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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?

How to Stay Anonymous When You Win the Lottery

We all have fantasies of hitting the lottery, right? The new cars, the boat, the. lawsuits, predators, and bankruptcies? The winning ticket isn’t necessarily the winning ticket for a happy life, which is exactly why the winner of January’s Powerball jackpot of $560 million wants to keep her name out of the public record . But New Hampshire, where the she lives, doesn’t allow winners to claim their winnings anonymously, and so in January she filed a lawsuit in an attempt to protect her identity.

The states have an interest in making lotto winners’ identities public to protect the integrity of the game—see, for example, the Iowa security chief who rigged the $16.5 million lottery (he had been a computer programmer in the state lottery office and evidently did something programmy with the numbers) and then tried to claim it anonymously.

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Only seven states—Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and likely soon Georgia—allow winners to shield their identities. A handful of other states, like California and Wisconsin, entirely forbid winners to remain anonymous, “and then there are the states with gray areas,” says Jason Kurland , an attorney in East Meadow, New York, who has represented jackpot winners in the past. Depending on where you live, you can “form a trust and hide behind that. Your lawyer can be the face of the trust.”

Now this is exactly what Jane Doe, in New Hampshire, did—but she had already signed her lottery ticket in her own name, and lottery officials have refused to let her white out her name and re-sign in the name of the trust.

Most advisors instruct the winner to sign the ticket immediately so the ownership is indisputable—does the New Hampshire case mean that the lucky holder of the winning Powerball ticket shouldn’t sign the back of the ticket? Kurland notes that leaving the ticket unsigned, and risking someone (even your lawyer) stealing it, is a big risk. His solution? “Sign it, but sign it small. Then you can add trustees, or several trustees, and the name of the trust.”

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Once you’ve signed, find a trusts and estates attorney in your state to advise you. This person should also put you in touch with a financial planner—you’re going to owe taxes, and you’ll likely want to consider how best to handle charitable contributions and gifts to family and friends. “Once you set up your team, you can’t go wrong,” says Kurland.

Oh, and mum’s the word. New York City trusts and estates attorney Alison Besunder says, “The bigger problem arises when there is an oral (usually flippant) promise to share the proceeds.” So if you really want to stay anonymous? Keep your mouth shut.

Leigh Anderson is a writer and editor in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of “The Games Bible: The Rules, The Gear, The Strategies.”

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DISCUSSION

I live in Maryland. If I were to win big, I’d try to keep it under wraps. I’d tell my financial adviser, tell my mom, and lawyer up. I wouldn’t let the lottery spill my name. Then I’d take the lump sum, pay off my debts, invest most of the rest (with said adviser) then show up at work like nothing happened. I’d get a nicer car than I’ve got, sure, and I’d take a nice vacation, but I’d lose my mind without work to do. Five years ago, I got in a car wreck and went back to work a good bit before my short-term disability started to taper off because I was just so bored.

I’d reserve some money, too, to donate to charity. I’d give to LUNGevity (my dad died of lung cancer), community nonprofits, public media and set up an anonymous scholarship at my alma mater.

We all have fantasies of hitting the lottery, right? The new cars, the boat, the…lawsuits, predators, and bankruptcies? The winning ticket isn’t necessarily the winning ticket for a happy life, which is exactly why the winner of January’s Powerball jackpot of $560 million wants to keep her name out of the public record. But New Hampshire, where the she lives, doesn’t allow winners to claim their winnings anonymously, and so in January she filed a lawsuit in an attempt to protect her identity. ]]>