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Mega Millions $1 billion jackpot claimed: What the winner has done right, from the Sudden Money Institute founder

"Remember to breathe. It's a pretty big deal to become a millionaire or billionaire overnight."

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One lucky Michigan lottery player has won the $1 billion Mega Millions jackpot.

Friday night's Mega Millions drawing revealed that a single ticket matching all six numbers — 4, 26, 42, 50, 60, and 24 — was sold at a Kroger's grocery store in the Detroit suburb of Novi. The prize of $1.05 billion is the third-largest lottery prize in U.S. history, according to state lottery officials.

As of Monday afternoon, the winner's identity is still a mystery. "That's a good thing," says Susan Bradley, a certified financial planner and founder of the Sudden Money Institute in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, who has advised past lottery winners. "We like to tell people to stay under the radar as long as possible."

"Remember to breathe," Bradley adds. "It's a pretty big deal to become a millionaire or billionaire overnight."

You don't have to win the lottery to benefit from the money lessons Bradley and other financial advisors give windfall recipients. Any sudden increase in income — such as an inheritance, a bonus, a tax refund, or even a stimulus check — can change your life for the better, she says, as long you use it wisely.

Here's the "checklist" she recommends you follow if you get a windfall.

Keep quiet about your good fortune

Whatever your windfall, take a page from lottery winners and keep your good financial news to yourself for a while. "When people have a financial change like this, they are highly vulnerable," says Bradley.

Make a list of a few trusted people to share your news with and stick to it, she suggests. Include a certified financial planner in your list of confidants, says Bradley. And, if it's a large windfall, enlist the help of a certified financial transitionist (CeFT) who specializes in financial transitions.

Keeping your news private can help you strategize wisely before being influenced by others who want a share of the money. "Sometimes everyone the winner knows thinks they won, too," she says.

When people have a financial change like this, they are highly vulnerable.
Susan Bradley
CFP and founder of the Sudden Money Institute

Don't rush to spend the money

Lottery winners typically have up to six months to claim their winnings, and Bradley suggests using that time to plan carefully. That way, you have a strategy before you ever touch the money. If you already have the cash in hand, stash it in a savings account until you have a plan to use the funds.

"Most people misunderstand the power of a financial disruption," Bradley says, even if that change is positive. An increase in income can overwhelm and impair our judgement, she explains. "Our ability to absorb information, recommendations, advice, and make decisions is not what it was before."

Another reason to delay spending: The IRS could take a bite out of your total. Certain windfalls, including lottery wins and holiday bonuses, count as taxable income.

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What to do if you win the lottery

Video by Stephen Parkhurst

Prioritize your financial needs

If you receive an unexpected amount of money, it can help to make a list of financial priorities. Paying off debts, saving, and investing for the future should be high on your list, Bradley says.

Your spending list should start with expenses you have been putting off that would "make your life safer and more stable," she says, like covering medical needs or finally "upgrading to a safer car," for example.

After you've tackled your checklist, "spend some of it! Have a bit of joy with it," Bradley says. "It's not all serious."

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