A lottery jackpot can be life-changing but only if the winner is smart with the winnings.By John Shumway

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Want to do a little Friday dreaming about finding yourself on easy street?

The Mega Millions jackpot tonight is $970 million and that kind of money can take the edge off the weekend, and your life.

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However, Certified Financial Planners Carrie Coghill and Rick Applegate say you have to avoid the pitfalls that get so many jackpot winners.

Applegate: “The thing that most people do incorrectly. At the beginning is tell like too many relatives.”
Coghill: “As you tell two people and they tell two people, etc. You do have people that will, you know, potentially come knocking on your door for the wrong reasons.”
Applegate: “They get a lot of random letters from people they don’t know, letting them know of their troubles their medical conditions their need for money. And a lot of people will respond to that.”
Coghill: “Privacy is a really big deal.”

In fact, they say do everything you can to go as private as possible including disconnecting your home phone. And get some help immediately.

Applegate: “I think they need to be engaging. Good confidential experienced advice, attorneys, accountants, financial planners.”
Coghill: “It creates a set of issues that maybe you haven’t had to deal with before, like income taxes and estate planning issues.”
Applegate: “If you’ve got that winning ticket, make sure you secure it somewhere, lock it up, and then get that advice before you announce you’ve got the winning ticket.”

Coghill and Applegate say big money winners who run into the biggest problems are those who think they can handle it alone.

Applegate: “It’s very difficult for people to deal with that wealth that quickly.”
Coghill: It is a great time to step back and dream a little bit about what you want to get from this money.”
Applegate: “Take your time. You don’t have to do this at the end of the week when you got that lottery winning.”

Make a copy of your ticket and then lock it away somewhere safe like a bank safety deposit box. And do a lot of talking.

Coghill: “Really talk about how you’re going to approach this with other family members and other people.”

Make a plan for where you want the money to go beyond taking care of your family and paying off your bills. Once a plan is ready, go claim your prize.

But there is a question to answer there as well. Do you take the lump sum or the annuity?

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Applegate: “Take the lump sum, take the money and run.”

The lump-sum comes out to $451 million after federal taxes and without state taxes. With proper investment, he says you can protect your winnings and make the money grow.

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But for those who don’t trust themselves with all that money all at once or need more structure, Coghill says, “For some people having that annuity payment coming in, is really important.”

30 years of payments at about 20-million a year before state taxes.

As for splurging, maybe buying new cars or a new house, which might be a good idea so you can move and not be found, it’s okay.

Coghill puts it this way: “I think a one-time splurge makes a lot of sense. Where we have challenges is that when that splurge continues.”

That is how a lot of big lottery winners have managed to blow through it all.

That’s why planning is so critical.

Figure out in advance how you will divide the money among your family members, what charities you want to help, and make an estate plan so you can guarantee what happens to the money should you die.

Also, if you don’t want to deal with it beyond your own comforts Applegate says: “I would just turn my interests over to someone representing me. you know, in other words, I would not be taking the calls, taking the emails, turn it over to somebody who can handle this for you being an administrator for you.”

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Set up a family office or foundation and hire someone to run it. You set up the guidelines and they handle the day-to-day request that will be coming from literally all over the world.