Don’t Make These Mistakes! Lessons From Real-Life Lotto Winners

If you win the lottery, one of two things happens: you collect your winnings, invest a portion of it and set up your family for life, or squander the entire sum without even realizing it and end up penniless.

Bad Luck Is Homemade

There’s a reason lottery winners are subject to such bad luck. Suddenly becoming massively rich is a difficult situation to navigate (though, let’s be honest, it’s a situation most of us would want to find ourselves in). There are a lot of lessons to be learned from former lottery winners. Click through to find out what these winners did right and what cost them everything they have.

Take Some Time Before You Cash in Your Prize

Winning the lottery is an overwhelming experience, and you may want to run right out to cash in your prize the second you find out you’re the big ticket holder. Imagine if you lost your ticket or God forbid, ended up accidentally washing the pants it was in and ruining it in the washer!

It would be tragic, but you must resist all urges to immediately cash in your prize. You have to take the time to figure out what you’re going to do with the money first and bring together a team of advisers and lawyers who can help you – and here’s why.

More Money, More Problems

You know what they say: more money, more problems. That’s definitely the case after you win the lottery. Maureen Smith and David Kaltschmidt admitted that winning sent them into deep, emotional turmoil. They dreaded press conferences and publicity events.

David lost 10 pounds in one month following their win and Maureen said she was stressed out and afraid the turmoil would make her “less friendly because of all the worrying.” John and Lisa Robins admitted that they became sleepless after they won. “More stress comes with that ticket,” she said. Ain’t that the truth!

Those Who Wait Prosper, Those Who Don’t Squander


Some winners wait, and others foolishly don’t. In 2016, three Powerball winners waited to claim their prizes. Maureen Smith waited just a month but Mae and Marvin Acosta waited over six months. They spent this time finding qualified advisors to help them invest their money.

John and Lisa Robinson, big winners who jumped gun, ended up going on the Today Show before they even claimed their prize. John Robinson admitted that this move was completely reckless and he was terrified to drive around with a winning ticket worth millions – especially because his face was everywhere. Luckily, it worked out for him and his wife, but he could’ve easily been robbed. You never know!

Choose Annual Payments If You’re in It for the Long Haul

You might be tempted to cash out all of your money the second you win, but being patient actually has benefits (i.e. even more cash). In 2016’s $1.5 billion January Powerball jackpot, three winners chose a lump sum and actually lost out on a lot of winnings (they pulled in just 40% of what they won).

If they had chosen annual payments they would have gotten $553 million paid out over 30 years, starting at $22 million a year and rising. They ended up only pulling in $310 million by opting for a lump sum. It also makes it harder to blow through your cash. Would two-time winner Evelyn Adams have blown through her entire jackpot by gambling it all away in Altantic City if she opted for annual payments? Probably not.

Choose a Lump Sum If Age Is a Factor

Sometimes opting for a lump sum is actually a really great idea, even if you get less upfront. With a good investment, your lump sum can quickly multiply, but are you really going to push your luck?

Powerball winner Maureen Smith ended up taking the lump sum for one reason alone. She was 70 years old and didn’t know if she’d make it to see out 30 years of annual payments. Smith wanted to set up her family for life and not have them miss out on money because she wasn’t around to collect.

Keep Quiet about Your Winnings

When you win such a large amount of money in a lottery, you never know what sort of evil people will come out of the woodwork. You better get all your ducks in a row before you say a word. You’ve got to be able to protect yourself.

Maureen Smith and her husband David Kaltschmidt kept going to work as usual after they won their fortune. They didn’t even tell their children. They took time set up a lawyer where people could contact them and regulate inquiries and requests. They hired an adviser, and then finally made their win public. Cue the onslaught of media requests and attention.

Delete Social Media and Control Your Narrative

According to experts, the best way to handle a big lottery win is to close down your social media accounts, and keep a tight lock on your personal image. As soon as it’s been announced that you’ve won big, reporters will start looking into your life. Remember that off-color joke you told on Twitter about 12 years ago? That’s going to be dug up. That embarrassing picture your old college roommate posted of you on Facebook? They’ll find it.

You want to be able to be in control over what the media says about you, and this requires having a lock on your social accounts. So how does this translate to real lotto winners? Click through to find out.

When in Doubt, Don’t Speak to the Press

Maureen and David Katlschmidt did a press conference after their major Powerball win. In order to control their narrative and protect their families, they refused to answer several personal questions. Maureen and David skirted questions about the personal meaning of the numbers they chose and details about their children. Marvin and Mae Acosta also navigated the media carefully. They moved out of their home the day before they claimed their prize and refused to speak at all to the press.

The best way to protect the privacy of your children, family and friends is to stop feeding into the media machine. Don’t speak to the press and get onto enjoying your winnings rather than living in a media circus.

Avoid Major Life Changes

We’ve all thought about what we’d do if we won a ton of money. The truth is, buying that gigantic multi-million dollar house may not be practical. Don’t make immediate, major changes in your life after you’ve won. Experts say that people need structure in their lives. Quitting a job and changing your life leads to anxiety and depression, even if you think its for the greater good.

Lottery winners John and Lisa Robinson planned to keep their jobs despite winning $327.8 million. “You can’t sit down and lay down and not do nothing anymore. Because how long are you going to last?” John said.

You Have To, Above All, Pay Your Taxes

The IRS will get you if you don’t pay your taxes. The bigger your payout, the more publicity you’ll get. You’re a walking IRS target, so for the love of everything that is good (and your life as a free person outside of white collar jail) please, please always pay your taxes. Alex and Rhoda Toth, a Florida couple who won $13 million, were spending money like crazy.

They were traveling to Las Vegas, staying in fancy hotels and gambling their winnings away. They also filed totally fake tax returns three years in a row. Of course, the IRS put them on trial. Alex didn’t take any of the heat during their 2008 trial (because he died before he could make it to the stand), but Rhoda went to jail, a poor, penniless convict.

Get Really, Really Good Insurance

If you have a lot of money, you’re going to need some really good insurance. Suzanne Mullins learned this the hard way after she won $4.2 million in 1993. Mullins opted for annual payments instead of a lump son, but when her son fell ill, his poor insurance plan left them with $1 million in medical debt.

She ended up borrowing money from a lottery-winners foundation but couldn’t pay them back. The foundation ended up suing her for $150,000 because she never ponied up the cash. If Mullins had used her winnings to get a good insurance plan, she wouldn’t have had a problem.

Carefully Choose Your Financial Advisers

Choosing a financial adviser isn’t just the difference between wisely investing and spending all of your winnings – it can be the difference between life and death. Abraham Shakespeare learned the hard way when he won $17 million from a $30 million lottery jackpot. He became friends with a woman named DeeDee Moore who offered to help protect his money from greedy friends and family.

Shakespeare ended up transferring his money into her account, and as soon as the transfer was made, she murdered him. Justice was eventually served and Moore was sentenced to life in prison.

Get a Great Lawyer

A financial adviser isn’t the only thing you need to help manage your major lottery win. You’re going to need a killer lawyer. Whether that person simply help you draft your will and fields press requests or protects from insane, frivolous lawsuits and being duped by the shady business deals is another story.

John and Lisa Robinson’s win made them the target of a frivolous lawsuit by a literal felon who sued thousands of people in the past. His victims ended up having their names used in Facebook pfishing scams, but with a good lawyer, the couple managed to work it out.

Write Your Will Because You Never Know

When you win the lottery, unless you belong to one of the states that allows anonymous winner to collect, you’re going to be a small-time celebrity. This may seem pretty cool if you’ve always been waiting for your 15 minutes, but it’s not really that cool if you haven’t beefed up your at-home security. People will immediately be out to get you, so you need to update your will just in case.

Urooj Khan, who won $1 million in a lottery was poisoned with cyanide the day after he collected his winnings. Because his will wasn’t updated, his family argued about who would get the cash, which ended up going to his wife and daughter.

Don’t Give Out So Many Free Handouts

If you win the lottery, you may feel like you don’t deserve it. You didn’t work for your money, it was completely a random streak of luck. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy your wealth. If you’re suddenly given a wad of cash that seems like more money than you could ever need, you may want to help anyone who asks for a favor. Don’t do it!

Billie Bob Harrell, the winner of a $31 million jackpot, found himself penniless and severely depressed after trying and failing to help everyone who asked. Harrell ended up giving out money to anyone who asked for it and went broke. He confessed to his financial adviser that winning the lottery was the worst thing that ever happened and killed himself shortly after.

Karma Exists, So Always Keep Your Word

The lottery works in mysterious ways, and a lot of the misfortune people find after winning may have to do with something we can’t prove – karma exists! This was the case with Tonda Lynn Dickerson and the group of waitresses she worked with. A customer would give Tonda lottery tickets with the assumption that all the waitresses would split the winnings in the off chance they won. Tonda ended up winning $5 million, but claimed the lump sum prize all herself.

The customer ended up suing, and loss, but she became an IRS target. The woman was charged a $771,570 gift tax after she formed an “S” corporation and gave 51% of her winnings to her family. She kept 49% to herself, which wasn’t all that much after the taxes.

Know When to Quit

Sometimes you need to know when to quit. Don’t ever rely on luck to multiply your winnings. You lucked out once, and you can safely assume assume that if you’ve won the lottery, your luck quota is maxed out. The universe only has so much for you.

Unfortunately, many people who play the lottery already have a gambling addiction, which literally ruins lives. This was the issue with Evelyn Adams who won two lotteries (yes, two) which added up to $5.4 million. She ended up gambling away every single penny she had in Atlantic City and traded her home for a small trailer.

Smartly Invest

A poor investment will trash your savings, and a good one will leave you with more than you ever imagined. Want to set up your family for life? Don’t squander your cash in useless investments. You need to invest smartly, and that may mean hiring an adviser who can guide you.

Warren Buffet and Tony Robbins told CNBC that the best investment is yourself. Do you have something you’ve always wanted to do? Then do it! They also recommended if you’re not investing in your passion project, invest in index funds. Buffet explained that consistently buying an S&P 500 low-cost index fund usually is the most practical option. Don’t be like Evelyn Adams who invested in Atlantic City’s craps tables until she lost it all. Be smart. Your life isn’t a slot machine, even if your winning lottery ticket may have been a stroke of wild luck.

Choose Your Numbers Wisely

Choosing your numbers wisely is the way to win. Luck will only get you so far. Richard Lustig, who won seven lottery grand prizes, says the best way to win is to avoid “quick-pick” numbers. According to Lustig, the different, random set of numbers put your odds at the absolute worst.

Instead, he thinks you should use the entire board when playing. If you spread your numbers across the board, you’re less likely to have shared your win with anyone else. Lustig also says that you have to be wise about what you’re spending. It’s important to set a budget instead of buying 100 tickets because the jackpot keeps rising. Your odds of winning are so low, it’s just not worth breaking the bank.

Don’t Party Too Hard

All too often there are stories in the news about various lottery winners who have gone completely off the rails on drugs and alcohol. If you are already a partier, winning the lottery will definitely only make it worse. So if you have substance abuse issues, it’s probably for the best that you get help before accepting the money. Rehabilitation centers often say that the most dangerous thing that can happen to an addict is for them to come into money, so winning the lottery is worse case scenario for these types. It’s also a possibility that winning the lottery could trigger an addictive problem as one might feel that they no longer need to have self control.

Losing Everything

Take, for instance, the story of David Lee Edwards. When Edwards won the Powerball, a sum of $27 million, he was already down in the dumps. David was a felon, drug addicted and unemployed when the seemingly miraculous event of winning the lottery occurred. David quickly squandered the massive fortune by purchasing various lavish items such as a mansion, race horses, a personal jet and a Lamborghini. Soon, his cash had completely been diminished. David and his wife both ended up falling deep into the world of using crack and heroin. He ended up living in squalor in a storage unit surrounded by feces. In 2013, David died in hospice care at the relatively young age of 58.

No New Friends

Winning the lottery is also notorious for bringing out people who might not have your best interest in mind. Particularly, if you meet brand new people who immediately know about your newfound wealth. You are setting yourself up to be robbed or even worse. So, it’s probably best to keep the same old and true friends and family around you. Although, even then it seems as though old family and friends are liable turn to the dark side when money becomes involved. While you shouldn’t shut yourself off from the world, you might want to be very careful about who finds out about a lottery win.

Friends In Low Places

Take for instance, lottery winner Abraham Shakespeare. Abraham won the lottery big time with a $30 million back in 2006. According to those close to him, many people popped out of the woodwork asking him for loans – including family members. Some new friends also began to attach themselves to Abraham including a woman named Dorice Moore. Dorice, or DeeDee, began telling Abraham that everyone was out to get his money and she was the only one he could trust. This led to her getting Abraham to put all of his assets in her name. Then he abruptly went missing. His body was found one year later buried in a concrete slab. DeeDee was later convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Get Ready For Change

If you win the lottery you should also be prepared for life to change in some ways you might not have even considered. Take Willie Seeley, who hit it big in a lottery pool in 2013. They ended up hitting the $450 Powerball, a massive amount of money, and there were three other winners so the money was split quite a few ways. Later, Willie was publicly identified at a press conference. He and his wife’s plan was to be able to live out their days in relaxation, including fishing. However, Willy later said they were constantly hounded by press and reporters in the weeks and months following their win. Random family members and even strangers began constantly asking for money. Willie recounted to NBC, “There are days I wish we were back to just getting paid every two weeks. You have to change your whole way of life, but we didn’t want to change the way we lived.”

Prepare Yourself Emotionally

Another thing to consider when playing the lottery, is if you are in good mental health. While it might seem like money would solve all your problems, it can also make it worse. Take the story of Billy Bob Harrell, Jr. Billy Bob was having a hard time in life. He apparently had his heart set on becoming a minister but was unable to do so. Not long after, he won the Texas Jackpot which was $31 million. Billy Bob had a big heart, and tried to be extremely generous with his money. Unfortunately, the requests for money never ceased until it began to disrupt his entire life. There was disarray within his entire family and his marriage failed. Billy Bob said that, “Winning the lottery was the worst thing that ever happened to me.” Only two years after his win, Billy could not longer take the mental strife and he ended his own life.

Hire A Financial Planner

If you are lucky enough to be a major lottery winner, there are some things you should do right away. One of these things is to hire a financial planner. Especially if your win is in the millions of dollars. It also doesn’t hurt to hire a lawyer to navigate you through any kinds of legal pitfalls that come with a lottery win. An accountant will also be helpful so you know exactly how your finances will be handled. If you get a good team around you to ensure your money is handled properly and you don’t start spending money like a maniac, there is a good chance you won’t fall victim to the rumored “lottery curse”.

Pay Off Your Debts

One of the best things to do with your money, once you account for issues like taxes and current living expenses is to pay off any debts you might have. It’s also important to do this before you decided to buy new houses for yourself and your entire family, or the hottest luxury car that you’ve always dreamed of having. If you pay off your debts your likely to achieve longevity with your finances and make sure you don’t end up even more worse off than you originally started like so many other lottery winners have done over the years!

Protect Your Marriage

It’s a very common story for lottery winners to fall victim to divorce. Money is often a stressor in marriage, and won would think that having more money would bring marital bliss, but that simply is not the case. You should definitely prioritize your marriage to make sure that money won’t become a problem. Take the story of Curtis Sharp, Jr. who won $5 million. Before he won, he was just a dishwasher. However, he could not resist the lure of riches and spent money on lavish parties, pretty women, fancy houses and luxury vehicles. He soon left his longtime wife for a new woman and married her. But as his money began to run out, so did the second wife. He ended up having to borrow money from his first wife. He later stopped his partying ways and became a minister. Although, he apparently still buys lotto tickets.

Watch Out For Greed

Money is the root of all evil. Sometimes people who turn out perfectly good can turn perfectly bad with the help of money, this is why it’s important to watch out for greed. The story of lotto winner Jack Whittaker is a perfect lesson. Jack already had money before he even won. And he won the biggest Powerball jackpot for a single winner ever back in 2002. Jack ended up taking home a $90 million dollar lump sum after taxes. Jack tried to be generous with his money, he famously bought the clerk who sold him the ticket both a new home and a new car. Sadly, his luck took a turn for the worse.

Poor Choices = Poor Results

Jack began hanging around some unsavory people and he was regularly asked for money. One night when he was in a strip club, his car was robbed. Inside was a suitcase which held half a million dollars in cash. His drinking steadily increased. He continued to lavishly spend on his loved ones including his daughter and granddaughter. He particularly spoiled his granddaughter Brandi. Unfortunately, Brandi struggled with a drug problem and she surround herself with addicts. Brandi was later found dead. While her death was suspicious, it never became clear what really happened. Jack’s daughter and Brandi’s mother, was found dead only some time later. Jack’s longtime wife also left him. Jack told NBC, “Since I won the lottery, I think there is no control for greed. I think if you have something, there’s always someone else that wants it. I wish I’d torn that ticket up”

Hire A Lottery Lawyer

It’s kind of hard to believe that a lottery lawyer is actually a profession, but it definitely is. A lawyer named Jason Kurland spoke to VICE magazine about how he got into the field. He said that after a person in Connecticut won a large lottery sum, they needed a lawyer they could trust. That person’s boss happened to be the client of Jason. Because the client had such a good relationship with Jason, he recommended him. Because that incidence was publicized all over the news, from that point on people continued to contact him. Jason said, “Then from there somebody won $300 million in Rhode Island, remembered me, and called. So I went to Rhode Island and helped and then started promoting [this as something we do]. We started getting call after call dealing with every kind of lottery issue you can come up with, until it’s become this niche market.”

Consider Placing Your Money In A Trust

For many who win the lottery, the best option for their new funds are to utilize a lottery trust. Living trusts enable privacy so that lottery winner’s identities don’t have to be revealed. The trust can also serve as an alternative to a will. A lottery trust also sets certain standards which means those who benefit from the trust including the winner must spend the money in a certain way. This is meant to help prevent lottery winnings from being squandered. It can also dictate how money is given out, for example it could be set up to give out a particular payment every two weeks, just like a paycheck. If you win the lottery, looking into a trust is definitely the way to go.

Make Smart Investments

It’s very important to make smart investments if you win the lottery or you can quickly squander your money. People will soon come out of the woodwork asking you to invest in all kinds of things. From real estate to business ventures. Make sure you are smart about what you are investing in. It’s almost important that you are realistic about how much money you have, what your taxes will be, and what you plant to spend your money on. Lawyer Jason Kander says that he advises clients to let him be “bad guy”. Jason said, “So anybody who asks you for any kind of investment, tell them that you’ve hired this attorney, and the only way he took you on as a client is if he got the final say of where you spend it.” That way they are able to make sure they don’t invest in the wrong things and manage to hold on to their money!

Don’t Get Scammed

As mentioned before, tons of people will pop up looking for a new lottery winner to invest in their great deal. Quite often people don’t even really have a real investment but rather are just running a scam on lottery winner to get away with as much money as possible. For instance, people might come up to you saying they have an amazing development property, but in actuality there is nothing even there. Make sure you are smart about your lottery winnings and have a professional look into it for you instead of doing it all on your own. After all, money can go very quickly (if you let it)!

Trust No One

While you might think that you could always trust your family and friends you might want to be wear even of those closest to you. Sadly, money can definitely change people. Take the story of Urooj Khan, for instance. Urooj won a scratch off lottery in Illinois, winning a one-million-dollar prize. Urooj won the prize in May of 2012 an died only two months later. At the time, doctors thought that his death was of natural causes. Specifically, because of hardening of the arteries. Yet Urooj’s brother felt there was something wrong with that ruling and soon authorities uncovered a more sinister reason for the lotto winner’s death.

An Unsolved Poisoning

After authorities began investigating Urooj Khan’s death, they soon discovered that there were lethal levels of cyanide in his body. The coroner then changed the cause of death to homicide. Soon, Urooj’s own family was suspected in his untimely death. Urooj’s remaining heirs later began to battle it out in court in order to win the proceeds of his lottery winnings. The court later ruled that the money should be split between his daughter and his widow. In addition to his lottery winnings, Urooj also owned condominiums and dry cleaning stores, which were also split amongst the women. His murder has not yet been solved.

Get Help If You Need It

If you find yourself in the unlikely situation of becoming a lottery winner, you will definitely be faced with a totally new set of problems in life. Make sure if you are in such a situation that you are willing to get help if you need it. Take it from lottery winner Donna Mikkin. Donna won $34.5 million back in 2007. Donna was definitely not prepared for such a massive amount of money and even said the experience led her to “emotional bankruptcy.” In 2014 Donna wrote a blog and went on to say, “Most people look at winning the lottery as some magic pot of gold waiting for you at the end of the rainbow.”

Remain Grateful

While, many lottery winners have horrifying experiences, there have been a few that have actually had great experiences. One of the lucky ones is a man by the name of Richard Lustig. Richard is actually a multiple time lottery winner but instead of squandering his earnings he’s been able to live smartly. He spoke to TIME Magazine, saying “Obviously it’s changed my life big time. I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and I like rich a whole lot better. We’ve lived in big, fancy houses. I drive a Jaguar. We’ve gone on cruises. I can’t complain.” Richard later wrote a book called Learn How to Increase Your Chances of Winning the Lottery which became quite successful. Richard has also said that in order to maintain the good life, you have to make plans and “secure your future”. The bottom line, be grateful and be smart!

Reconsider The Winnings

After all of these crazy stories, it’s easy to think that maybe winning the lottery isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Many lottery winners have even claimed that they wished they tore up their winning tickets as the money ended up changing their lives for the worse not the better. However, we can’t help but take a hint from Richard Lustig who has some great advice for lottery winners and hasn’t even written a book on the topic. While it’s easy to be a bit scared about the idea of a lottery curse, if given the opportunity we think we would definitely take the chance of keeping the winnings. What would you do?