7 Smart Lottery Lessons From the Biggest Powerball Winners Ever

What the World's Biggest Lottery Winners Did Right (and Wrong!)

In January of 2016, the Powerball jackpot soared to record-breaking amounts. Three winning tickets were sold for the $1,586.4 billion prize, making Maureen Smith, John and Lisa Robinson, and Mae and Marvin Acosta not only the biggest Powerball winners, but the winners of the biggest lottery jackpot ever awarded across the world.

Here are seven smart lessons you can learn from how the three Powerball winners each handled their life-changing experience. Find out what the winners did right (and wrong) to be prepared in case a huge windfall comes your way.

Take Your Time Claiming Your Prize

Powerball lottery jackpot reaches a record $1.5 billion
Three Powerball Winners Shared This $1.5 Billion Jackpot. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

If you have a multi-million lottery ticket in your hand, you might be tempted to rush out and claim the prize as soon as possible. After all, once it's claimed there's no chance of losing the ticket or having it stolen.

However, it's a good idea not to jump the gun and claim your prize too soon. You'll have things to get in order and decisions to make before you start.

Two of the three January 2016 Powerball winners waited to claim their prize. Maureen Smith waited about a month while Mae and Marvin Acosta waited more than six months, claiming they needed the time to assemble a team of advisers.

On the other hand, John and Lisa Robinson went on the Today Show before they even claimed their prize, a reckless move that shocked experts. Although things worked out for the Robinsons, John admitted to being frightened to travel interstate when everyone knew he was carrying a ticket worth millions in his pockets.

The first thing you should do is check on the rules in your state for claiming your prize, since you definitely don't want to miss the deadline. How long you have to claim your prize varies depending on whether you plan to take your prize as a lump sum or as an annuity (see step three below).

You should also see whether your state allows you to remain anonymous after claiming the prize, which would reduce the problems that come with becoming a lottery winner. Currently, six states including Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina let Powerball winners stay totally anonymous, while other states offer ways for lottery winners to shield their identities.

Get Good Legal and Financial Representation

Judges and lawyers talking in courthouse
Powerball Winners Need Excellent Legal Representation. Robert Daly / Getty Images

After you've verified your options for claiming your lottery prize, you should focus on getting solid legal and financial advice. Each of the three January 2016 Powerball winners did the smart thing and retained legal representation before stepping forward.

When you are dealing with a multi-million prize, you need to have a team of professionals to help you sort out the best ways to maximize your earnings and to protect yourself. At a minimum, you'll need a lawyer, an accountant, and an investment advisor who are familiar with dealing with windfalls.

Take your time selecting the right team of advisers, because these people can make your life much harder or much easier. John and Lisa Robinson's lawyer was the one who suggested going on the Today Show before claiming their prize, a move that had the goal of helping them control their story, but which many found risky. So you need to be sure that you and your team are on the same page when it comes to handling your fortune and your publicity.

Some of the many challenges the Powerball winners faced along with their team of advisers included how to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits and debtors, where to invest their money, how to handle requests for money from both reputable and disreputable sources, and how to set up charitable donations.

Not sure how to get started? TheBalance has advice on what kind of financial adviser to use, how to interview an accountant to find one that fits your needs, and the steps to take to choose a good lawyer.

Lump Sum or Annuity?

Chino Hills 7-Eleven Sold One Of The Winning Powerball Tickets
The Owner of the Store that Sold a Winning Ticket Also Received a Large Check. Ringo H.W. Chiu / Getty Images

Powerball jackpot winners are given a tough choice: accept a smaller amount of money as a lump sum, or receive the entire amount of the jackpot spread out over 30 years.

In the case of the $1.5 billion January 2016 Powerball jackpot, the three winners each chose between a $310 lump sum (before taxes, close to 40 percent of the winnings) or $533 million (pre-tax) paid out in increasingly greater amounts, starting at $22 million and rising each year.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each choice. With the lump sum, you pay a large amount of taxes all at once, whereas with the annuity, you only pay taxes on the amount you receive each year.

Receiving income each year makes it harder to blow through your entire windfall at once (though some lottery curse victims managed to do so by taking out loans on their future income). On the other hand, with proper investment, your lump sum could bring in greater dividends than your annuity might.

In the case of the January 2016 Powerball jackpot, all three winners opted for the lump-sum payment. Maureen Smith said her age heavily influenced her decision. At 70 years old, she wasn't sure how many payments she'd see.

Even though they're younger, the Robinsons agreed. "We’re going to take the lump sum, because we’re not guaranteed tomorrow," John said.

Before you make the decision yourself, be sure to consult with your advisers to make sure that you make the right decision for ​your situation.

Protect Your Privacy, Control Your Story

Jim and Lisa Robinson at Graceland
Jim and Lisa Robinson Controlled Their Story by Going on TV. Image (c) Business Wire

While you are mulling over your options, it's important (though excruciatingly hard!) to keep mum about your big win. Although it's tempting to shout your news to the world, as soon as people hear that you're about to become a multi-millionaire, you'll become a target.

In order to be able to get your ducks in a row before becoming the focus of the world's attention, don't tell anyone outside of an extremely small circle of trusted friends, relatives, and advisers about your Powerball jackpot win.

For example Maureen Smith and her husband David Kaltschmidt kept going to work as usual after finding out that they were going to be fabulously rich soon, and didn't even tell their adult children that they had won the Powerball jackpot.

In addition, start thinking ahead about the image that you are going to project when reporters and other interested parties start looking into your life. Experts suggest that you scrub your social media accounts, or delete them altogether.

Also think about how you want to be contacted, because a lot of people are likely to be reaching out to you. Maureen Smith, for example, set up a contact at her law firm to respond to all inquiries and requests.

Don't forget that not only are Powerball winners going to be in the limelight whether they like it or not, but so are the people they talk about publicly, so it's a good idea to be careful about what you say.

During their press conference after claiming her Powerball win, Maureen Smith and David Kaltschmidt refused to answer several personal questions like what personal meaning the numbers they played had to them and details about their children.

Meanwhile, Marvin and Mae Acosta were so careful of their privacy that they moved out of their home the day before claiming their prize and refused to speak with the press at all.

Being respectful of the privacy of your children, your family, and your friends will shield them from unwanted attention.

Don't Make Major Changes in Your Life

Powerball Winners Maureen Smith and David Kaltschmidt
Powerball Winners Maureen Smith and David Kaltschmidt Planned Only Minor Life Changes. Image (c) Florida Lottery

If someone were to ask you what you would do once you became a Powerball winner, you might say something like, "quit my job!" or "sell my house and get a more luxurious one." But the experts suggest that you don't make any big moves immediately.

While winning a few hundred million dollars might make you feel like you haven't a care in the world, the reality is different (as these lottery curse victims could tell you).

There are a few good reasons not to make a major change immediately. For one thing, people need structure in their lives, and quitting your job and totally changing what you do with your life isn't really that good for most people.

That might be why John and Lisa Robinson both planned to keep their jobs, despite their $327.8 million windfall. John said, "You can’t sit down and lay down and not do nothing anymore. Because how long are you going to last?"

David Kaltschmidt said that he would be retiring from his job at Northrup Grummond, but that was already in the works. "We are not going to go party. We are still going to live the same lives," he said. The big purchase he was planning first was simply replacing his broken-down truck.

Powerball winners should also work with their advisers to set a budget that ensures that their funds last. It's surprising how fast hundreds of millions of dollars can disappear if your money habits aren't sound. It's a good idea to use your lottery winnings as your "seed corn" and spend only the interest you get on your investments.

Be Prepared for Emotional Turmoil

Paparazzi photographers and television reporters at celebrity event
The Attention that Comes with a Powerball Win Can Be Overwhelming. Andrew Hobbs / Getty Images

It's natural to think that Powerball winners feel nothing but excitement and joy after winning a few hundred million dollars. But the truth is that winning a huge sum of money has a lot of consequences, and not all of them are pleasant.

Maureen Smith and David Kaltschmidt said that they were dreading the press conference and attendant publicity. David said that he had lost 10 pounds in the month since they had found out that they were winners, whereas Maureen said that "she was no longer in a quiet place" and that she was "afraid it will make me less friendly because of all the worrying."

Meanwhile, John and Lisa Robinson said that they had been sleepless after realizing they were winners. "More stress comes with that ticket," Lisa said.

After claiming their prize, things continued to be difficult for the Robinsons. They were the target of a frivolous lawsuit by a felon who has sued thousands of people in the hopes of getting a share of their cash and their names were used in a wide-spread Facebook pfishing scam.

On top of all of that, Powerball winners have to worry about people befriending them just for their money, being hounded by charities and people with sob stories, the responsibility that comes with that much money, and more.

Quick Pick or Choose Your Own? How Powerball Winners Pick Numbers.

Powerball lottery jackpot reaches a record $1.5 billion
How Do Powerball Winners Buy Their Tickets?. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Many lottery players want to know whether they should pick their own numbers or use quick pick to have a computer randomly choose their numbers.

Technically, the odds of winning should be equal regardless of which method you choose (although a lot of people rely on birth dates, so the chances of having to share a jackpot if you choose those numbers are higher).

The three winners of the 2016 Powerball jackpot bear that out. Two of the winners used the quick pick method, while the third, Maureen Smith, played the same numbers that she's been playing for about 30 years.

So there's no clear answer here, neither way has a much better chance of winning the lottery. Pick whichever method is more fun for you.