What would you do if you won Friday’s $400 million Mega Millions jackpot?
Like almost anyone else, you would probably visit a real estate agent to purchase that new home and then call a travel agent to book a luxurious vacation. You might also decide to pay a visit to a dealership to buy a fancy car.
While each of these suddenly affordable opportunities would tempt a newly minted megamillionaire, none would be the best initial course of action.
(Read more: Mega Millions hits $400M)
Just look at the history of lottery winners. Many ended up in debt—or worse, went broke because they mismanaged their newfound riches.
Easy money can do that to people. It makes them blind to what steps to take to ensure that those funds last a lifetime—and, for their loved ones’ sake, beyond. Rather than being prudent, many of the suddenly super-rich feel obligated to make that big purchase or, for some reason, agree to provide financial support for a third cousin of their step-brother-in-law.
But, instead of visiting that car dealer or travel agent, the first thing anyone lucky enough to win a lottery jackpot should do is to find a trusted, qualified financial planner.
Don’t gamble on financial advice
Financial planners come in all shapes and sizes, with different credentials, levels of experience, knowledge bases, legal requirements and compensation models. Anyone seeking a planner needs to be armed with the correct questions to ensure that the professional chosen is working in your interest and capable of addressing all your specific financial needs.
The Financial Planning Association (FPA), a professional membership organization for the financial planning community, is a good place to find a certified financial planner (CFP).
FPA member planners can help people assess their financial health, set realistic financial and personal goals, and develop comprehensive plans to meet those goals.
(Read more: How to handle sudden wealth)
The FPA’s “Choosing a CFP Professional” worksheet, available online atPlannersearch.org, lists 35 questions that will provide an individual with a fuller understanding of planners’ capabilities and a clearer picture of how they operate.
All planners must be able to fairly and fully disclose information about themselves and their firms. The worksheet addresses:
• Designations and licenses
• Fees and compensation
• Services and work philosophy
Now that you understand that the first step in managing your windfall is a visit with a financial planner, what are some of the other things you need to do to ensure the longevity of your lottery winnings?
Here are six further steps I would recommend for a lottery winner or anyone else coming into sudden wealth:
• With the help of a financial planner, take stock of your values. How do you want to live your life? For some, suddenly having money doesn’t make them want to change much of anything. Others aspire to new things and experiences. What’s important is to find what’s important to you—and not just materially.
(Read more: Planning your retirement by making money last)
• With a certified public accountant, address what will be pressing income tax issues. Take advantage of available tax opportunities, which may include starting a business (something some people aspire to when they hit it big).
• Contact an attorney to establish appropriate trust vehicles to assure that assets are protected from estate taxes.
• As part of an estate plan that you craft with an attorney, think about family members or organizations you want to benefit now or in the future. Establish target plans for how, and how much, you want to share your wealth.
• In the case of charities you’d like to benefit, charitable lead or charitable remainder trusts may be considered to create tax benefits today while also benefiting the organization. A charitable lead trust donates a portion of the trust’s income to charities today, leaving the remainder to your specific beneficiaries. A charitable remainder trust provides you income throughout your lifetime, leaving the remainder to a charity upon your death.
• In collaboration with your financial planner, align your investment portfolio with your goals and objectives. With your ability to create an ongoing stream of income benefits to yourself and others, you’ll want to assure that you have a diversified portfolio that is well-managed, with strict accountability to the things that matter to you. Always keep in mind your ability to truly make a difference in the world by being a good steward of your own resources.
(Read more: Advisors discuss overspending with clients)
It all sounds like a great deal of work, and it is. That’s why you need a financial professional. Lean on your planner to guide you in your financial decisions. Doing so will free you up—and allow you to take that fabulous vacation with peace of mind.
—By Janet Stanzak, special to CNBC.com. Janet Stanzak, a certified financial planner, is the 2013 president-elect of the Financial Planning Association and president of Minneapolis-based Financial Empowerment.