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. Mark

    As a financial advisor, please don't invest in a restaurant. For some reason, people are attracted to that type of "investment". Very few actually make money. You are better off putting your restaurant funds in a modest stock fund and you will at least not lose all of your money.

    August 15, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mark Oaks

    I recently won about $35K after taxes in the Lotto and didnt tell a soul. My wife and I put it in the bank and have a nice little cushion for when we purchase a home. Best advice is dont tell anyone because I guarantee if we had, we wouldnt have any of it left.

    August 15, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dale

      Mark Oaks – you forgot to post your address.

      August 15, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      If you want it a secret, then why did you just announce it with your full name? Do you realize that if any family member or anyone that knows you does a google search for your name, that post will come up?

      August 15, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Fam

    Oh, Mark Ole buddy, ole pal, friend of mine, where have you been??
    Jokes aside, congrats. I'd do the same.

    August 15, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Billy Bats

    Who needs a financial adviser. I won $15M in the megamillions and since I don't trust banks I hid it all under my mattress.

    I did have a nice Nigerian Prince ask me for help so I wired him some cash to help him out.

    August 15, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bill Brasky

    1. Keep quiet and tell no one.
    2. Do not sign the ticket. Put it in a lock box at the bank.
    3. Change you name to a common one. (Don't tell anyone)
    4. Get a UPS mail box. (Don't tell anyone)
    5.Once this is complete, update your Social Security info and Drivers license to your new name and address. (Don't tell anyone)
    6. Wait a couple months to claim prize. (Don't tell anyone)
    7. Claim prize – no media or pictures. Your statement – "your happy you've one"
    8. Don't change spending habits. (Don't tell anyone)

    August 15, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dollar Bills

      Nicely done! I'm amazed more winners don't follow these simple steps to avoid a world of headaches!

      August 15, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Doe

      7. Im happy I have one as well

      August 15, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Moomba

    If I win big they would kidnap all my family back in my country and then they would take all my money from me. We need to change the law to stay private. States and lotteries should think about safety of the players. Forget the money.

    August 15, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill Brasky

      Just change your name before claiming the prize and signing the ticket. If you don't tell anyone you changed your name and you don't make a public appearance, then no one will know it is you that won. You can always change your name back after claiming the prize to you original name. A name change usually takes 6 weeks. Your family will be safe. Don't speak to a lawyer, they are scam artists. Do your own investment research.

      August 15, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. bghayes

    I think anyone who wants to remain anonymous should. I live in a small town and everyone knows where I live. If I won and it was publicly acknowledged I would have to move from my current home and lovely neighborhood. The Lottery administrators don't understand how going public can impact your life. It's enough that you have to manage your windfall but then you have to think about uprooting and moving someplace else, changing your phone number, hiding. Why should I have to be subjected to that because I have a few more duckets in my pocket? I think the Butlers were very prudent and I would follow in their footsteps but would try to keep my name out of the papers or other local media.

    August 15, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. John

    I already know what I'd do and how I'd handle it. Unfortunately, I live in a state that requires the winners to come forward. Fine. Maybe I could change my name for a week?

    Otherwise, it would take me one of two days to pack my valuables into a POD and put them in storage. I'd donate everything else to charity and leave this God forsake armpit of a city. And I'd never come back.

    Next, I'd spend a year living in five-star resorts on exotic beaches outside the USA. Then, I'd find a new home someplace where they don't have moronic Republicans. Imagine that!

    August 15, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Enzo

      John, If you won millions in a lottery, I'm going to bet that your next votes would be republican. Think about it.

      August 15, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alpha Deus

      Enzo – George Soros isn't republican, Mayor Bloomberg isn't republican, some people do keep their choices, after all some of the largest chunk of republican supporters are the poorest people in the likes of Louisiana or Mississippi.

      Money doesn't change your beliefs, the human race tend to be a melting pot of hypocrisy so having a bunch of money and fighting for the poor is not beyond our species, the same way as caring for only yourself but then wanting government aid when things go wrong.

      February 26, 2013 at 7:01 am | Report abuse |
  9. Bruce

    I think all lottery winners should keep quite about their winnings, I have and its work out OK with me.

    August 15, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dennis

    I ever win (fat chance), I'd collect then use the advice of the old Reagan anti-drug campain. "Just say NO". Anyone that persists just shoot them. Don't worry I'd only aim for the leg.

    August 15, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • ChicagoRob

      sweet..I would take a leg wound for a chance to sue a multi-millionaire!!!

      August 15, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ChicagoRob

    first take the sense taking lump sum you could never make that amount the lottery corp.take from you. (would need to make like 30% interest over 25 years to equal that money back)
    also this would weed out some of the money grabbers..instead of having 200 million you would only have 15 million /year or so.

    easy enough to live off..a better long term investment and you won't have too may people coming out of the woodwork.

    August 15, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • kd

      Best advice so far!

      August 15, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. dirty dawg

    When I won, I spent most all of it on booze, gambling, partying, and shady women. The rest I just squandered.

    August 15, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Supafat

    Curse me with a multi-million dollar winning ticket, please!

    August 15, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Tr1Xen

    If I ever came into an exceptionally large amount of money, I would immediately invest all or almost all of it in the stock market so I could live comfortably off the dividends.

    August 15, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Carol

    If I was so blessed to win the lottery tonight; I would first Thank God, go to my bank and request a loan in the amount of my bills and vacation money, pay off all my bills ($26,000.) pay off my mortgage (115,000.00) then go on vacation for a month in some warm climate. After some great discussion on mutual funds and fixed accounts, (don't believe in too much investing) I would calculate up how much it would take me to live until I was 95, Do monthly draws to that amount, live on the interest and then give some to family and friends if there is any extra money left. Life would be Goooood!!

    August 15, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      So if you won the lottery the first thing you would do would go get a loan? With that kind of thinking I don't think your winnings will last you very long.

      August 15, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alpha Deus

      I think she'd be able to afford the interest don't you?.

      The british lottery would give winners a check for the whole sum but also would give them an initial amount to 'tide them over' till they got the check cashed, that's a good idea, you should be able to take a small amount from the lottery before the day of reckoning and then can use that for a vacation to get some space and time to think, come back after three months and then collect the money, with your clowns makeup on, lifts, etc to make sure nobody can tell who you are, you want to have fun then have their expense, heck the lottery might enjoy that press conference

      February 26, 2013 at 7:12 am | Report abuse |
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