First, check to see if you and I are friends on Facebook at least. Just kidding. A lottery jackpot win is a serious matter and there are some things to do and NOT to do if you find out you're a winner.

photo - Michelle Wolfe
photo - Michelle Wolfe

Montana is just one of many states that participate in Powerball and Mega Millions across the country. Powerball is played in 45 states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. There are now 3 drawings per week for Powerball—on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.

Montana Lottery has a 'what to do if I win' page on their website. Interestingly, you can still claim your prize by mail if you don't want to travel to Helena in person. Weird, but handy I suppose.

(As of this writing, we're on a day where the Power Ball jackpot is extremely large...projected to be about $1.2 billion dollars.) Regardless of the jackpot amount, we're talking about a lot of money—and with those winnings comes responsibility.

State Farm Insurance (and many other reliable outlets) provide a very easy-to-follow list of things you should do if you win the lottery. Most of these steps are basic but crucial to protecting your newfound wealth. I added a very first step of my own:


NOTE: No, I'm certainly not a lawyer or a lottery winning expert. Hence the step below about getting a real lawyer. The steps below are just simple reminders to be smart and protect yourself in a time when your brain might be exploding.

In Montana, you can see a list of winning towns and purchase locations on their official lottery website.

Secure your ticket: Most tips advise that you sign your winning lottery ticket right away and that's not a bad idea. Just keep in mind that in SOME states, signing the ticket may prevent you from setting up a blind trust for added privacy. That's a lawyer and accountant thing you should investigate depending on your circumstances. Either way, DON'T MESS AROUND WITH THAT TICKET AND DON'T MISPLACE IT.

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PROTECT YOUR PRIVACY: If you win big, your name and some personal info may become public. Consider another phone number, a burner phone and/or a P.O. Box for a mailing address. Cuckoo birds come out of the woodwork on lottery winners.

GET A TEAM OF PROFESSIONALS: State Farm puts it quite clearly - "You're going to need a lawyer, accountant and financial advisor who have experience with large financial windfalls — finding them should be one of your first steps before you claim your money."

WHAT ABOUT THE TAXES? There's going to be a LOT of them, as you already know. According to the Montana State Lottery website, this is what they are automatically going to do with big winners:

  • We are always required to withhold 6.9% state tax on all prizes greater than $5,000.
  • We are required to withhold 24% federal tax on any prize $600 and over for U.S. citizens who don't furnish Social Security Numbers or tax identification numbers.
  • For non–residents of the U.S., we must withhold 30% federal tax on any prize $600 and over.
  • At the end of the year, we mail each winner who has won $600 and over a W-2G form to use when filing his or her taxes.

You'll also need to figure out if you'll be taking your winnings in one lump sum or yearly installments, also called annuities. That's a totally personal decision based on your lifespan, personal financial restraint, and a ton of other considerations. Just remember, even smart people who win the lottery have ended up broke.

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