to help set up the trust. More will be discussed later in this article concerning a trust to be used for receiving the lottery proceeds.

Depending on various state rules, a winner usually has from a 180-day to one-year claim period. It may be crucial for a winning ticket-holder to know what the time limit is in his or her state to contact the lottery headquarters (assuming the winner plans to hold the ticket for awhile) and make sure the ticket is turned in and verified within the claim period. It often takes at least two weeks after verification before the winner actually receives a check.

Generally, the lottery winner has already made a decision on whether to take the winnings in one lump-sum payment (at a discounted amount) or on an annuity basis (usually over a 20-year period) when the player purchased the ticket. In some lotteries, the winner makes the decision on whether to collect the winnings in one current amount or over a period of time after he or she has turned in the ticket to the proper officials. The advantage of choosing the payment method before the drawing (assuming that is required or chosen if an option) is that it prevents the IRS from applying the "constructive receipt" rule to the winnings. If the constructive receipt principle is applicable in situations in which a winning lottery player has the option of taking the prize immediately or spreading it out over a number of future payments, the winner is deemed to have received the entire prize in the current year. By requiring the player to choose the payment method before the drawing, the lottery can avoid the constructive receipt rule, as the early choice is considered to have a substantial limitation or restriction on the control of the income (assuming the annuity payments are selected), according to 26 Internal Revenue Code section 1.451-2.

Based on a 1998 change in the tax code. people can make their choice of payment option after they win the lottery (for Federal tax purposes). Thus, winners can hire financial advisors to help them decide which payment method would be best for them before turning in the winning ticket. It is predicted that more lotteries in the future will permit the payment decision to be made after winning the prize.

Whether you make the decision concerning the payment method when purchasing the ticket or after winning the lottery, you should think very seriously about the option which would be the wisest move in your situation. Many factors could influenced your decision, such as your age; your retirement plans: the amount of the winnings; the number of people who directly or indirectly own the winning ticket; the amount of Federal and state taxes that must be paid; gift taxes that may have to be paid; rules concerning payments to beneficiaries if the lottery winner dies; any back taxes, unpaid fines, or child support payments to be taken out of the winnings; etc.

If a 20-year annuity is chosen, what happens if the lottery winner dies? Do payments automatically stop, or will the estate or beneficiaries receive the remainder of the payments? Keep in mind that interstate lottery games, including Powerball, are operated under the laws of the state lottery authority in the state in which the ticket is sold. Thus, questions such as these related to continuous payments after the demise of a lottery winner are dependent on state laws.

Some lottery games limit payments for the life of the winner. Generally, though, if a winner dies before receiving all of the payments, the heirs from a will (or through the laws of interstate succession if there is no will) will receive the remaining moneys due. There may be some major problems related to an estate tax when there is a huge amount of unpaid winnings. The estate tax is based on the present cash value of the remaining prize. It is very possible that the estate may not have sufficient cash or other assets to pay the tax liability. Powerball allows an estate to request the transfer of the securities held to fund the annuitized winnings. The estate may then sell all or some of the securities and utilize the proceeds to pay the estate tax liability, after which any remaining amount may be distributed to the beneficiaries.

Taxation on the winnings is a significant issue to consider. Assuming your lottery prize is a relatively large amount, you most likely will be taxed at the highest Federal rate, 39.6%, in the current year if you take a lump sum and probably at the same maximum rate annually if you choose the annuity method for payments. If you are a resident of a state that has an income tax, you must also pay the state tax (with a maximum rate ranging from three percent in Illinois to 11% in Montana). Residents of some U.S. cities are subject to a city income tax as well. If you decide to move to a state that has no income tax, such as Florida or Texas, after you win the lottery, you still may not be able to avoid the tax. In a 1995 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that a resident of Kentucky who had won the Ohio Lottery and then moved to Florida was required to pay state income tax in Ohio. The court concluded that the state with the most logical connection to the income had the right to levy the tax on the winnings.

For Federal tax purposes, and state tax purposes if appropriate, it is essential to make an estimated tax payment as soon as possible. Your lottery winnings for the year must be added to other expected income less expected deductions and tax credits. These calculations should be done on the worksheet attached to Form 1040-ES. Assuming that you have saved (and will continue to save for the rest of the year) all receipts for your lottery purchases for the current year, you can total the losses and use that amount as a first-tier miscellaneous itemized deduction (not subject to the two percent of the adjusted gross income rule). Only losses up to the amount of winnings can be deducted, and if you won a large amount, the loss total will most likely be considerably less than the winnings. In calculating the estimated Federal taxes, you should keep in mind that the lottery officials will generally withhold 20-28% of the prize. IRC Sec. 3402 (q)(3)(B) specifies that a state lottery must withhold 28% of the gross payment for Federal income tax if the winnings exceed $5,000. Since that withholding amount will usually not be sufficient to cover the tax liability that will be owed for the year, estimated tax payments will be necessary.

If you do not feel confident in making the necessary calculations for the estimated tax payments, it would be a wise move to hire a certified public accountant, non-CPA accountant, or attorney to do the paperwork. Failing to make estimated tax payments or underestimating the taxes may burden you with hefty penalties.

Lottery officials are required to send any winner of more than $600 a 1099-G form to the taxpayer and the IRS at the end of the year. This form shows the amount of the winnings and the amount withheld for Federal and state taxes. The taxpayer must attach a copy of the 1099-G to his or her return.

Another issue to consider relates to liability insurance. There have been a few situations where strangers have tried to pick fights with a lottery winner with the intention of suing the person with the money. It would be advisable for any lottery winner to obtain at least a $5,000,000 liability umbrella as quickly as possible. Moreover, if you are planning to continue or begin performing personal services as a self-employee or independent contractor, you should consider operating your business as a limited liability company.

So, you are ready to head for the lottery headquarters with your winning ticket. Should you go there by yourself, with your spouse, another family member, or the entire family? Should you hire an attorney or accountant to go with you or hire him or her to take the ticket alone to the headquarters? Some people would not trust someone else to deliver the winning ticket for them. Some winners would prefer to "go it alone" or with one other person. Others may prefer to take the entire family or a group of friends and make the trip into a major celebration.

Be careful about telling too many people about your winnings. Suddenly, you may be hearing from all kinds of relatives and old friends. You will probably be contacted by lots of unknown individuals who need financial help; charitable organizations; attorneys and accountants who want to advise you and charge you hefty fees; stockbrokers, financial advisors, and insurance agents who want to help you spend your money for large fees; and all sorts of strange people and organizations. One Arizona winner received requests for money from as far away as the Philippines. Mail was actually delivered to him addressed only to his name and "Arizona, U.S.A."

It would be advisable to change your phone number to an unlisted one as soon as you know that you have the winning numbers. If you already have an unlisted number, change it to another unlisted one. This may sound like a drastic step, but you may have to leave town for awhile or permanently. As soon as people know your address, some of them may come knocking on your door for a handout. It is even possible that someone might be enticed to kidnap a member of your family for ransom. Some people may think you have lots of cash and other assets in your home and may try to break into the house.

You would probably prefer remaining anonymous when you deliver your winning ticket. Can you? Probably not. State legislators are concerned that the public be convinced that lotteries are operated honestly and thus require that the name and city of the winner are made public. Only Delaware currently permits winners to remain anonymous. As a winner, you do not have to appear before the media, or you can have someone else deliver your ticket, but reporters will most likely catch up with you sooner or later. You may want to go ahead and meet them to get it over with as quickly as possible.

To work or quit?

Should you quit your job immediately, do so later, or just keep working until you are ready to retire? The answer, of course, depends on several variables. First of all, you shouldn't quit your job before you are totally certain that you actually won the lottery. It might be a good idea to ask for a 30-day leave of absence from work to give yourself some time to think about your options. If you have chosen to take the winnings on an annuity basis, you will need to decide whether the annual payment after taxes will be sufficient to keep you in the lifestyle that is desired. If you won a $1,000,000 jackpot, selected to be paid on an annuity basis for 20 years, and were in the 28% tax bracket, your annual payment would be about $36,000 (less if you have to pay state and city income taxes). Would it be better to continue working, at least for a few years, to have that income plus your lottery annuity? If you are relatively young and take the winnings on an annuity basis, what happens after 20 years when those payments stop? If you cease working shortly after winning and then are out of the labor force for 20 years, you may have trouble getting back into a similar type of job. You may have many more years in your lifetime with very little income (unless you invested your lottery winnings wisely).

Accordingly, your age may be a very important factor in deciding whether or not to quit your job. Some lottery winners could eventually be in deep trouble if they took the winnings in one lump sum and then spent all of it in a very few years and/or made unwise investments. Or, after 20 years of receiving payments and spending most of the winnings and not making wise investments, they may have to rejoin the workforce (which may not be an easy thing to do).

Some older lottery winners may be ready to retire immediately and never work again. This would be especially true for people who really have no great love for their jobs or who are "burned out" after 30 or 40 years of working hard. Some winners feel that with smart investing and managing their funds well, whether they receive a lump sum or annuity payments for 20 years, they can spend the rest of their lives very comfortably and do not need to continue working. On the other hand, they may decide to work part time, find another type of job, or go into business for themselves. Some people love their jobs and would not want to quit no matter how much money they won. Some simply would not know what to do with themselves if they retired. Again, it would probably be a good idea to take a leave of absence in order to think about what you want to do with the rest of your life.

What are you going to do with your new financial windfall? There are many choices. Your decisions on what to do with the money may depend upon your age; how many people and in what proportions you want to share your winnings with; how important it is to you to maximize tax savings; what organizations and in what amounts you want to make contributions to; what types of investments you want to make; what purchases and spending you want to make immediately or in the very near future (such as a new car, new house, vacation trip, etc.) for you and relatives and friends; whether or not you plan to keep your job for the foreseeable future; whether or not you plan to establish one or more trusts; and other factors.

There are so many variables you may want to consider, it is almost imperative to take a sufficient amount of time to consider all the choices. Like anything else, however, you may reach a point where the more you analyze the situation, the more confused you become. Many of the variables that could be considered may be totally irrelevant to you. The decisionmaking process can turn out to be a relatively simple one, or it may become a very complicated procedure.

Trusts

Assume that you want to avoid gift taxes, maximize tax savings as much as feasible and convenient, and choose to set up a trust. A living trust is a legal agreement that can be made and changed as often as needed before the death of the individual grantor. The grantor may transfer any assets (such as receivables or rights from lottery winnings) to the trust. You, as the grantor, may name yourself as the trustee so you can manage the trust's assets yourself, or you may elect to have yourself and someone else (such as a bank trust department or other financial institution) be cotrustees and allow the bank to manage the assets. It would be wise to have a trust department legal advisor or an outside attorney to help you set up the necessary documents so that the provisions of the trust agreement will contain no surprises or complications.

You will want an attorney who has some experience in working with trusts, you would feel comfortable with, and will not overcharge you. Don't be afraid to ask the lawyer up front what his or her fees would be to establish the trust. If you ask several attorneys, you may be rather surprised at the range of fees they quote. If someone else is going to manage the trust's assets, find out how much they will charge for annual administrative fees before you make your selection of the other trustee.

One of the major advantages of a trust is to avoid gift taxes if you choose to give cash or other assets to relatives and/or friends. You can give cash (or fair market value of other assets) to any donee of up to $10,000 per year without being subject to a Federal gift tax. If you do not plan to give anyone more than $10,000 in any year, you may not want to have a trust.

Another important advantage of a trust is that its creation can have significant income tax ramifications to both the donor (grantor) and the beneficiaries Because a trust is a separate taxable entity, you as the trustee can shift income from your own tax return directly to the trust, and generally this can produce some significant tax savings.

Even though the trust may have the flexibility of shifting income to the beneficiaries, which may significantly save on taxes, there is no guarantee that such a reduction will occur. It used to be that trusts did have lower tax rates than individuals, but this is no longer true. When trusts had lower tax rates, savings could be created by having the trusts pay the taxes on the income to the trusts. Today, trusts are treated much like individuals. They have similar deductions and credits as individuals as well as similar tax rates. Although a trust is allowed deductions for distributions to beneficiaries, they must report the receipts as income. This does, however, permit the trustee to determine the effective taxable rate on the income, by choosing, whether to have it taxed to the trust or the beneficiary (who may be in a lower tax bracket than the trust with its total income).

Thus, if you choose to have a trust for tax savings purposes, you or your tax advisor will need to do some serious tax planning in order to reap the best possible benefits. Of course, if you are no longer working at a regular job because of your lottery winnings, you may have plenty of time to look at all kinds of possibilities for tax savings. Another advantage of a living trust is that, if you become ill or incapacitated some time in the future or you travel frequently, another trustee can help ensure that your bills are paid and the trust's assets can be managed properly (hopefully) for you.

Whenever you die, your estate would most likely go through probate. That is a process that pays the estate's obligations and distributes the remaining assets to the heirs (beneficiaries). The division of the assets is allocated according to the terms of your will or by the rules of the state if you had none. A living trust avoids the time and expense of probate (at least as far as the assets owned by the trust are concerned) and may reduce estate taxes as well.

There can be some disadvantages in the creation of a living trust. First, there may be no significant tax savings, especially if all of the beneficiaries are going to be taxed at the highest rates.

In the past, after the grantor died, the trust was not eligible for some of the special rules for estates (such as the possible election of a noncalendar tax year and the right to make estimated income tax payments by a beneficiary). The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 amended the Internal Revenue Code to allow a living trust to elect to become part of an estate. This irrevocable election is effective for two years after the date of death if a Federal estate tax return is not required or six months if it is. This election also allows the trust to be eligible for a charitable contribution deduction. Careful tax planning would be necessary to decide whether or not having the trust become part of the estate would be beneficial to the estate and its beneficiaries.

Another disadvantage of setting up a trust, assuming that you are going to hire a lawyer for this purpose, is it would mean paying a legal fee (probably a very large amount for a trust with significant assets and/or complex provisions). The procedures of establishing the trust and transferring assets to it may also involve much time. You should make a will or revise an old one to handle the assets not transferred to the trust.

Annual administrative fees charged by the bank's trust department or other financial institution may be a rather hefty amount. The annual fee may be as much as 0.5% to one percent of the total assets in the trust. If the assets are managed properly and all of them are not distributed quickly each year, investment income from those held in the trust should cover those expenses and create more assets for the trust.

It is important to remember to have the lottery winnings go directly to the trust, since it is the owner of the winnings. Otherwise, if you receive the money and then transfer it to the trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries, you may be subject to gift taxes on the transfer (depending upon the amounts and provisions of the trust).

Jack R. Fay is associate professor of accounting, Pittsburg (Kan.) State University.
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Title Annotation:advice for lottery winners
Author:FAY, JACK R.
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
Words:4172
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