There must be 109 million ways to ruin your life after finding out you won Powerball. But the most critical decision comes quickly, after about the fourth or fifth time you check the numbers.
To go public or not? To grip a check the size of a Charlie Sheen poster for the cameras? Or to hide your good fortune from an admiring and envious world?
"We've heard from a couple" who say they own the $109 million Powerball ticket sold in Abingdon last week, says Carole Everett, spokeswoman for the Maryland Lottery. They might come down to present the ticket in a few days, she said. Lottery officials hope they'll go public at a big media party.
"We encourage it," Everett says. "We like it. We like to show happy winners!"
Don't do it, Mr. and Mrs. Powerball. Anonymity is the first step to megawealth sanity. Sudden riches are hard enough to handle. Fame will crush you.
Don't even tell your kids.
"Every person that you have ever met is going to contact you," says Steven Danish, a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University who counsels lottery winners. "You get threatened. You get invaded. You get surprised. They try to raise your guilt. You get confused about who your friends are and who they aren't."
Some states make lottery winners disclose their identities to the public to claim their prize. Not Maryland.
As a member of the working media I would love to know who you are, Powerball winners. A laid-off construction worker and his schoolteacher wife? A homemaker and a BGE lineman? Harford County Executive David Craig and wife Melinda?
Don't indulge me. Get a good lawyer — not your brother-in-law! You haven't told him, remember?
Figure out the biggest and best-known downtown Baltimore law firms. Interview a couple. Hire one. Pay them by the hour and pay them well. You can afford it. Ask about taxes, trusts, investments — and privacy.
Invest conservatively. Invest for income. Whether you take the annuity or the lump sum, you have more than enough money for you, your heirs, your heirs' heirs and all kinds of charities. You don't need to turn $100 million into $200 million. Try too hard and you're more likely to turn it into $10 million.
Firms such as T. Rowe Price or Vanguard can preserve your hoard, generate a nice annual income and not rip you off. Don't go with your stockbroker cousin.
Move, if you must. Buy a new house. But no more than five bathrooms, please.
Don't get a swollen head. Winning $109 million is a freak accident, like falling through a manhole and getting eaten by an alligator. It does not bestow dignity or virtue. But you can become honorable and good according to how you wield your wealth.
We're in the worst economy in 80 years. People still starve in parts of the world. Be kind in ways large and small. Anonymously. Lawyers can facilitate that, too.
Faceless charity is not only the most praiseworthy type, as certified by the major religions. It's also economically efficient, because it preserves incentives for recipients to help themselves. They won't know whom to pester for another bailout.
Learn about incentives. Don't let Powerball millions turn into a welfare trap for you and your relatives. Lottery windfalls that smother our reasons for getting out of bed leave us poorer than before we bought the ticket.
Buy a new car if you want. Not a Porsche. Take the family to Disney World.
If you must tell people you won the lottery — to explain Disney World — don't disclose the amount. Let them think you pocketed a few grand on Pick 4.
"When was the last time somebody in Maryland won this big?" I asked Everett. In 2003, she said, a woman won $183 million in Mega Millions. Big news conference, lots of media.
"And who was that?" I asked. She couldn't say, she said, because the family decided they no longer wanted publicity. (For the record, it was letter carrier Bernadette Gietka, a letter carrier from Dundalk.)
See? For any outed lottery winner, the glory and adrenaline of publicity are paid for with years of wondering whether your friends like you or your dough.
"There are people who are going to try to intimidate you," says Danish. "Or swindle you. Or try to force you to share the money. And you're going to feel guilty because you can't make everybody's dream come true."
The lottery is a raw deal for everyone except government, which gets some of the revenue. Many who play can least afford it. Those who win are extremely rare. The winners sometimes turn out to be the biggest losers.
That's another reason to skip the mediafest. You've just obtained financial independence. Don't let it be said that your last job was as a highly paid flack for the lottery industry.