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$144 Million Powerball Winner Advised to Pursue Lawyers Before Luxury

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 26, 2009

A customized Cadillac with a Rolls-Royce grill plate! Cars and Cristal champagne for all my friends! A 22-acre estate with its own orchard!

Uh-uh-uh. Not so fast.

Somewhere among us, pondering what to do next, is a new multimillionaire who bought the winning ticket for the $144 million Powerball jackpot at a Giant supermarket in Southeast. No one has stepped forward to claim the staggering prize, prompting a raft of street speculation about the winner's identity and what in the world he or she is waiting for.

Take your time and get your affairs in order first, advise some who have walked this road before. More than tips, they have cautionary advice for the person -- or people, if a group purchased the ticket -- who has 346 days to come forward. Too often, money like that goes straight to extravagances and leaves the winner broke, broken and bitter.

"Get yourself a lawyer before a Cadillac," said Curtis Sharp Jr., who won $5 million in the New Jersey Lottery more than 20 years ago and now lets his calls go to voice mail: "It could be a bill collector."

Sharp, 70, was once so famous he had lunch with Andy Warhol and interrupted New York Yankees games for the stir he caused when he was spotted in the stands.

"A fool and his money are soon parted and, honey, I acted a fool," said Sharp, who is now a minister in Tennessee and has given up that customized Cadillac.

It bodes well that the record-breaking winner of the D.C. Lottery hasn't emerged publicly, said Jack Reutemann Jr., a financial adviser at Research Financial Strategies in Rockville who has been hired by several lottery winners.

"Hopefully, this is a sign that they have gone to some very high-ranking and talented tax attorneys and financial planners," Reutemann said.

He has told his clients to pull back from bodacious spending fantasies and take stock of what a big win can mean. "Don't do anything crazy like buy a mega-yacht or Escalades and gold watches for your family," he said. "It's a very tough financial planning lesson. But it's very easy to . . . live off the interest, not the principal."

Instant wealth has become a financial and psychological sub-specialty.

The Money, Meaning & Choices Institute in California, headed by a psychologist, claims to have coined the term "Sudden Wealth Syndrome" -- the guilt, confusion, insomnia and emotional turmoil of unexpected wealth -- and counsels many Silicon Valley millionaires.

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