Whether you bought your own Mega Millions ticket or joined the office pool there still some things you need to know in the event you win.
The jackpot is a half-billion dollars.
What to do after you hit the Mega Millions jackpot?
How do you — protect your riches, your identity and your sanity — takes some thought and planning.
#1 on the list, make sure you don't blow the nation's largest-ever lottery jackpot within a few years!
Q: What do I do with the ticket?
A: Before anything else, sign the back of the ticket. That will stop anyone else from claiming your riches if you happen to drop it while you're jumping up and down. Then make a photocopy and lock it in a safe. At the very least, keep it where you know it's protected.
Q: What next?
A: Relax; breathe; take time to think about your next move. Don't do anything you'll regret for the next 30 years, like calling your best friend or every one of your aunts, uncles and cousins. It doesn't take long to be overwhelmed by long-lost friends, charities and churches wanting to share your good fortune. Wait a few days before going on a spending spree.
Q: So whom should I tell first?
A: Contacting a lawyer and a financial planner would be a lot wiser than updating your Facebook status. Make sure it's someone you can trust and, it's hoped, dealt with before. If you don't have anyone in mind, ask a close family member or friend. One attorney says it's essential to assemble a team of financial managers, tax experts, accountants and bankers.
Q: Remind me, how much did I win?
A: As it stands now, the Mega Millions will pay out a lump sum of $359 million before taxes. The annual payments over 26 years will amount to just over $19 million before taxes.
Q: How much will I pay in taxes?
A: This partly depends on where you live. Federal tax is 25 percent; then there's your state income tax. In Ohio, for example, that's another 6 percent. And you might need to pay a city tax depending on the local tax rules. So count on about a third of your winnings going to the government.
Q: Should I take the cash payout or annual payments?
A: This is the big question, and most people think taking the lump sum is the smart move. That's not always the case. First, spreading the payments out protects you from becoming the latest lottery winner who's lost all their money. According to one author who wrote about winning lotteries, nine out of 10 winners go through their money in five years or less.
Q: But what if I'm good at managing the money?
A: Invested properly, the lump sum option can be a good choice. There's more planning that you can use to reduce estate taxes and other financial incentives. Others, though, say that with annual payments, you are taxed on the money only as it comes in, so that will put you in a lower tax bracket rather than taking a big hit on getting a lump sum. And you still can shelter the money in tax-free investments and take advantage of tax law changes over the years.
Q: Should I try to shield my identity?
A: Absolutely. This will protect you from people who want you to invest in their business scheme or those who need cash in an emergency. Lottery winners are besieged by dozens of people and charities looking for help.