Millions upon millions of Americans dream of hitting it big every time a huge lottery jackpot hits the headlines. Fantasies of fancy cars, foreign travel and life in a mansion are hard to resist.
The reality is that the odds of winning are far less than the chances of being struck by lightning. And if you do happen to win, well, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to stay on Easy Street for good.
The Internet is littered with tales of fortunes won and lost. A recent example, written about on ThinkAdvisor, told of a $168 million lottery winner who went bust. The problem, it appears, was in the winner’s choice of financial advisor. And that, experts say, is a big problem.
Holding on to the money can be harder than winning it for some people. But there are ways to improve your odds, according to Susan Bradley, founder of the Sudden Money Institute in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The institute counsels people as they navigate through major financial changes brought about by major life events, such as divorce, the death of a spouse and winning the lottery.
“You need to create some space.” Bradley said. “You have a whole new career, a whole new life. Most people don’t understand this.”
Most lottery winners, Bradley said, are so excited they are ill-equipped to make major decisions. Add to that the lack of sleep during the first couple of weeks after winning and there’s a recipe for disaster.
Lottery winners need the space, she said, to prepare for their new life. She listed several steps to that are essential to take before cashing in the ticket:
- Change your phone number. Give out the new number, even to your cell, to only those closest to you.
- Find a financial advisor. Interview prospective advisors to find one who has worked with people going through emotional and financial changes. Winners should have their prize wired to the advisor. This allows some anonymity from the financial predators who will begin circling when word gets out. Bradley noted that this first advisor doesn’t have to be the “be all and end all.” You can always change advisors later.
- Winners should also consult an estate attorney.
- Make a list of the emotions you are feeling. The exhilaration and anxiety can be overwhelming. The list can help you identify them.
Even the most robust of winners can succumb to the stress. Bradley notes one winner she counseled who “wound up in the hospital for stress. It blew his circuits. And he was a strapping guy in his 40s.”
All this got us to wondering about the stories behind those who won a mint and then lost it all. Some of them forfeited more than the cash; they even lost their lives.
Check out Top 10 Biggest Lottery-Winning Losers:
10. Amanda Clayton, 2011
Winnings: $1 million
($1.03 million today)
Hitting the jackpot doesn’t set you up for life, at least judging by Clayton’s behavior. Clayton was young, just 25, when she struck paydirt on a game show run by the Michigan lotto. Winning a million dollars didn’t stop her from applying for, and receiving, food stamps, which led to a fraud convction by the state and a nine-month probation. Alas, Clayton did not live that long. She died in September 2012 of a possible drug overdose.
9. Evelyn Adams, 1985 and 1986
Winnings: $5.4 million
($11.6 million today)
The New Jersey resident appeared to be uncommonly lucky. She didn’t win the lottery once; she turned the trick twice. But all did not turn out well. Between pressure to help friends and family, all of the money was gone by 2001. Adams reportedly lives in a trailer.
8. Jay Sommers, 1988
Winnings: $5.8 million
($11.4 million today)
Sommers won a 20% share of a $28.9 million Michigan lottery jackpot, but later admitted he was too young (just 20) to handle his lucky break. In less than three months he had blown his first $290,000 check, mostly on five cars. Turning to a friend as financial advisor didn’t help and soon Easy Street was a distant memory as he took a job delivering pizza.
7. Sharon Tirabassi, 2004
Winnings: $10 million, Canadian dollars
($11.75 million, Canadian today; $11.4 million U.S.)
Tirabassi, of Hamilton, Ontario, had a great time with her jackpot. By the time she was finished buying cars, a big house, traveling to exotic locales, hosting lavish parties and helping out friends and family she was back where she started, riding the bus to her part-time job and living in a home she rents. She didn’t quite blow it all, though. She was savvy enough to put money in trust funds for her children. In various interviews she has expressed a positive attitude, saying she enjoyed the fun while it lasted, but then “it was time to go back to life.”