Here's What to Do First If You Win Powerball's $454 Million Jackpot

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  • For this jackpot, the cash option — which most winners choose instead of an annuity — is $271.9 million.
  • Experts recommend that big lottery winners take steps right away to protect their windfall.
  • Here are some tips if you manage to beat the odds and land the top prize.

If you play Powerball, there's a good chance you've daydreamed about how you would spend the money if you hit the jackpot.

With the lottery game's top prize at an advertised $454 million for Wednesday night's drawing, you may also want to give thought to what you'd actually do if you were to match all six numbers drawn. Experts recommend big lottery winners take steps right away to protect their windfall.

For starters, remember that a lottery ticket is considered a "bearer instrument," meaning whoever holds it is considered the owner. This means you need to protect it.

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You can take a picture of yourself with the winning ticket, and then put it somewhere safe — such as in a safety deposit box — until it's time to claim your windfall.

Additionally, you may want to sign the back of the ticket. Just be aware that in some states that don't allow you to claim your winnings anonymously, doing so could interfere with your ability to take ownership of the prize via a trust or other legal entity that would shield your identity from the public.

It's also worth sharing the life-changing news with as few people as possible. If you won't be able to remain anonymous, you need to consider how to avoid becoming a target for scammers as well as long-lost family and friends.

You also should turn to experienced professionals to help guide you through the claiming process and the many facets of protecting your windfall. Your team should include an attorney, financial advisor, tax advisor and insurance professional. 

This group can help you determine whether to take your winnings as a lump sum or as 30 payments spread over 29 years. Most lottery winners choose the immediate, reduced cash amount. For this $454 million jackpot, the cash option is $271.9 million.

Either way, the money would face a 24% federal tax withholding before it reaches you. For this jackpot, taking the cash would mean about $65.3 million getting shaved off the top. However, additional federal taxes would likely be due at tax time, given the top rate of 37%. There also may be state taxes withheld or due.

It's also worth giving some thought to how your life is going to change — and not just from a financial perspective. Some experts suggest seeking guidance from a financial therapist or mental health professional to help you deal with the stress that comes with winning.

Meanwhile, the Mega Millions jackpot is $43 million ($25.9 million cash) for Friday night's drawing.

The chance of a single ticket hitting Powerball's jackpot is 1 in 292 million. For Mega Millions' top prize, it's 1 in 302 million.

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