Someone in South Carolina just found out that they will soon have more money than they could possibly imagine for the rest of their lives. They and their family will want for nothing. Extra guac? No problem. First-class plane seats? It’s private jets only from here, baby. A solid gold toilet seat? All the better to match the faucet.
A staggering $1.6 billion (or actually quite a lot less than that, after tax) will work their way into that person’s bank account, changing their life irrevocably. With all that moolah comes a horde of problems.
If you are that winner, here’s a handy guide for how to avoid them—or at least the ones that previous winners have faced.
1. Tell no one
You’ll probably have to tell someone, of course. Your spouse might start to wonder where the cash for their new Beamer came from, otherwise, or why you’ve suddenly become a Whole Foods family after decades of proud Costco membership. Still, now’s the time to keep this under your hat as much as possible—or, at least, the scope of it. South Carolina is one of a handful of US states that allow winners to remain entirely anonymous (if you’re in Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, or Texas, you’re also fine).
Previous lottery winners have found themselves easy prey for desperate—or simply greedy—types. In 2002, West Virginian construction worker Jack Whittaker won $314 million. The subsequent media coverage was so intense that he became “instantly recognizable” in his home state. As the Washington Post reported, “Since Jack said he was going to give away much of his winnings, a lot of people thought it would be a fine idea if he gave some to them.” They’d hover at his favorite diner or wait for him, “wild-eyed,” in the parking lot of his local supermarket. “A lot of them, they had cancer, or their child was dying,” Whittaker’s friend told the Post. “Different stuff like that, which was heartbreaking. It would even make you want to reach in your own pocket.”
2. Assume a new identity
Let’s say you can’t keep it a secret. Your name is now out there, whether it’s within moments of you coming to terms with your win or, as is the case with Arizona, 90 days after the ticket is drawn. The first thing you want to do is say no to media requests—however nice the journalist on the other end might seem. Take down your social media profile, delete any photos of yourself that appear online, and do whatever you can to purge the internet of your presence.
That’ll make it much easier when you take the trickier—and harder-to-pull-off step—of assuming a new identity. Pick a new name—something discreet, like Michael Smith or Rachel Jones—and then get out of town. Your old name will be a matter of public record, making it easy for people to find you. If you no longer answer to that name and aren’t at that address, it’ll be a little more challenging to track you down.
Now is also the time to take stock of the people you love. Jettison frenemies, hangers-on, anyone you keep around for reasons of politeness and manners. Purge your phone book and prune your Facebook account—or maybe delete it altogether. You won’t need these extras where you’re going.
3. Hire an accountant
Head straight to the office of an accountant and tax adviser. Being very wealthy comes with a price, and you want to know what it is, and how you pay it. All those gifts you want to give the aforementioned loved ones? Taxable. Moving it to a trust? There’s probably tax on that, too. Annual interest? You guessed it! Whether you’ve decided to take your winnings annually (the better option) or all in one go, you face eye-watering tax bills for the rest of your life. A good accountant will tell you how to handle them.
4. And a lawyer, probably
The better you’ve covered your tracks, the less you will need a good lawyer. But be prepared, all the same. You face potential lawsuits from anyone you’ve ever supposedly wronged, as well as people you may not even know; anyone you’ve ever joked about winning the lottery to; ex-spouses; the owner of the store you bought the ticket from; co-workers; and basically everyone else. Don’t be a sitting duck—and please, don’t worry about the legal bills.
5. Enjoy your winnings!
Once you’ve done all of the above, and you’re sitting in an underground bunker answering only to your assumed name, it’s time to celebrate. Pop a bottle or two, go on an online shopping spree, treat yourself to a $1,000 bagel. Money is no object, for now.