The first things to do if you win the $1.4B Powerball windfall

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Don’t let the winnings intoxicate you.

With the next winning Powerball ticket set to be selected Wednesday, someone could be in for a huge windfall — one worth more than $1 billion. But before anyone rushes to claim the prize, they’re going to need a crash course in financial management and a way to weed out scammers, including greedy family members.

When asked who they would call first if they won the lottery, 46% said their significant other, according to a survey out last week from convenience store chain Cumberland Farms. But 10% said their first call would be to their lawyer. And that might actually be the better way to go, financial and legal experts say.

One of the worst things a lottery winner can do is immediately spread the news, says Andrew Stoltmann, a securities attorney in Chicago who has represented multiple lottery winners in lawsuits over investment scams. Lottery winners “become one of most heavily targeted marks in the entire world,” he says.

So lawyer up, and if you find yourself with the lucky ticket on Wednesday — or ever — here’s your guide to being a responsible lottery winner:

• Assemble your team: This means trusted lawyers, certified public accountants and financial advisers who will be able to help you navigate your tax liability, choose investments and steer clear of scams. Put this team together before you claim your winnings, too. If you don’t have immediate access to these kinds of professionals, ask friends for recommendations (without letting slip why you’re asking, a tip we’ll get to next) or head to the office of an established and reputable investment firm and ask to talk with someone, Stoltmann says.

• Keep mum: Yes, this may the most exciting news you’ll ever have to share, but suppress the urge to post a Facebook status update, unless you want everyone you know to start asking you for money. Other than telling immediate family, keep a low profile. Some states will even let lottery winners remain anonymous, which is a prudent option. Consider appointing someone, perhaps a trusted friend or family member, as an adviser or creating a de facto board of directors, says Michael Kosnitzky, a lawyer who specializes in taxes and high-wealth clients for Boies, Schiller & Flexner. This adviser, or team of advisers, can help you vet requests for money, whether from Mom and Dad or a local charity.

Don’t take the lump sum: Lottery winnings can be paid out all at once or in installments over time. Thanks to the benefit of interest, the jackpot winner will keep more of that windfall if it is distributed via a 30-year annuity.  Spreading winnings out also gives the lucky ticket holder more time to learn how to manage the massive sum and make more responsible choices, Stoltmann says.

• Don’t splurge, and trust no one: Don’t quit your job. Don’t move to Fiji. Don’t buy a huge mansion. At least not right away. When it comes to making decisions about your lottery winnings, move forward with caution and patience. “Do not make significant decisions in your life quickly,” Kosnitzky says, “especially ones involving substantial resources.”

And ultimately, don’t trust anyone over your own judgment.

Hadley Malcolm

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