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The High Cost of Claiming Your Powerball Jackpot

Oct. 25, 2018
The High Cost of Claiming Your Powerball Jackpot
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You know all those things you said you’d do if you won the Powerball jackpot?

Buy a private Caribbean island? Purchase a pony farm? Rub it in the face of your middle school nemesis?

If you’re the winner, it’s not a game anymore. There’s a lot more involved than cashing that oversize check.

In fact, claiming your winnings could cost a bundle: The cost of hiring the lawyers and minions you’ll need that first year can easily hit six figures. Even if your instant riches aren’t from a scratch-off ticket but an inheritance or becoming an overnight dot-com multimillionaire, the following advice is good to know.

Get cash on top of the rewards you already earn.

You’ll still get the rewards your current card offers, plus an added 2-10% cash back at participating stores.

Whom to hire, what to buy and how much it will cost

Before the shopping spree begins you need to hire some combination of people who can handle complicated things involving taxes (so many taxes), lump sum vs. annuity payouts, FDIC insurance limits, newfound fame, long-forgotten “relatives,” more taxes, exes, estate planning and, finally, deciding what the heck to do with your jackpot winnings.

“You can spend well over $100,000 just getting the advice you need and the systems in place to handle that much money,” NerdWallet personal finance columnist Liz Weston says. “You’ll want to pick your advisors carefully, and the best ones don’t come cheap.”

Although some of the jobs will be one-offs (like having a living will drawn up), others will require ongoing guidance (tax and financial planning). Most of the professionals you’ll put on your payroll will require an advance retainer before they start working their legal mojo. Costs will vary a lot depending on how complicated your personal life is and where you live. (Shockingly, big city lawyers charge more than those in small towns.)

Where to start?

“I’d want someone to help me coordinate all the different people I’d need, so I’d hire a certified financial planner to act as a coach and manager,” Weston says.

Here is a rundown of pros and products to help you best handle your instant fortune.

» Not a millionaire yet? Grow your wealth by investing in stocks

Hire a financial planner

Estimated cost: $2,500-$5,000 for a basic financial plan; $100,000-$200,000 for putting a financial planner on retainer; up to .25% of total assets to have the planner manage your investments.

One of the first phone calls you should make is to a certified financial planner (make sure he or she has the official CFP designation), who can help navigate these first important days as a multimillionaire.

Your biggest concern right away is tax minimization. Your CFP likely has a team of tax experts to help you legally shield as much as you can from the IRS. In addition to managing your money, a CFP can handle many of the other must-dos on this list, such as estate, insurance and tax planning, or refer you to specialists in these fields to address immediate needs.

After that a CFP will work with you to craft a long-term financial plan that balances today’s wants/needs with your dreams for the future. Together, you can focus on wealth preservation (not losing money to inflation) and creating a steady income stream for life.

By the way, financial planners aren’t just for Powerball winners. Learn how to choose a financial advisor who will suit your needs. Or, for an easy and low-cost way to build and manage a custom-made diversified portfolio, hire a robo-advisor. (Here are our top picks for best robo-advisors.)

Avoid people trying to woo you with their hot-shot stock-picking prowess or get-rich-quick schemes. Look for a fee-only financial planner who gets paid on a per-hour, per-plan or flat-fee approach as opposed to getting paid through commissions on products he recommends or transactions he facilitates.

Hire a tax attorney

Estimated cost: $60-$300 or more per hour

The first tax-related decisions you have to make when you win the lottery are doozies, such as whether to take your windfall in a lump sum or spread out the winnings and receive a fat check every year for the next 30 years.

Answers to these questions may be beyond the scope of what a seasonal H&R Block tax preparer can answer. You want someone who is intimately familiar with all the nuances of both federal and state tax law. You should plan to spend a minimum of a few hours a month with him or her during your first year as a multimillionaire.

You can search for lawyers by location and specialty at the American Bar Association, or search specialty sites, and, all of which have lawyer ratings to help guide you.

Camp out in a hotel suite (with breakfast included)

Estimated cost: $800 to $1,600 per night for five nights

Once you come forward as the winner, your home, workplace and the parking lot at the gym you swore you’d go to at least once a month will be surrounded by news crews and rubberneckers.

Plan ahead and book a hotel suite under a false name for you and your family to hide out in until the paparazzi get bored of taking pictures of your shrubbery.

Buy some burner phones

Estimated cost: $35-$40 a month for service, new phone $0.99-$850

Before that incessant ringing from all those calls from the media, well-wishers and scamsters starts to drive you mad, purchase a few cheap cell phones and set up a no-contract prepaid wireless plan. Share one phone number with only your team of pros and reserve another for confirmed blood relatives and that Chinese takeout place you like. (Check out NerdWallet’s picks for the best prepaid cell phone plans.)

Set up a trust

Estimated cost: $1,500-$8,000ish for normal people; $5,000-$10,000 for the complexity involved with lottery winnings and other sudden windfalls.

A lawyer or estate attorney can help create an “entity” (such as a general or limited partnership, limited liability company or a trust) to claim your winnings and keep your name and beaming smile off the front page.

Among other things (such as helping money pass through to heirs without being subject to probate), a trust also comes in handy in states with rules that allow only a single payee per winning ticket. That person will be on the hook for all owed taxes, and the money he or she pays out to the other winners will be subject to the IRS 2018 gift tax rules: The donor will owe taxes on anything over $15,000.

Put a certified public accountant on speed-dial

Estimated cost: $10,000-$50,000 a year

Mere mortals who don’t want to prepare their own taxes can hire a good CPA for a flat fee that may cost no more than $500 to $1,000 for the entire job. For you, newly minted multimillionaire, this isn’t an area where you want to cut corners. Plan to pay as much as $50,000 that first year for a firm’s top tax accounting talent to explore every nook and cranny of tax law to help you (legally) shield your millions from the IRS.

Right off the bat your CPA will calculate how many millions you need to put aside to cover your federal income tax bill come April. (Don’t count on getting a tax refund next year.) After that, make a standing date a few times a year to discuss tax minimization strategies until death (or profligate spending) do you and your money part.

Employ an estate lawyer

Estimated cost: $800-$1,800 for basic documents; $5,000-$10,000 for a simple estate plan; $50,000-plus for a complex estate plan.

If you survive winning the Powerball without succumbing to heart failure, then you’re in good enough shape to plan for all the “what ifs” and “whens.” With the help of an estate lawyer, life and death’s unpleasantries can be handled with a minimum of fuss and muss.

A stack of key estate planning documents will dictate, for example, who gets what when you shed this mortal coil (a will); who has permission to manage your affairs when you’re anaesthetized, institutionalized or otherwise unable to make decisions on your own (a living will and durable powers of attorney); and who can pull the life support plug (based on wishes you’ve outlined in your health care proxy/medical directive). An estate attorney can also help you title assets and keep taxes, legal costs and headaches to a minimum for your heirs.

The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys has a directory of members (or search the sites mentioned under the tax lawyer entry above) to help you compile a short list of candidates for your team.

Create your own wealth management office

Estimated cost: $500,000 to $1 million or more

Rather than herd a bunch of advisors on your own, you might simply create what’s known in the industry as a “family office,” dedicated to you and only you, running everything from your tax planning to maintaining your vacation compound.

Michael Kitces, director of planning at Pinnacle Advisory Group, says hiring your own full-time staff makes more sense once you hit $100 million in assets or so. The cost could exceed $1 million a year for someone with a Powerball-size fortune — but that may wind up being both easier and cheaper than engaging a series of outside pros.

Purchase excess liability (umbrella) insurance

Estimated cost: About $200 per year for $1 million of personal liability coverage

Liability insurance (often referred to as an umbrella policy) offers extra coverage for lawsuits against you, such as accidents (or what others claim to be “accidents”) that cost more than what your regular homeowners or auto policies cover. It can kick in for things like trip-and-fall lawsuits, personal injury claims against you such as libel and slander, and freak occurrences that could suck your bank accounts and your future earnings dry.

Umbrella policies are usually sold in $1 million increments. But you’re going to need more than $1 million in coverage since you’ve got multiple millions at stake.

Lucky for you, buying in bulk helps you save money. After the first million in coverage the next million will cost about $75 and then after that each extra million will run you a cut-rate $50.

Get covered before someone intentionally throws himself off your porch or bites his own arm and blames it on your docile basset hound.

Open 1,200 accounts at separate FDIC-insured institutions

Cost: $10.99 for a bottle of 100 Extra Strength Tylenol caplets

The after-tax amount that the winner will take home presents a practical problem: Where to deposit the money so that it’s safe?

FDIC insurance is limited to $250,000 per depositor, per FDIC-insured bank, per ownership category. Federal and state taxes could claim a third of that $443 million cash-value prize, so to be fully insured by the FDIC they’d have to spread the dough across more than 1,200 deposit accounts. (Hey, at least you can avoid those pesky account minimums and qualify for the best savings accounts.) Of course, if you’ve hired a financial planner, he or she will figure out a less onerous way to get your money a more practical parking spot.

Check in with a therapist

Estimated cost: $50-$250 an hour

Take it from wealth coach Myra Salzer, founder of The Wealth Conservancy: “Your life is never going to be the same. … You need to mourn the loss of your old life.”

Besides introducing a lot of crazy into your life, winning the lottery can bring up a whole host of emotions. Let’s focus on the positives: What money buys you (after shelter, sustenance, safety and some fun extras) is breathing room and freedom. If you want to continue to work, you can do so on your terms and do something you love, even if it’s not lucrative.

Of course money buys you access to better homes, cars and exclusive clubs, but none of that matters if you don’t have your health, strong relationships with family/loved ones, a sense of life purpose, and a connection to community.

When you craft your long-term financial plan, these are the things that you need to make room for and specifically allocate dollars toward so they become concrete waypoints that lead to the personal and financial legacy you want to leave behind. A good therapist can help you work past the “I should do/want/feel/be” stuff and dig to the core of what will really enhance your life.

Take responsibility for your financial decisions

Cost: Priceless

Good help may not be that hard to find if you do your due diligence and check everyone’s record for complaints and disciplinary actions. (Before signing on the dotted line, do a background check on any financial pro you’re considering.)

But even after you vet your Team Lottery, it’s up to you to stay involved and make the people on your payroll explain in great detail every recommendation and move they make. After all, the final call on every major financial and life decision is your responsibility and yours alone.

No one has more of an incentive to keep your best interests at heart than you — this applies to everyone, whether you’re an overnight multimillionaire or a hardworking thousandaire.


Dayana Yochim is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website: Email: [email protected] Twitter: @DayanaYochim.

This story was updated Oct. 25, 2018.

Image via iStock.