For many, winning the lottery is a dream come true. Or is it?
Life-changing sums of money obviously change lives. But it doesn’t always change it for the better.
There are plenty of lottery horror stories out there. It goes something like this:
Couple wins millions. Couple buys houses and cars. Couple gets taken advantage of. Couple declares bankruptcy.
According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, about 70 percent of people who suddenly come into significant amounts of money will lose it within a few years.
Knowing this, it is entirely understandable that most big winners would prefer to remain anonymous. States, however, have an interest in making lottery winners public.
It helps prevent fraud, so they claim. There is another motivating factor to make a winner’s story public. Frankly, it is the kind of publicity that sells more tickets.
Today, seven states allow winners to remain anonymous:
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
Some states actually have laws that prohibit winners from staying anonymous. And others allow winners to form a trust and claim the winnings through the trust.
Should you remain anonymous if you win the lottery?
Of course, this is a personal decision, but there are more pros to remaining anonymous than cons. Remaining anonymous allows the winner to:
- Process what the windfall means
- Find legal and tax help
- Plan appropriately
- Prevent being harassed
- Protect their family from becoming the target of scams
The con to remaining anonymous: missing out on 15 minutes of fame.
While the spotlight can be enticing, having your name associated with winning millions of dollars is something you’ll likely regret.
The legal case for remaining anonymous
On March 17, a single Powerball jackpot winning ticket was sold in Pennsylvania and is now worth $456.7 million. It was the eighth-largest jackpot in Powerball history.
The winner has yet to come forward and is probably very interested in the outcome of Jane Doe vs. The New Hampshire Lottery Commission.
The judgment came just a few days before the sale of the most recent winning lottery ticket. The judge in the case ruled that the $560 million Powerball jackpot winner from January’s drawing had a right to anonymity. The judge concluded Jane Doe’s right to privacy outweighs the state’s interest in revealing her identity.
The case headed to court after the winner signed the lottery ticket. It was then that she realized doing so would forfeit her right to privacy. Lottery officials said altering the signature to allow a trust to claim the winnings would void the ticket.
The judgment in favor of Jane Doe has set the stage for more winners to challenge their right keep their name out of the media.
Michigan Lottery and the legislation to remain anonymous
In the 2015-2016 Michigan legislative session, Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekama, introduced HB433, which would allow lottery winners of over $10,000 a choice to remain anonymous.
The bill passed the House by a large margin and moved to the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee, Chaired by Sen. Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights.
The legislation died when the session ended and was never made it into law. Rep.Franz didn’t return to reintroduce the bill due to term limits.
Currently, there is not any active legislation, and there might not be interest again until the Michigan Lottery produces another big winner.
You won the Michigan Lottery, now what?
For prizes over $50,000, the Michigan Lottery requests making an appointment at one of their offices. You’ll need to bring with you:
- The original winning ticket
- Valid government-issued photo ID
- Social Security card
- Bank account information
You may want to consult a lawyer and a tax professional before you head out. Proper planning is the solution to avoid becoming one of the 70 percent listed above. There are various types of trusts and annual gift-giving plans to help protect you and your windfall.
The precedent that favors the right to personal privacy over the public’s right to know is something to discuss with a professional before you go public.
In the end, the proper preparation may be the real winning ticket.