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Lottery winner minefields: Financial planning, emotions, relationships

The biggest challenge for lottery winners isn’t the massive sum of money suddenly dropped into their lap — it’s everything else that comes with it.

"They’re going to be pulled in a lot of different directions," Steve Athanassie, financial planner, said. "Dealing with the emotional side is the biggest challenge."

Shane Missler, a 20-year-old man from Port Richey, claimed the $450 million Mega Millions jackpot Friday. The Jan. 5 pot is the fourth-largest in Mega Millions history, and the second-largest claimed by an individual.

Related coverage: Florida man, 20, claims $450M Mega Millions jackpot>

The first thing Missler, who since quit his position at a background screening company, will have to deal with is wrapping his head around his nearly-unfathomable fortune, Athanassie said.

Athanassie’s firm has worked with lottery winners in previous years. The stress of coming into such winnings is often overwhelming, especially for someone young who hasn’t dealt with large sums of money before.

For previous lottery-winning clients, "it was almost like a look of fear," Athanassie said, "because you all of a sudden have this lump sum that you’re not sure what to do with."

A team of experts, he said, can help with that. The first few things that need to be taken care of are basic: hire a lawyer, an accountant and a financial advisor and begin making arrangements for managing the money. Then comes setting up trusts, investments and potential philanthropic ventures.

Proper management is especially important for clients like Missler who opt for a lump sum. One big check immediately — instead of a smaller check every year — will pay out the greatest amount, which is an ideal option for someone who knows how to manage and grow it. In Missler’s case, that’s $281.9 million — $211.4 million after taxes.

But it also comes with risk. Having all of the winnings in hand means if the funds are mismanaged, there’s nothing to fall back on.

"You think it’s more money than you could spend," Athanassie said. "Believe me — you could spend it. And people have."

Taking the yearly payout option is often prudent for someone who isn’t as skilled at finances yet.

"If you’re taking an annual amount, the worst you could do is spend everything for that year," he said. "Maybe by the third or fourth year you realize you’ve made some bad decisions."

And then there’s the interpersonal minefield.

"Young people tend to be more open to suggestion and tend to trust people a lot more than after you’re older and you’ve been burned a few times," said Rhonda Holifield, a financial adviser with Prosper Financial Advisers.

Missler, like other winners, will likely deal with an onslaught of family, friends and strangers coming out of the woodwork for a piece of the pie. Learning who to trust — and learning quickly — will be vital.

"He is easy pickings now for somebody that looks at him and sees deep pockets," Holifield said.

One consideration that will be important down the line for the young winner is securing his funds if he decides to get married.

A prenuptial agreement can protect the winnings, which would be considered solely his because he won them before marriage.

Missler said he plans to move out of Tampa Bay and "(educate) himself to be a good steward of this fortune."

"I intend to take care of my family, have some fun along the way and cement a path for financial success so that I can leave a legacy far into the future," he said in a Friday statement.

Contact Malena Carollo at [email protected] or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.

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