Published April 03, 2012
Do you find yourself dreaming of the day your lucky lottery numbers are called? Or fantasizing about what numbers lurk under the silver bar of that scratch-off ticket you impulse-bought while gassing up?
The lure of "Mega Millions," "Powerball" and other lottery jackpots has millions in search of, well, millions. And while it's fun to daydream about what having more money than you can count would be like, winning the lottery might not be all it's cracked up to be.
A windfall of widely publicized winnings that finally allows you the luxury of affording a trip around the world, a fancy car or flat-screen TVs for every room in your house just might ruin your life.
Here's a look at the ugliness landing all that loot can bring to your life. And a reminder that being mega rich isn't all that it's cracked up to be.
1. Your friends will take advantage
Once word gets out that you had the winning ticket, you can expect everyone to try to cozy up to you, from the college roommate you haven't heard from in 20 years and the kid who tortured you on the kindergarten playground, to fellow carpool parents and "friends" you barely recognize. It's common for lottery winners to see a flood of online and in-person friend requests that range from wanting to share a meal to suggesting a weekend getaway to relax or catch up. Of course, these "buddies" all hope that you'll ultimately pick up the tab for their good time.
After she was one of a pool of 12 people who won the Missouri Powerball in 2006 and split $224 million, Sandra Hayes had to rethink her social network. "It became necessary to be careful about who I make friends with because some people can be cruel and have alternative motives for befriending you. Some feel that just because you have money, you owe them money," she says.
"When I would hang out with friends and we would stop to get something to eat, they would order their food and then announce they did not have the money to pay, which happened a few times," says Hayes. She quickly figured out her friends' plan and stopped going to eat with them. "I eventually stopped hanging out with them altogether."
Lottery winners get pleas from pals and hopeful BFFs in need of a personal bailout, too.
Hayes says one of her friends even expected her to rescue their family from their serious financial woes. "I did not rescue them thanks to the advice of my financial adviser, who told me if I bailed them out they would continue to sponge off me. If I did not draw the line, I would go broke," she says.
2. Your relationship could fail
Money woes can put a strain on a relationship. But those who come into big windfalls find coming into a lot of money all at once can also overtax a relationship.
Alexey Bulankov, a certified financial planner who's worked with a family who won a lottery jackpot saw this devastation firsthand. "Following a string of unfortunate financial decisions, the family fell apart," he says. Bulankov says the husband, who was emotionally unprepared for the enormous responsibility and pressure of winning the lottery, took to gambling and womanizing to deal with the troubles adjusting to his new lifestyle. When his wife found out, she retaliated with vindictive shopping.
Eventually, they talked and sorted it out, says Bulankov. "Needless to say, the level of trust was not the same and the fighting and blame-placing for the squandering of their fortune became routine occurrence in this once tightly knit family," says Bulankov.
3. You'll have an increased risk of bankruptcy
Given the fact that you'd have enough dough to clear up your debt, bankruptcy seems a long shot after winning the lottery. But experts say lottery winners actually are at greater risk of bankruptcy.
"Winners suddenly have significantly more credit available to them than they ever had. That makes them more likely to make purchases on credit, rather than use cash," says Scott Dillon, a senior bankruptcy attorney at Tully Rinckey in Albany, N.Y. "Winners are much more likely to make significant impulse purchases far beyond their previous means. So the purchase amounts will be much higher, making the interest accrued on those credit cards much higher. And because they don't stop to think the money could run out, winners don't generally think they need to create or live by a monthly budget."
"While it may be counterintuitive, a large influx of wealth without proper planning can easily cause people to forget the need to save for the future," adds Dan White, founder and president of Daniel A. White & Associates, a financial planning firm in Glens Mills, Pa., that specializes in asset protection and transitional and retirement planning.
4. You'll have to fight off a host of long-lost family members
Jeff Motske, a financial planner and president of Trilogy Financial Services, headquartered in Huntington Beach, Calif., says lottery winners often become targets for long-lost relatives who knock on the door with one hand and hold the other palm up. Somehow they think when one family member wins the lotto, the whole family wins the lotto. "A family member who wins the lottery will appear as a better option than a bank for fast cash that comes with the price tag of little to no interest paid and no application process," says Motske.
So many winners find themselves fielding pleas for help with a pile of credit card or medical debt, foreclosure or car repairs.
"The majority of my family members treated me the same as they did before I won the lottery, however, there were those family members who suffered the entitlement syndrome," says Hayes. "A few of my family members with whom I did not have a previous relationship with before winning the lottery came out of the woodwork and started calling me to butter me up just for money."
Hayes says she faced her share of bad experiences, including family members borrowing money that they felt they didn't have to pay back. "Some family members I gave a monetary gift for a special occasion thought I should have given more," says Hayes.
5. You'll be a target for a litany of lawsuits and scams
Hoping to carve out a chunk of your fortune, Motske says lottery winners are often targets for bogus lawsuits because everyone starts to come after them. "If the winnings are public knowledge, winners can bet their phone will never stop ringing. Winners hear from investors, reputable firms and scammers, and every planner/schemer under the sun," he says.
They also need to be wary of people who purposely "slip and fall" on their property, including claims of winners rear-ending them and so on. That includes contractors, babysitters, friends and family who visit you, borrow your car, etc.
Hayes says she endured some less-than-honest business deals. "Some people I dealt with were honest, but others were not. I experienced contractors changing their work bids to a higher price after they found out I won the lottery," she says. "Now I will only work with people who have been referred from trusted associates, friends or family."