It's been almost a month since numbers were drawn for a historically massive Mega Millions game, and the owner of the over $1.5 billion winning ticket had not, at least as of Wednesday, claimed their prize. Meanwhile, a local CBS affiliate reported Monday state lottery officials in South Carolina were urging the mystery person to seek counsel from a financial advisor, sign the ticket, and stash it safely.
Technically, the ticket holder has until April 21 to become a newly minted billionaire, but it's hard to imagine anyone keeping a such a big secret for anywhere near that long. Plus, I nearly faint with anxiety when I have to hold onto a paper boarding pass at the airport, and that's something you can just ask for another copy of if worst comes to worst. Holding onto an irreplaceable piece of paper—one that's worth enough to buy you a private island—for longer than is absolutely necessary? No thanks.
To get a sense of what might be going on here, I called up Jason Kurland. He's a guy who dubs himself the Lottery Lawyer and has spoken to me before about what you're supposed to do if you win the jackpot. This time, I was curious to hear if the answer was ever simply "nothing." Everyone's heard a story about someone whose life was ruined after they became instantly rich, and maybe there is a point at which a prize is simply too big to claim if you want any sense of a normal existence afterward. He broke down that scenario for me—and other nightmarish possibilities that might be giving the Mega Millions winner pause.
VICE: Most people strategically delay claiming their prize, right?
Jason Kurland: Yeah, and there are a lot of reasons for that. It hasn't been that long. Winners want to make sure everything is taken care of before they go claim. They want estate planning set up. They want a financial plan set up. Sometimes people don't even know that they're the winner the next day. I mean this is a big one, but I've had some big winners who didn't even know for a couple of weeks that they've won, and then they've gone back to check their ticket. But the longer it goes, you do get nervous that someone threw it out or doesn't know.
What about for three weeks? Normal?
It's not been long enough that I'm nervous, but I would say it's getting up there. I've had winners call me that night, and then probably a month later at the longest. But then we don't claim it right away. So they may call me three or four weeks in, and then we may take another three weeks to get everything ready. You don't know. And if it's a large group of people, maybe they're trying to figure out how to do it.
Is there any reason that not coming forward right away might be a mistake?
I will tell you that this is so much money that—I'll do the quick math—even very conservative investments, you're talking about $65,000 a day of interest you're giving up every day you don't claim it. It's an insane amount of money.
What happens if no one claims the money?
Let me tell you, six months is a very hard rule. If you miss it by one day, it's gone. If you do it the right way, educate yourself, understand that you want to protect yourself in the right way, it should definitely not ruin your life. It should be a blessing. There's so much good you could do for yourself, your friends, your loved ones, charity, society. It opens up so many opportunities that you wouldn't have had that the initial stress.
But, as everyone knows, there's so much bad that can happen to you when everyone knows you're loaded.
In South Carolina you can remain anonymous. The lottery commission there will do their own background check on the winner and make sure that it's not somebody who works for the lottery or who owes child support or other state funds, and then they just won't disclose it to the public. Every state is different. Some will require a press conference. Others will release your name. Others will let you claim in a trust and will still release your name. Some will let you claim through an attorney, and then others will let you be purely anonymous, like South Carolina.
Does anyone ever come to you in panic, wondering if they even want to claim it? Is it possible the sheer amount of money being offered here has the winner terrified?
Yes, many people are panicked [when they win], but no one to the extent of not taking the money. Having $500 million in your account, or whatever, outweighs the stress.
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