The $1.6 billion jackpot in Tuesday's Mega Millions drawing is the largest in lottery history -- and your chances of winning are miniscule. But we all like to dream, so imagine for a minute you do pick up that oversized check. What do you do with all that money?
Well, keep a low profile, it seems.
In 2016, Newsday called more than 50 past lottery winners and few decided to comment. That might have been strategic.
Ted Agrillo, a Bethpage financial planner who said he works with clients with large inheritances, recommends individuals who come into money stay out of the spotlight.
“You’re going to get the attention, but don’t bring it on to yourself,” he said. “Don’t be telling second cousins and such.”
The state lottery is required to release the names and towns of winners, and some of Long Island’s top winners choose to set up a trust or LLC or use their initials to mask their identities, records show.
Some of the winners reached by Newsday said they tried to downplay any media coverage to protect their families, especially if they had young children, from friends and relatives seeking money.
Susan Quigley, a financial planner based in Garden City, said she often works with clients who come into large sums of money quickly.
“People find you that you haven’t seen in a million years,” she warned.
Here are some other tips from financial experts and past lottery winners on Long Island:
Hire expert advisers, ASAP
“The first thing you should do is get a good financial adviser, accountant and a lawyer,” said Richard Satnick, of Huntington Station, who won $7 million playing Lotto on Christmas Eve in 1999.
An adviser will help you set up a long-term plan and investments, an accountant will help you track that money and make sure the taxes are paid and a lawyer is going to guide you around legal pitfalls. And it’s important that group be trusted and well-recommended -- following bad financial advice is a mistake a lot of people who come into money make, Agrillo said.
When Victoria Ragone, of East Northport, found out she won $9 million playing Lotto in 2001, her first stop wasn’t to the New York Lottery.
“I spoke to my financial adviser before I did anything, before I even claimed my ticket,” she said. “Then we decided what to do with the money.”
Quigley said it’s important to take a step back and think about the best use for the money.
“There’s so many things you want to do, but there’s so many areas of taxes and estate planning that people haven’t thought about because they haven’t had these dollar amounts,” she said.
Ragone said her financial planning and accounting team helped her set up a system to manage the funds, which includes paying her taxes on a quarterly basis.
And a great bonus to having a financial planning team, Quigley said, is they can act as the “bad guys” when someone asks for a cut of your winnings.
“Say ‘Oh I don’t know, my planner and attorney have all this money tied up, I don’t understand it. Call her if you want,’ ” Quigley said. “Have us run defense for you.”
Don’t quit your day job
Annette Baranovich, of West Babylon, won a $25 million jackpot drawing with 12 other people in 1999. Between taxes and splitting the check, she said she took home about $600,000.
“It goes by quick,” she said. “I’d just be careful with how you spend it.”
Quigley said the reality is that money often doesn’t go as far as you think it will.
“The biggest mistake that a lot of winners make, that people who inherit make, they think they’re set for life and don’t have to pay attention to anything anymore,” she said. “It sounds like it is, but a million dollars is not enough to quit your job.”
Lottery winners said it’s important to not change your spending habits dramatically, which can waste the money and draw unwanted attention. Agrillo recommends holding the money for a few months before making any decisions.
“You want to sit with it for four to six months and get a sense of what’s transpired,” he said. “You’re talking about a lifestyle change for you. You want to have a plan in place.”
Expect things to change.
“There’s a big emotional toll that happens when you come into money,” Quigley said.
There’s the stress of managing it all, but well-balanced winnings can also have a positive effect on your life, too.
Ragone said she continued to work and spend as normal, but having the extra money removed some daily financial questions.
“I don’t spend too much time worrying about bills or going away to take a trip,” she said.
Another winner, Isabel Zelaya, hit the Mega Millions jackpot seven years ago on Friday the 13th. The factory worker, of Wyandanch but originally from El Salvador, won $26 million and commented: “Winning gave me a different life for me and my kids . . . Everything is different.”
Zelaya’s main advice to others is to play the game.
“If you never play, you never get a chance to win,” he said. “And you never know when you’re going to win.”
With Rachel Uda