You have a better chance of being struck by lightning than you do of winning the lottery. Regardless, that incredibly slim chance doesn’t stop nearly 100 million people from buying tickets every single year. On January 8, 2018, one lucky New Hampshire resident chose the winning numbers for the Mega Millions lottery, Oddly enough, she wasn’t able to claim what was hers for nearly two months.
It’s uncanny to think a person would let $600 million slip through their fingertips. What’s the point in playing? Luckily, NPR dug around to find out what’s going on with the unclaimed winnings. Here’s the real reason this woman was nearly denied her lottery jackpot.
1. Jane Doe wants to stay anonymous
As it stands, we’re referring to the New Hampshire Mega Millions lottery winner as Jane Doe. And she’s working her tail off to keep it that way. The funny thing about the lottery is that players don’t always consider what to do if the winnings come a-knockin’. The truth is, staying anonymous after winning the lottery isn’t easy.
Next: Here’s how things get complicated after winning the lottery
2. Friends and family get weird once they learn you’ve won
We choose our friends, but we certainly don’t choose our family. Unfortunately, relationships with the ones you love get a little dicey after instantly becoming a multi-millionaire. For example, when Patricia Wood’s father won a chunk of the Washington state lottery back in 1993, he hinted at wanting to help out his family. The noble endeavor didn’t shake out as easily as he’d hoped though. According to Wood, family members “emerged from everywhere.”
Next: This is where the ‘huge mistake’ happened.
3. She signed the winning ticket with her real name
First off, remaining an anonymous lottery winner is possible, but you’ve got to know how to work the system. Once you learn that you sidestepped a lightning strike and won the lottery instead, you’ve got to claim your millions. In all of her excitement, Doe signed her name to the back of the winning ticket. If anonymity wasn’t her focus, this would have been fine.
Next: Can’t she just white-out her real name?
4. White-out doesn’t work for the lottery
The lottery doesn’t like white-out. Charlie McIntyre, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Lottery explained that “While we respect this player’s desire to remain anonymous, state statutes and lottery rules clearly dictate protocols.” Had Doe opted to consult her attorney prior to signing her name, she would have known better.
Next: Doe hired an attorney to sort through the legalities.
5. Now Doe and her lawyer sued for anonymity
Doe’s attorney, Steven Gordon, filed a complaint in hopes of keeping her identity anonymous. After a contentious battle (and strong public support), she was able to claim her winnings without revealing her identity. Gordon explained that his client “wishes to continue this work and [keep] the freedom to walk into a grocery store or attend public events without being known or targeted as the winner of a half-billion dollars.” That makes sense to us.
Next: Is this the first time this has happened?
6. This isn’t the first time, but hopefully, it’s the last
When B. Raymond Buxton of California learned he hit the jackpot, he didn’t emerge from the woodwork for over six weeks. To the surprise of many, only six states in the union will allow lottery winners to remain anonymous — Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina. The good news is that there is another way to stay out of the limelight.
Next: How to be an anonymous lottery winner 101.
7. She should have created a trust
Where Doe went wrong was signing her name to the back of that winning lottery ticket. The loophole for staying out of the limelight is to create a trust. Writing the name of the trust, instead of the winner’s name, allows for anonymity. That means that instead of the individual being publicized, just the name of the trust would be released.
Next: Time is running out for Doe.
8. Her winnings would have expired after one year
Nearly two months after purchasing the winning ticket, Jane Doe rightfully claimed her $600 million. While that must’ve felt like an eternity, she still had plenty of time to fight the good fight. The rules around New Hampshire lottery winnings are straightforward: Any winnings that go unclaimed for more than 365 days will expire.
Next: Horrible things can happen to you after winning the lottery, like these horror stories.
9. David Lee Edwards
David Lee Edwards’ story is a true rags-to-riches tale that took a turn for the worst. The ex-con who’d robbed a bank 20 years prior to winning the Powerball lived in Ashland, Kentucky in a home without running water.
Edwards spent $7 on the Powerball ticket that changed his life. After winning the $27 million he purchased a mansion, dozens of luxury cars, and a jet. By 2006 both Edwards and his wife had contracted hepatitis from needle drug use. He died in hospice care in 2013 at age 58, only 12 years after winning the lottery.
Next: A sad ending to a lottery winner with a big heart.
10. Craigory Burch Jr.
Craigory Burch Jr., a forklift operator from Georgia, won a $434,272 Fantasy 5 jackpot in 2015. He was murdered over a year later by three masked, armed men who broke into his home.
Friends of Burch said that he had recently used some of his winnings to buy Christmas presents for people in need. “I want them to know what they took from me,” his mother, Leslie Collins, said, “They took a part of my life away from me. My child that I carried and raised for 20 years.”
Next: This lottery winner blew through millions and died broke.
11. William ‘Bud’ Post
William “Bud” Post won the lottery in 1988 and died broke in 2006. He spent his $16.2 million Pennsylvania lottery winnings on houses, cars, boats, an unsuccessful family company and a twin-engine airplane, despite his lack of a pilot’s license.
By 1989 Post was $1 million in debt. His former girlfriend successfully sued him for part of the winnings and his brother tried to hire a hit man to kill him.
Next: Buying a million-dollar house is usually not a good idea.
12. Abraham Shakespeare
The 43-year-old truck driver’s assistant won $16.9 million from the Florida lottery in 2006. His extravagant purchases included a $1 million home, a Rolex, and a car.
Shakespeare was known for his generosity following his win and had a tough time saying no when someone asked him for money. He let multiple homeless people stay in his home as well. It was this trust that was his true Achilles heel; Dorice Donegan “Dee Dee” Moore befriended Shakespeare and bought his home for a fraction of the price. Shakespeare went missing in 2009 and Moore was found guilty of first-degree murder.
Next: A mysterious death only one day after winning a scratch-off ticket.
13. Urooj Khan
Urooj Khan ran a dry-cleaning business in Chicago. His finances changed drastically after he won $424,000 from a scratch-off lottery ticket. Khan never saw his winnings, however; a day later he dropped dead of mysterious causes.
Khan’s sister Meraj, who was granted guardianship of his daughter, continues to believe her brother’s wife and father-in-law were involved in the death. Khan was poisoned with cyanide in what the Associated Press referred to as a “very much an open and active investigation.”
Next: She was stabbed to death a year after winning.
14. Doris Murray
Doris Murray, 42, $5 million in the Georgia lottery in 2007. A year later she was found stabbed to death in her home. Murray “lived by meager standards,” according to CBS, despite winning the lottery.
Her former boyfriend, Derrick Lorenzo Stanley, was charged with her murder. Stanley led police on a car chase through the cities of East Dublin and Dublin following a 911 call to Murray’s residence Monday. Members of Murray’s family called 911 saying they had seen Stanley leaving her home with blood on his face. Friends and family of Murray’s believe he couldn’t accept that she no longer wanted to be with him.
Next: How does $31 million get spent in only 2 years?
15. Billy Bob Harrell Jr.
Billy Bob Harrell Jr. won the Texas Lottery Lotto jackpot of $31 million in 1997. He proceeded to quit his job at Home Depot, buy a ranch among other homes for his family, and make huge donations to his church.
Harrell blew through his winnings quickly. Just 20 months after winning the lottery, Harrell took his own life after going broke. Shortly before his death, Harrell told a financial adviser: “Winning the lottery is the worst thing that ever happened to me,” the Houston Press said.
Additional reporting by Emma Bleznak.