Lottery Trusts: How to Claim Winnings Anonymously and Fairly
It takes serious luck to win a big jackpot—and serious planning to keep it safe. Winners of prizes totalling several hundred thousand dollars or more often fall victim to scam artists, bad investments, or legal trouble.
For this reason, lawyers who specialize in estates and trusts recommend remaining anonymous and only telling your closest family members that you’ve won a large jackpot. The pros also recommend creating a lottery trust to ensure that your identity is tightly under wraps and that your money is carefully dealt with, according to your wishes. Here’s why you should set up a lottery trust and how to do it right.
WHO NEEDS A LOTTERY TRUST?
While lottery winners can easily remain anonymous in many European countries, the UK, Australia, and China, only nine American states (Georgia, Maryland, Texas, Ohio, Delaware, Kansas, South Carolina, North Dakota, and New Jersey) allow winners to conceal their names from the public eye. All other state lotteries default to revealing winners’ identities on lotto organizations’ websites and even in press conferences.
Although some winners, such as Bill Lawrence, manage to stay anonymous even though their names are published, lotto winners who want to stay completely anonymous must take action before claiming their winnings to protect themselves from media attention. Unless you're in China, where the government encourages winners to stay anonymous by wearing costumes when claiming their prizes, creating a lottery trust is the best way to do this.
A lottery trust acts on the winner’s behalf to collect and distribute the prize money as he or she wishes. Since many state lotteries mandate that there should only be one payee per ticket, a trust can also act as the payee in a situation with multiple winners. The trust then ensures that the prize money is distributed fairly to all parties. These are just some of the benefits of having a trust collect and manage your winnings—even if the reasons that lottery operators and jurisdictions have for wanting winners to go public are valid.
LOTTERY TRUST PROS
- Anonymity. The trust claims your winnings, so your name and location are not released to the public. This protects you from drawing the attention of individuals and organizations who want to access your money. Since lottery scams using winners’ names are very common, staying anonymous will help protect not only you but also the general public.
- Asset control. A trust sets out rules for distributing the prize money, which can help avoid disagreements among multiple winners.
- Professional management. When you create a trust, you appoint a lawyer and/or financial manager to care for your winnings. These pros are legally bound to collect, invest, save, and donate your winnings on your behalf and following your instructions. They can also evaluate and give advice on potential investments.
- A legal barrier to unwise spending. A lotto trust has a set of rules that you decide on when it’s created. These rules include how much money can be accessed and how often. In this way, the trust provides a legal barrier to giving money to unsolicited investment opportunities or scammers.
- A tax shelter for your winnings. Some trusts remove your winnings from your taxable estate, so you won’t have to pay taxes on any income the funds generate if they are invested. Using a trust to divide up the money among multiple winners also ensures that the funds are not subject to the Federal Gift Tax.
LOTTERY TRUST CONS
- Some trusts can’t be cancelled or changed, except in a narrow set of circumstances. Irrevocable trusts fall into this category. However, some states allow irrevocable trusts to be altered if all beneficiaries agree.
- Choosing the wrong trust manager can have serious consequences for your winnings. Selecting a reputable wealth management or legal organization to manage your trust ensures better oversight than choosing an individual.
TYPES OF LOTTERY TRUSTS
There are a few types of trusts that you can use to protect your winnings and shield your identity:
A revocable can be cancelled or changed at any time. A trust document lays out the name of the trustee (the organization that will handle the winnings), the names of all beneficiaries, and details the terms of the trust. A revocable trust becomes irrevocable if the grantor—the person who created the trust—passes away. This keeps the trust’s funds out of the extremely expensive probate court process to determine where it should go.
An irrevocable trust is a good way to split funds among multiple winners. When this trust is created, ownership of the prize money is transferred to the trustee. Irrevocable trusts remove the funds from your taxable estate, so you won’t have to pay taxes on any income the funds generate if they’re invested. The trust also can’t be cancelled or altered without agreement from all beneficiaries, so it protects the money from creditors and any lawsuits or disagreements among the winners.
In a blind trust, the trustee manages and invests the funds without the grantor’s or any beneficiary’s direct knowledge. A blind trust separates the winner’s assets from his or her professional or political actions, which is useful for avoiding conflicts of interest. A blind trust can be revocable or irrevocable.
HOW TO SET UP A LOTTERY TRUST
Most international lotteries give winners at least six months to claim their prizes, which is plenty of time to make arrangements, consult professionals, and set up a trust to guard your money and your identity. Here’s how to create a trust:
- First, sign the back of the winning ticket, leaving some space above your signature. This space will be used to put the name of the lotto trust once you’ve set it up. Put the ticket in a locked safe or other secure location.
- Work with a financial advisor to create a plan for how to spend, save, and invest your money. The advisor can help you decide whether to accept a lump sum payment or an annuity payout.
- Hire an attorney to draw up a trust document that details the kind of trust (revocable, irrevocable, or blind) you are setting up, the terms of the trust, and what should happen to the funds if you pass away. Give the trust a name, and make sure it’s different than your own. This will be the “winner” that is revealed to the public.
- Write the name of your new trust on the winning ticket, above your signature. Give the ticket to the trust.
- The trust will claim the ticket on your behalf and take action to collect and distribute your money according to your instructions.
If you win a major prize—and don't lose your lottery ticket, of course—then creating a lottery trust is a smart way to protect your identity and your money. Getting help from reputable financial and legal professionals who specialize in lottery winnings can help you distribute and invest your money wisely. To avoid unpleasant surprises, choose your trustee wisely—and make sure to understand your state’s rules on taxing trusts, taxing lottery prizes, and altering the trust in the future.