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What you should — and shouldn’t — do if you win the Mega Millions jackpot, according to an expert

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There’s still a chance — 1 in nearly 303 million – for a lucky winner to score the Mega Millions jackpot, which climbed to an estimated $1.55 billion after no ticket matched all six numbers after Friday’s drawing. If won, this jackpot could be the largest in the game’s history, potentially beating out the 2018 record jackpot of $1.537 billion won in South Carolina. “At this level, jackpots are hard to predict with complete accuracy,” a Mega Millions news release said.

While securing the golden ticket is all a matter of luck, holding onto one’s newfound fortune after such a windfall requires some strategy. In fact, compared to the average American, lottery winners are more likely to declare bankruptcy within three to five years, due to a lack of financial planning.

Yahoo News spoke to Andrew Lokenauth, a personal finance expert and founder of thefinancenewsletter.com, for some tips on what to do, and not to do, if you are the jackpot winner. Some answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

A Hoosier Lottery employee holds Mega Millions tickets at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis on Thursday. (Darron Cummings/AP)

A Hoosier Lottery employee holds Mega Millions tickets at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis on Thursday. (Darron Cummings/AP)

Someone just won the lottery jackpot, what should they refrain from doing?

Andrew Lokenauth: One: Don’t sign the ticket, because once people know who claimed it, everyone is going to be rushing after you. I would say put it in a safe place, and depending on the state you’re in, you can claim it anonymously (Delaware, Kansas, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina or Maryland).

Two: Don’t tell anybody. This leads back into the first point because you could become the victim of robbery, or people can try to extort you.

Go private until things get under control. You’d want to delete your social media or make it private until you figure things out. Legally change your address to a P.O. box. And get a new phone number and email address, because it can be easy to find both online.

What actions should lottery winners take?

Make digital copies (on encrypted storage) or print copies of your ticket. If you lose it or someone steals it … these are time-stamped items of proof that you actually own the ticket.

You’re going to want to look into hiring six different professionals. The first would be a lawyer, who would help you structure a legal entity [and set up a] trust that protects your money.

Who else should you hire?

Personal security. You want somebody to look after and monitor your bank accounts, your investments, but also professional security to protect your safety.

An accountant to give you a recap every month or every week on your money, where it’s going, your spending, how your investments are looking, because you’re going to want to grow your money.

A financial advisor to help you build and create your wealth so you can pass it on to future generations. Or, if you want to give back, you can set up a charity.

A tax attorney to help you save on your tax bill. The tax code is, I believe, over 75,000 pages. A lot of wealthy individuals use the tax code to their advantage and they pay very little taxes.

An estate planning attorney to help you pass down your wealth to future generations.

Is it better to cash in on the winnings in one lump sum or receive annuity payments?

Due to inflation and the cost of the dollar decreasing over time, it’s always good to take the lump sum and then you can work with your financial advisor or a hedge fund [to] strategically manage that money.

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