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Experts warn potential lottery winners of big money risks

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 11:09 PM EDT, Thu March 29, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Winners face swindlers or the problems of a big life change
  • One accountant recommends office pools draw up a contract
  • Winners should also get a team in place before claiming the prize
  • The drawing will be held Friday at 11 p.m. ET

(CNN) -- As wannabe millionaires across the country try their luck at the Mega Millions lottery, hoping to hit the record-breaking $540 million jackpot, experts are warning them to beware of the perils of a sudden win.

While some lottery winners live the good life, others go broke because they're not used to the wealth, they're swindled or they're hassled for a part of the money.

"You're used to living a very comfortable middle-class lifestyle and then all of a sudden you've got $10 million in the bank, and you don't know who to trust, and people come out of the woodwork," said Jim Kowats, director of productions for TLC's "The Lottery Changed my Life," a show that tells the stories of lottery winners.

If people play the lottery as part of a pool, they should plan for any disputes that may follow a win, said attorney and certified public accountant Shannon Nash.

She said they should write a contract or even send e-mails confirming who took part in the pool and how much money they contributed.

"What happens is that peoples' memories get hazy," she said. "All of a sudden you win and everybody wants to be a part of the pool, and then everyone is in court trying to prove it."

A company called Sudden Money Institute helps lottery winners and others adjust to the life change of receiving large amounts of money.

"The possibilities with big wins are so extreme that it really does alter status quo, almost permanently," said Susan Bradley, a certified financial planner and founder of the institute. "It takes about five years to get used to this kind of change in a person's life."

She tells lottery winners the first thing to do is safeguard the ticket and don't tell many people about the win. Before claiming the jackpot, she advises, winners should have in place a team that includes a lawyer and a financial adviser specializing in large amounts of money.

Bradley says she finds it's the personal changes and not the managing of the money that prove the most challenging.

"The real thing is how all your relationships change -- how you change, how you see the world, how the world sees you," she said.

One of the most surprising things, she said, is how much lottery winners miss their previous lives -- even those jobs they used to grumble about.

The Mega Millions' jackpot reached $540 million Thursday, the biggest for any lottery. Winners can choose to receive annual payments or, if they pick the cash option, can be given a lump sum of $389 million.

The drawing will be held Friday at 11 p.m. ET.

The odds of winning are 1 in 176 million, according to the Colorado Lottery. Colorado is one of 42 states participating in Mega Millions.

CNN's Mary Snow contributed to this report.

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