Adviser to lottery winners: Take the money and hush
Neysa Thomas, the Kansas Lottery deputy executive director, presents a Mega Milions jackpot check to 'Anonymous.'
April 18th, 2012
05:03 PM ET

Adviser to lottery winners: Take the money and hush

The Butlers kept their secret for more than two weeks, but like most lottery winners they eventually had to let the world know of their millions.

It was revealed Wednesday that Merle and Pat Butler, a 60-something couple from the tiny St. Louis suburb of Red Bud, Illinois, had the third and final winning ticket in the $656 million Mega Millions jackpot from March 30.

Their take was $217 million, which comes to $158 million after taxes, and the couple had good reason for waiting so long to come forward.

“I figured the quieter I keep it, the better we are to get it set up and get it going before we did the claim,” Merle Butler said.

Michael Boone, a Bellevue, Washington-based wealth manager, said he often encourages clients with “found money” – that is, inheritance, lottery winnings or high-dollar sports contracts – to keep a low profile.

It seems at least a few lucky souls got similar advice. Of 10 past lottery winners CNN tried to reach, seven had changed their numbers. Of the three who answered their phones, two politely declined to discuss their experiences.

“I still prefer to remain anonymous,” said a past District of Columbia Lotto winner.

Another past Lotto winner from Illinois said, “Everything went well with me,” before saying she’d prefer not to discuss it further.

Making your riches known can make you a mark, Boone said. Even friends and family have been known to take advantage, sticking their hands in their pockets and looking to the lottery winner when the check comes after dinner, he said.

“Anytime you’re a public figure, you’re going to attract attention from people who want to take things from you,” he said. “Most of us wouldn’t be too happy if the amount of our paychecks was in the newspaper.”

Yet this is exactly what happens with the majority of lottery winners.

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Unlike their Mega Millions co-winners, the Butlers were compelled by Illinois law to publicize their identity. The other winners in Kansas and Maryland quietly collected their sudden fortune in private.

That’s because Kansas and Maryland allow it. According to the website for Powerball, another multistate lottery, Delaware, North Dakota and Ohio are the only other states that permit lottery winners to remain anonymous.

“Other states may offer to assist you in some way, including such things as the creation of trusts. But generally, you will want to hire an attorney to review the laws in your state to see what options you might have,” the website states.

While Kansas publicly presented the jackpot check to a cardboard cutout it dubbed “Anonymous,” Maryland announced that its winners were three school employees who vowed to continue working. The Maryland Lottery presented a check made out to "The Three Amigos" to the winners, who used the oversized IOU to cover their faces.

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Maryland Lottery spokeswoman Carole Everett said that when lottery winners opt not to reveal their identities, the state lottery puts out a release with as much information as possible without identifying anyone.

“The larger the jackpot, the less likely – though not always the case – that they’re willing to do publicity,” she said.

Winners will tell her they don’t want their co-workers to know or they don’t want to jeopardize family relationships. Sometimes, the person is just the private sort, she said.

She said lottery officials will “charm them, encourage them, cajole them” to go public because it’s a celebration, it’s fun and it’s good to get the word out when someone lands a big prize.

“We want this to be a happy experience,” she said. “We want to let people know that people win. People always want to know about winners.”

All too often, however, people have nefarious motives for wanting this information, Boone said. He advises clients to keep mum if they can, knowing that if they ever decide they want their time in the sun, they can go public  later.

When a person comes into a windfall, those who know them – and many who don’t – suddenly appear, said Boone, who has been advising clients for 27 years.

Charities begin soliciting. Self-styled entrepreneurs approach with pitches. Second cousins come looking for loans. Friends know someone who can help manage the money.

“That’s not to say you wouldn’t want to do something nice for those people, but it could become a full-time job,” he said.

The best thing a winner can do – after they pick themselves up off the floor, of course – is to hire a team of professionals to help you manage your newfound wealth, Boone said.

The Butlers, a pair of retired computer analysts, did just that, announcing at the Wednesday news conference that they spent their two weeks in hiding picking out “real good financial advisers.”

It’s almost impossible to stay the same person when you unexpectedly run into an immense sum of money, Boone said, but those who refuse to let the money identify them have the greatest success.

“The people who pull that off with grace and integrity are the people who realize that people are more important than money,” he said. “It’s not easy to do when it seems like the entire world is wanting to take something from you.”

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Filed under: Finance • Illinois • Kansas • Lotto • Maryland • U.S.
soundoff (57 Responses)
  1. jester & jackal

    I know if I win the answer to everyone will be no. In fact I would carry around a sign that says "don't bother asking".

    April 18, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • solex

      Somehow I think that is your answer now – regardless of how much money you have (or don't have)

      May 9, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. GreedyGussie

    I would like very much to put that advice to the test.

    April 18, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ronvan

    Probably a good idea. Read an article the other day of a guy explaining all of the taxes involved and by the time they got done $260. million resulted in 1 million left! Better odds at Las Vegas or Biloxi!

    April 18, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nunya

      LOLOL You believed this person? I won $260MM and still have all of it...want to be my friend??

      April 21, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • elmer

      That's pure nonsense. Yes one would pay a hefty sum of winnings in taxes but LESS than half. The number you stated was absurd.

      April 28, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guesteppi

      After 1 time cash out penalty & taxes you will generally end up with just over 30% of the prize in your pocket.

      August 15, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • midwstrngrl

      yeah right....1 million left? somebody pull one over on someone and it wasn't the government.

      August 15, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Name*OD

    Makes a lot of sence

    April 19, 2012 at 4:52 am | Report abuse |
  5. RunForTheHills

    I can say first hand that this is the best advice ever.

    I won a sizable jackpot back in the 80s. Not humongous like today's are, but a nice chunk of change for 1983. Since I was so young (only 30 at the time), my adviser said to just dump it all into growth investments and continue my life as-is.

    I never told anyone I won. Not my folks. Not my siblings. Not anyone.

    In 1997, I politely informed my friends and neighbors that I was moving to another city, retired from my job at 45, and my wife and I quietly disappeared into the night. I moved all of my investments into preservation funds before the crash, and have been living comfortably off of my 1/2 pay and taking some of the returns as income. I haven't touched a dime of the principal yet.

    They key to remaining an anonymous wealthy person is not to live like a wealthy person.

    May 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ThermalJockey

    RunForTheHills appears to be a very wise man (at least in a financial sense.)

    May 16, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Luther51

    If I won the lottery, my relatives would make me look like a hunk of balsa wood at a termite convention.

    August 15, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fast Fred

      You can Pick your nose and you can pick your friends...but you can't pick your relatives. Disown them.

      August 15, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ralf The Dog

    1. Set up a charitable trust.

    2. Put someone else in charge of it.

    3. When someone asks for money, give them that person's business card.

    August 15, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Duane

    If I won I know my extended family would all be at the door begging for a hand

    August 15, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bobk

    Why be wealthy if you don't live like a wealthy person?

    August 15, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guesteppi

      Don't live like a wealthy person in the town you live in. Just 'save money from the day job' to travel to Europe occasionally and stay in 'cheap motels' and eat 'inexpensive dinners'.

      August 15, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. So-called winner

    I think no one really knows the pressure you face until you have actually won. I've won a modest amount, and as per winning they had to announce it. Once it hit the papers and internet, everyone I mean EVERYONE came out of the woodwork to congratulate me. It was nice for a while then the subtle things happened, people assumed that I would be taking care of everything checks at restaurants, hotel costs, vacations (this one was nuts–I was invited to for a week to a golf outing/Vacation in AZ by someone I thought was a friend, long story short, checking out I was on the hook for not just my bill but his and his family's cause he invited cousins and nephews)–to sum it up keep quiet if you can, and if not disappear for a while if you do win cause there will always be someone waiting.

    August 15, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Marc

    I totally agree, keep it quiet, get the funds setup and continue living your life.

    I don't play at all, but my strategy would be to have those funds setup, pay off the mortgage and bills, and relax ... Don't fall for newcomers with pitches, or the relatives...

    You can live wealthy, but you have to do it smart.

    August 15, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Olivia

    Stop it with the "If I won...." because I'm going to win and except for my husband and children, nobody will ever know. LOL Very informative article.

    August 15, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Marcos

    Well, i'm becoming a republican if i win, i wouldn't want any extra taxes if i become the 1%

    August 15, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  15. David Murray

    The best lottery advice I can give is not to play. Lottery is essentially a tax on people who are bad at math. Take that money you'd be spending on lotto tickets and invest it in something. Buy silver coins, buy stocks, buy some land. When retirement comes around that investment is going to be much more useful than having flushed it down the toilet in lotto tickets.

    Yes – some people do win big. But 99.999999% of people will never win anything. Even winning small amounts occasionally does not make up for the total loss of a lifetime of lottery tickets.

    On the other hand – it keeps my state taxes lower and that is a tax I can choose not to pay. So – Yeah – go buy those lotto tickets! Right on!

    August 15, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Owl96

      I buy maybe $10 worth of lottery tickets each year. It not going to break the bank. I just call it a voluntary tax. But if I win, I can give a 3 month notice and retire in my early 60's. BTW, if it was at least $3 million, I would take the annuity payments as that would allow me to live a respectable retirement, with money for my family after I die.

      August 15, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • JellyBean@Owl96

      Totally agree. I don't need much to be comfortable..

      March 18, 2014 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
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