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Do Lottery Winners Have to Reveal Their Identities?

We all dream about winning the lottery. But, sometimes the reality of winning is not a grand as the images we play out in our minds. In fact, there are stories of lottery winners losing friends, being harassed, and even being murdered for their unexpected acquisition of money. For these reasons, you probably want to know how to protect your identity and keep your family safe in the event that you happen to win the jackpot. 

Now, keep in mind that all lottery games in California are handled through the California State Lottery. This organization has legal requirements in place for people that claim lottery winnings. They also have rules for making winners’ names public and for reporting these individuals to certain state and federal agencies. 

Process for Claiming Lottery Winnings

It’s important to note that lottery winners in California must file specific paperwork before they are entitled to collect any money. The form you must fill out requires you to provide certain information, including your:

  • Full name
  • Address
  • Date of birth
  • Social security number or taxpayer identification number
  • Email, and
  • Phone number.

You must also state whether or not you are a US citizen. Bear in mind that your information will be shared with the State Controller’s Office, Franchise Tax Board, Health and Welfare Agency, and Internal Revenue Service. 

This is because there are certain situations where lottery winnings can be held by these agencies for payments owed that are past due. Examples would be if you had outstanding child support or back taxes.

Public Disclosure of Lottery Winner Names

Each state has its own set of rules and regulations regarding lotteries. In six states, a winner can remain anonymous when claiming his or her prize. Unfortunately, California is not one of these states.

Instead, the following information will be made public record:

  • Your name
  • Location and name of the retailer that sold the ticket
  • Date of the win
  • Amount of the winnings, and
  • Gross and net payments made. 

However, note that your address and other contact information are not part of the public record. Further, outside of the specific agencies listed above, the state will not send your information to other third parties, such as companies that wish to sell goods or services to lottery winners.

Options for Keeping Your Identity Safe

Generally speaking, most people don’t check public records without a reason. However, if you are highly motivated to stay under the radar after a substantial lottery win, there are a few steps that you can take. 

First, avoid telling your friends or the public on social media. This can be tempting, but it is asking for attention as well as the trouble that follows this type of exposure. 

With that in mind, if your winnings were large, the state may ask you to attend a press conference. Note that this is not a legal requirement and you are always free to turn it down if you are concerned about how this type of publicity might affect your private life.

For larger jackpots, you might consider going on a vacation or getting out of town. This can allow time for the excitement surrounding your winnings to settle down. Further, although it may be drastic for some, moving is also an option. Remember, your name is only part of the public record in the location where you won. 

Creating a Trust or LLC to Remain Anonymous

Another option for winners would be to create either a trust or a limited liability company (LLC) to accept lottery funds. Here, the trust or LLC would legally own the lottery winnings, rather than you as an individual. Distributions would then be made to you according to the terms of the trust or as owner withdrawals from the business.   

Privacy is a major benefit to either of these approaches. This is because you can give the trust or LLC a name that is different from your own. However, keep in mind that these options won’t prevent your contact information from being reported to state agencies. In other words, this is not a good method for avoiding taxes or support obligations. However, it could result in less fanfare and keep your name out of the media.

Note that creating trusts and LLCs can be complicated. Both require specific legal documents and filings. For that reason, it’s best to consult an attorney if you are interested in pursuing either of these options. 

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