Advice to the $516 million PA lottery winner in Levittown
JD and Phil chat with financial advisor and author Robert Pagliarini, who advises people on handling sudden wealth — such as that $516 million lotto winner who purchased their ticket at a Levittown 7-Eleven.
JD Mullane, Phil Gianficaro and Craig Veltri, Bucks County Courier Times
The odds of winning the Mega Millions Jackpot lottery are approximately 1 in 302 million.
The odds of a Mega Millions Jackpot lottery winner in Pennsylvania remaining anonymous? It should be zero.
But at least five times since 2018 the Pennsylvania Lottery Commission has ignored its own rules, as well as state rules barring anonymity for lottery players.
In each case the commission allowed a trust to claim prizes of $1 million or more without releasing information about the winners, including the biggest Mega Millions jackpot in state history, whose winning ticket was bought in May in Bucks County.
A trust is a fiduciary relationship where one party gives another party the right to hold title to assets for the benefit of a third party?. Pennsylvania is among the states that allow lottery winners to create trusts to claim prizes, but winners cannot use it to protect their identities, according to lottery policy.
Last week, though, two attorneys claimed the $516 million prize on behalf of five winners who opted to form the “Peace of Mind Trust” to maintain anonymity.
Winners come forward: 5 claim $516M Mega Millions Pennsylvania lottery ticket purchased from Levittown 7-Eleven
The only information released about the winners is that they live in “small communities in eastern Pennsylvania.” They purchased the winning Quick Pick ticket for the May 21, 2021 drawing from a 7-Eleven in the 2700 block of Trenton Road in Levittown.
Lottery Press Secretary Ewa Swope said the trust beneficiary information is considered “personal financial information” and confidential under state law.
But that contradicts the agency’s 2017 Lottery Winners’ Handbook.
The document states that trusts or any other “legal entity” used to claim a prize does not prevent the agency from releasing the “name of the entity and other relevant information including the entity’s beneficiaries, partners or shareholders.”
The beneficiaries of WLT Trust — the only other trust to claim a Pennsylvania lottery prize, according to Swope — had their full names and the cities and states where they lived released after they claimed a $93.4 million Powerball prize in January 2005.
There is no mention on the lottery website that winners who create trusts can claim their prizes anonymously. Under the section, “How to Claim Your Prize,” it states that lottery winners cannot remain anonymous and “certain winner information is public.”
“This assures the public that Lottery winners are real people and that the lottery operates with integrity and transparency,” according to the website.
Since 2013 Pennsylvania lottery officials have published on its website only the first name, first initial of the last name and the county of residence for winners of $1,000 or more. Previously, winners’ full names were posted.
But the full names of big jackpot winners still were released, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, which includes the lottery. Pennsylvania specifically prohibits the use of blind trusts, which are used to maintain financial secrecy, to claim lottery winnings, according to the financial site Sapling.com
Attempts in 2013 and 2015 in the Pennsylvania House to change the law to give lottery winners the option of claiming a prize anonymously failed.
Maintaining public trust is the most commonly cited reason for publicly releasing information about winners.
Lottery fraud does happen. In 2017, a programmer for the Multi-State Lottery Association was convicted of rigging a computer program to enable him to pick winning numbers in games in Colorado, Wisconsin, Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma between 2005 and 2011.
Another common scam involves a customer who asks a store clerk to run a ticket through a lottery terminal to see if it was a winner. The clerk lies, telling the customer it was not a winning ticket, and claims the prize for themselves.
Yet more states are mulling legislation to give lottery winners the option to claim their prizes secretly, citing concerns about winners being targeted for harassment, scams and other crimes against them.
Currently, 11 states allow prizes to be claimed anonymously, a little more than double the number in 2015. Wisconsin and California strictly forbid winners from concealing information about them and their prizes. Virginia allows winners of $10 million or more to remain anonymous.
In 2018, a New Hampshire judge sided with the winner of a $560 million Powerball game who wanted to keep her identity private, in part because she feared her safety would be jeopardized. The woman signed the winning ticket before she realized that state law would let her create a trust to shield her identity.
South Carolina is among the states where lottery winners can remain anonymous, but recently that state’s highest court has scrutinized the practice.
In April, justices sided with a man who filed an open records request with the state Lottery Commission seeking names, contact information, dates and jackpot amount for prize winners of a million dollars or more for a 12-month period in 2013 and 2014.
The justices sent the case back to a trial court, writing that its broad injunction was improper. The court also noted the commission failed to present evidence supporting its contention that lottery winners in the state had been threatened and scammed after being identified.
Are you a winner? Didn’t win the $516M Mega Millions? Check your tickets, millions unclaimed in PA Lottery
In lottery winnings we trust
“Peace of Mind Trust” is one of six trusts created to claim Pennsylvania Lottery winnings of $1 million or more, according to the agency. Here are the others.
WLT Trust $93,428,155.06 claimed Jan. 24, 2005
Emerald Legacy Trust $273,959,698.00 claimed April 26, 2018
Acorn Trust $4,002,000 claimed Oct. 12, 2018
DC 28114 Revocable Trust $2,000,000 claimed Nov. 1, 2019
Water Street Irrevocable Trust $1,650,025 claimed June 26, 2020
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