You won the big one, now what?

You won the big one, now what?
CNN
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Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - 10:37am

(CNN) -- Somebody might wake up Wednesday a whole lot richer. Heck, some of us are going to stay up to see if we're the lucky one or two who hits Tuesday night's $586 million Mega Millions jackpot.

People who play the lottery love to dream about the things they'd do if they won the big one. Telling the boss off might top your list (not mine, oh no, not mine). Maybe a new mansion and a fancy car and a gasoline-powered turtleneck sweater (right, Steve Martin?).

But let's think about it. There are a few important things you should do before you go out and blow your winnings.

1. Sign the ticket.

You didn't already? Are you crazy? What if the roommate "claims" it? What if your significant other isn't as significant as you thought? What if you are showing it to someone, say over a beer or 10, and it goes missing? What if you forget it on your desk and you suddenly have the richest cleaning person in the U.S.? Sign it -- if you didn't when you bought it -- because whoever has an unsigned ticket when it gets turned in can call dibs on it.

It's also time for a selfie. With you and said ticket. It might even be a good idea to run to the drug store and buy a camera with actual film in it.

And then find a hiding place for that ticket. A safe deposit box is probably, yes, safest. Or go get a portable home safe. Remember, this ain't Canada; no one is going to track you down to hand you your millions.

2. Contact people who have dealt with large sums of money before

And we don't mean your Uncle Eddie who says he's doing great with his online stock portfolio or a cousin who just passed the bar. Start with one experienced attorney and look for a seasoned certified financial planner. You don't want to contact more than a few people, lest the word get out before you even get the big cardboard check.

Your biggest decision right now is whether to take the cash prize (the actual money in the pot) or take an annuity (the estimated value of the cash option plus whatever interest it will earn over 30 years).

It seems like a no-brainer to get it all up front and do your own investing, but a bright financial mind will help you see if it's best to get 30 checks over time or one check.

The lawyer you pick will also need to hook you up with specialists in subjects like estate planning, taxes and such. You might want to know if it's best to buy mom a house or just give her some cash each year or set up some sort of trust fund. I vote to buy the house and let her live there. Wait, is that OK? Need a lawyer.

3. Figure out if you can stay anonymous

Chances are, you can't. Only a few states like South Carolina allow it, so you may want to hire a media consultant or a PR flak. Let someone else plan your appearances after you claim your coin. And remember, you don't have to make your decisions right away. You might have as long as 180 days to claim your prize, but check state rules while you're looking to see if you can remain anonymous.

But it would be best if you didn't have to give out your name, some former winners say.

If you can't, lie low for a while. If you can't lie low, it might be prudent to hire a bodyguard. We don't want you to end up like the winner in Florida who ended up buried under a driveway.

4. Plan a trip

Speaking of staying out of sight, it might be a good time to head to South America. We hear it's nice this time of year. Or some place like the U.S. Virgin Islands if you don't have a passport.

One set of winners went straight from the news conference to the airport. They were gone for weeks. If it were me, I might have the news conference at the airport, in front of the private jet.

If you do duck out for a few weeks, you probably won't come back to find the news media parked in front of your house and people won't recognize you in stores.

Now there probably will be a pile of mail and e-mails from relatives you never knew you had and messages on the answering machine (if you still have your phone connected).

5. Don't give up just because you didn't win the top prize

Every year a few of the people who match five numbers and win the measly runner-up prize fail to collect their winnings. So check those tickets again to see if you might have won $1 million. You don't want to be among the 2% of people (OK, it's like one or two) who threw away a million bucks. Last year there were $800 million in unclaimed lottery prizes. That's everything from $1 prizes to the $1 million prize (that can be even bigger if you play the multipliers).

It might be, for instance, the guy I talked to at a sandwich shop in the CNN food court who says he only plays when the jackpots are huge. He checks to see where the big winner lives and if it's not here, he tosses his tickets.

But if you do get a piece of the top prize, you'll be in rare territory. Tuesday's jackpot is the second-largest in U.S. history. (The biggest was a $656 million Mega Millions prize, shared by three winning tickets in March 2012.)

Tuesday's drawing is at 11 p.m. ET. Good luck!

 

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