The chances of you winning Wednesday's Powerball jackpot, now estimated at a whopping $1.5 billion, are 292 million to 1. But that isn't stopping millions of Americans from throwing caution to the wind and buying a ticket in the hopes of winning big.
If you're among the horde who plans to tune in to watch the results of Wednesday's drawing with that (hopefully) winning ticket in hand, here's what you need to know before you uncork that bottle of Dom Pérignon.
Sign the ticket. It's your winning ticket, you bought it, but unless you sign it, anyone else who gets their hands on it could claim it as their own -- just like a dropped $20 bill on the street. So sign it, and then make a copy of it and put it in a secure spot, such as a home safe (if you have one) or at least in a fire-proof lunchbox hidden in a closet or under the bed.
Take a deep breath. Now that you've signed that ticket and secreted it away, the next thing to do is figure out which decisions you need to make immediately and those you can put on hold for a bit. For example, you don't have to claim your winning ticket right away. Depending on the state where you bought the ticket, you have 90 days to 1 year to make your claim. And there's good reason to wait: Your life as you've known it is over, so take some time to savor the good things you may be losing.
Take the lump sum if you can handle all that financial responsibility. Sure, the lump sum -- about $900 million before taxes -- is a lot less than $1.5 billion, but that amount only holds up if you take an annuity, in which payments are doled out over 30 years. Many financial professionals advise taking the lump sum rather than an annuity for estate planning purposes, especially if you're older. If you suddenly die, and your heirs inherent your wealth, they could be on the hook for a massive tax bill.
Take the annuity if you cannot. But if financial prowess isn't your forte -- or you have trouble saying no when it comes to money matters -- some experts argue you should take the annuity and enjoy having a guaranteed income for decades (if not the rest of your life) that you won't blow through as so many past jackpot winners so famously have. Keep in mind, however, the first year payout is a meager $22.6 million. And that may not be enough to buy that house in the Hamptons you've had your eye on.
Keep quiet. Old friends and long-lost relatives have a way of suddenly showing up when you hit the big time, and chances are you don't want to hear from many of them. So keep the boasting to a minimum and only tell your spouse. If you're hoping to remain anonymous, that's pretty unrealistic unless you bought your ticket in one of these five states: Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota and Ohio.
Bought your ticket in one of the other 39 states that participate in the Powerball drawing? Prepare to be outed, but there are ways to limit your exposure, such as setting up a blind trust, but you'll need guidance on how to do so. Which brings us to our next tip...
Hire some really good help. If you really do win $520 million after federal taxes (or some significant portion of it), there are myriad decisions to be made. You'll need to hire professionals to help manage all that green, including a certified financial planner, an attorney and a tax professional. And don't do anything with your winnings until you talk to all three.
Think before you donate. One beauty of accumulating vast wealth is the ability to help others in need. But here again you'll need the help of a financial adviser to help establish your goals to best determine who and which organizations should benefit from your largess.
Evaluate your security. Winning such a large amount of money could put your family's privacy and safety at risk. So you'll need professional advice from a security expert on protecting your home -- and yourself when out in public.
Decide: Keep your job? Or tell your boss to 'shove it'? Some lottery winners hold on to their jobs as a way to stay grounded, but that decision isn't for everyone. A lot depends on what kind of work you do and the relationships you have with bosses and co-workers. Think about how you want to spend your days and how your newfound wealth could open new opportunities for you to use the skills you've spent years mastering.