Thinking of Going Off the Grid After Winning the Lottery? Not So Fast
Everyone dreams of it: having a small piece of paper with the right numbers printed on it and winning the life-changing $200 million, $700 million or $1 billion jackpot. But what happens after you win?
Many winners decide to remain anonymous — or at least try to — but that can be difficult when many states demand that the winners of large jackpots show their faces at news conferences.
At his own news conference in Madison, Wis., Manuel Franco, 24, who in a Powerball drawing last month won $768 million, the third-largest jackpot in United States lottery history, seemed to be trying not to divulge too much information about himself, perhaps to keep random family members from coming out of the woodwork. Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, he declined to say where he grew up, where he lived, what kind of car he drove or where he used to work. (He quit two days after winning.)
Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Texas, North Dakota and Ohio allow lottery winners to conceal their identities if the winnings exceed a certain dollar amount, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Other states, like New York, make it easy for winners to collect their prizes under the cover of an L.L.C. or an entity. But states like Wisconsin want winners to come forward to claim their prizes, although Wisconsin does not require them to appear at a news conference as Mr. Franco did.
After Mr. Franco’s $768 million win, “it seems a little ridiculous that there isn’t privacy when it comes to that,” Gary Tauchen, a Wisconsin state representative, said. “Certainly you have a lot of fourth and fifth cousins and it is just a situation when you’re under high stress.”
While Mr. Franco was answering questions about his lottery winnings as concisely as possible, Mr. Tauchen was introducing a bill seeking to ensure the privacy of lottery winners in Wisconsin.
“I know that it is one of those life-changing experiences when you need some time to adjust,” Mr. Tauchen said. “You don’t need the stress of other people putting pressure on you.”
And for jackpot winners like Mr. Franco, the pressure comes nearly immediately.
“For the next two weeks, people are going to be outside of his house,” Jason M. Kurland, a lawyer who has represented several winners of large lottery jackpots, said on Wednesday.
“I get those letters every week,” Mr. Kurland said, referring to the mail he receives intended for his clients. “They range from congratulatory letters to individuals having a tough time asking for handouts, to organizations looking for donations, to business men and women asking for investors.”
Mr. Kurland, who calls himself the Lottery Lawyer and represented the person in South Carolina who won the $1.54 billion Mega Millions jackpot last year, advises his clients to delete all their social media accounts before they claim their winnings. He also tells them to try to remove their address from public view as much as they can and to get new phone numbers. If there are children involved, he will hire security for the first couple of days.
Mr. Kurland tries to help his clients retain some privacy after they win, but if privacy is hard to achieve in 2019, anonymity is nearly impossible.
“It is very hard to participate in civil life and be anonymous,” Albert Gidari, the privacy director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, said on Wednesday. “You can’t buy a car in cash and avoid disclosing who you are because now car dealers are financial institutions,” Mr. Gidari said, adding that it was nearly impossible to transfer money in and out of the United States without disclosing who you are to the government.
“He can get a lot of lawyers and accountants and figure out how to move and hide a lot of that money at great risk to himself for not complying with government reporting,” Mr. Gidari said. “You can’t get very far, but you can get far enough to get some degree of obscurity, even if you can’t get anonymity.”
Last year the winner of a $560 million Powerball jackpot in New Hampshire took the state to court to retain her anonymity while claiming her prize. The woman’s lawyers argued that she would be accosted with requests for money, and the state argued that lottery winners must be disclosed to make sure that winners are not related to lottery employees and that winnings are distributed fairly. The court decided disclosing the winner’s name would be an invasion of privacy and allowed the woman to anonymously claim her winnings.
“You want to be able to enjoy this crazy amount of money you luckily won, but at the same time you want to keep your privacy, so it’s a balance,” Mr. Kurland said.
But going off the grid, setting up shop on the beach and enjoying the fruits of your ticket are not necessarily possible without informing the government.
“If you leave the country, it’s worse,” Mr. Gidari said, adding that leaving the country and failing to report assets in the United States and abroad could lead to losing those assets.Some states allow the winners of large jackpots to remain anonymous, but is it ever possible to retain your privacy after a life-changing windfall?
Powerball Publicity: Can Winners Stay Anonymous?
One of the most common questions about Powerball is whether winners can remain anonymous or if they must disclose their identities to the public. In the majority of states, if you were to win the jackpot, you wouldn’t have a choice over staying anonymous, as certain information about you would be deemed public interest and therefore would be made public.
Some states do allow you to maintain your anonymity, however, and there’s also the option of claiming through a trust or other legal entity, which provides another way of obscuring your identity from the wider world.
Why Your Identity Might Be Revealed
The main reason that information about jackpot winners is revealed is to preserve the integrity of the lottery and to prove that the game is being conducted fairly. Should no winners ever be made known, players may begin to question where the money is going and might mistrust the state lotteries that operate Powerball. Although these organizations are closely audited and draws take place under a great deal of scrutiny, nothing shows the public that winnings are actually being paid out better than a highly publicized press conference and photo shoot with the winners.
It is also in the best interests of the selling lotteries to release a winner’s information. By publicizing news of big wins, they can potentially draw more attention to the game and encourage more people to buy tickets. This has a snowball effect, where the more publicity there is around the lottery, the greater the number of tickets sold and the higher the jackpot rises.
The Case for Anonymity
Opinion may be shifting, however, as many people now believe that lottery winners have the right to remain anonymous. This is partly because of the disruptive effect that big lottery wins can have on a person’s life, especially if the prize amount approaches record levels. Winners of hundreds of millions вЂ“ or even billions вЂ“ of dollars can expect to be in the public spotlight for the foreseeable future.
A more pressing case for anonymity regards the very safety of the winners themselves. In recent years, there have been some high-profile cases of lottery winners being targeted by criminals after their identities were disclosed to the public. Some winners have been injured and even killed as a result of the attention drawn to them by their newfound wealth. By being allowed to remain anonymous, this sort of risk would be almost completely mitigated.
Recently, there has been an upwelling of support for the anonymity cause, and more and more states are considering proposals to allow their lottery winners to remain anonymous. Currently, 14 states allow winners to remain anonymous by law. The jurisdiction of Puerto Rico has also historically allowed certain winners to remain anonymous, following a law signed in 1989.
See the table below for more information on which states allow lottery winner anonymity:
What Information Will Be Shared?
Fear not; if your win is made public, not all of your personal information will be disclosed. Typically, state lotteries will be required to release your full name, your town or city of residence, the store in which you bought the winning ticket, and the amount of money you won. Sensitive information, such as your social security number, will remain confidential. You can see further examples listed below:
|Information that will be disclosed||Information that will not be disclosed|
|Full name||Full address|
|Town or city of residence||Date of birth|
|The name and location of the store that sold the winning ticket.||Social Security Number|
|The prize amount||Marital status|
|Image or likeness||Whether you have children/dependents|
|–||Profession and wage/salary|
Bear in mind that some state lotteries may seek your permission to release further information about you, and it is likely that they will ask you to speak to the media, either via a press conference or a prepared statement. In some states, prizes will not be paid out until such media obligations have been fulfilled.
Form a Trust to Protect Your Identity
Some previous winners have been able to hide their identities by claiming their prize through a trust or other legal entity, such as a Limited Liability Company (LLC). In these cases, the trust’s name, and sometimes the name of the representative collecting the prize on its behalf, will be disclosed to the public, but the real winner’s identity will be protected.
The rules around claiming through a trust vary by state. Some don’t allow it at all, while others will openly provide guidance on how you can go about it. Some lotteries, such as California, allow you to claim through a trust, but it must be linked to your own name and social security number, so complete anonymity is not guaranteed.
The table below shows which states accept вЂ“ or have accepted вЂ“ claims through a trust, and which don’t. You should consult a lawyer and financial advisor if you plan on forming a trust to claim your winnings, as you still need to make sure the correct amount of tax is paid.Ever wondered if you can stay anonymous in the event of a Powerball jackpot win? Find out which states allow anonymity or publicity. ]]>