Here are 4 key things to consider if you actually hit the $1.28 billion Mega Millions jackpot

Mike Segar | Reuters

Sure, someone may beat the odds and land the $1.28 billion Mega Millions jackpot that’s up for grabs in Friday night’s drawing.

To be clear: The chance of a ticket matching all six numbers drawn is roughly 1 in 302.5 million.

Nevertheless, in between daydreaming about how you would spend the windfall, it’s worth giving thought to what you should do if you discover you’ve actually won an amount of money that rivals the entire economic activity of some small countries.

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“It can be life-changing,” said Emily Irwin, senior director of advice at Wells Fargo Wealth & Investment Management.

Here are a few key things to consider if you win.

1. Breathe

Instead of impulsively rushing to lottery headquarters to claim your prize, take a deep breath. You have some time to claim your prize — anywhere from three months to a year, depending on where you bought the ticket.

“Take a pause before you make any big decisions,” Irwin said. “This is the quiet period before the chaos.”

2. Protect your ticket — and your privacy

Experts generally recommend signing the back of the ticket, taking a photo of yourself with the valuable slip of paper and then storing it safely in a lockbox or safe deposit box at your bank.

However, it’s first worth making sure you know the rules for claiming your win in the state where the ticket was purchased.

If you bought it in a state that requires the winner’s name to be publicly shared, you may be able to claim the prize in the name of a trust or other legal entity, thereby keeping your name out of the public eye.

Additionally, share information about your windfall with as few people as possible, Irwin said. News has a way of traveling, and long-lost friends or family — or scammers — could show up on your doorstep.

“Privacy is key,” Irwin said. “That provides safety to both you and your family from scammers or other individuals who can start to prey on you.”

3. Get professional help

Some pretty weighty financial decisions lie ahead of you, which make it worthwhile to have a team of pros assisting you. That group should include an experienced attorney, financial advisor, tax advisor and insurance expert.

For starters, you’ll have to decide whether to accept your prize as a reduced lump sum or as annuity of 30 payments over 29 years. Either way, the IRS will take a slice before the money reaches you.

The cash option — which most winners choose — for this $1.28 billion jackpot is $747.2 million. A mandatory 24% federal tax withholding on that amount would reduce that amount by about $179.3 million.

However, because the top marginal rate is 37%, the winner should anticipate owing much more at tax time. Additionally, state taxes typically are withheld or due, depending on where you live and where the ticket was purchased.

4. Ponder what’s ahead of you

If you’ve spent your days working at a job and plan to quit, it’s worth thinking about the long-term repercussions of doing that.

“If you were previously working, there’s going to be a change to your day-to-day life,” Irwin said. “Consider how you will spend your days and how you can make sure you still have purpose in your life.”

Meanwhile, the Powerball jackpot is an estimated $170 million for Saturday night’s drawing. Your chance of winning the top prize in that game is about 1 in 292 million.

Sophie Tremblay

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