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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 CLAIM LOTTERY WINNINGS ANONYMOUSLY

I recently had the good fortune to represent a million dollar lottery winner.

The winner chose to remain anonymous so I had to do some investigative work with the Ohio Lottery Commission to make that happen. Once the winner confirmed the winning numbers the ticket was signed, and dated by the winner on the back of the ticket, and stored for safe keeping. The procedure from there was a little cumbersome. I needed to create two separate trusts. One trust was to appoint me, as the trustee on behalf of the winner, to contact the Lottery Commission and accept the Lottery winnings. The secondary trust was set up for me as trustee of the first trust, to transfer the proceeds to the second trust with the winner as the beneficiary. This enabled me to present the ticket, accept the proceeds, and transfer it to the winner with no public record or disclosure.

In addition to coordinating these trusts with the Lottery Commission, we also needed to prepare confidential disclosures of the winner and relevant tax information. The Lottery Commission never lets the money out the door without the appropriate tax information. In addition to tax information, a search is done by the Lottery Commission to determine if the winner is delinquent in any child or spousal support proceedings.

Once all that was completed I was required to personally present all the paperwork, and the winning ticket, to the Lottery Commission office in Cleveland. To preserve the anonymity, my winner did not go to Cleveland with me. In order to gain access to the Lottery Commission personal identification needs to be shown, you need to sign the register, and all transactions are video recorded – the exact opposite of anonymous.

Once in the office I presented them with the paperwork and the winning ticket. The next cloak and dagger event came into play because the winner had signed the ticket. When I presented the ticket they first verified the authenticity of the ticket. Then I was handed a bottle of white out. I was instructed to completely white out the winner’s signature. I then was required to endorse the ticket with my signature as Trustee. Lastly, I then had to execute an affidavit that I was the one who actually blotted out the signature with white out. Finally I was done and could leave – only without the money.

After all that secrecy and cloak and dagger stuff I was told the check would be mailed in about two weeks. I asked if it would be sent FedEx, USPS Express Mail or other some other trackable method. To my surprise the answer was “No, we just send it regular US mail.” All that complicated procedure, secrecy, and in person meeting requiring 450 miles round trip drive – seemed sort of anticlimactic.

Regardless, it was a different experience in my law career and I hope to do it again someday. You learn something new every day.

I recently had the good fortune to represent a million dollar lottery winner. The winner chose to remain anonymous so I had … ]]>