Skip to Content

Can you name a beneficiary on lottery winnings?

Winning the lottery can be an incredible stroke of luck that provides a life-changing amount of money. However, it also comes with important financial and legal considerations. One of the key decisions that lottery winners need to make is whether to claim their prize as a lump sum or as an annuity paid out over many years.

If you win a large lottery jackpot, you may wonder if it is possible to name a beneficiary who would inherit your future lottery annuity payments if you pass away. Below is an in-depth look at the key factors to consider when deciding if you can and should name a beneficiary on lottery winnings.

Can You Name a Beneficiary on Lottery Winnings?

The first step is understanding whether your particular lottery allows winners to name a beneficiary to inherit annuity payments. The rules can vary by state and by lottery game. Some key considerations include:

  • State laws – Some states may prohibit naming a beneficiary on lottery winnings or restrict it only to certain types of beneficiaries like a spouse or child.
  • Specific lottery game rules – Powerball, Mega Millions, and state lottery games can have their own rules on whether winners can name beneficiaries.
  • Choice of lump sum or annuity – If you take a lump sum payment upfront, there is typically no way to name a beneficiary. If you choose the annuity, you may be able to name someone to inherit any remaining payments.
  • Annuity company policies – If you win the lottery and opt for annuity payments, the payments are actually provided by an annuity company. That company will have its own rules around beneficiary designations which need to be followed.

Overall, the most flexibility in naming a beneficiary comes if you choose the annuity option and live in a state whose laws allow lottery beneficiaries. In those cases, the annuity company will generally provide you with paperwork to designate primary and contingent beneficiaries.

Requirements for Naming a Lottery Beneficiary

For major nationwide lottery games like Mega Millions and Powerball that offer an annuity option, winners generally can name beneficiaries, though requirements may apply. Some key requirements can include:

  • The beneficiary must be a living person – Estates, trusts, charities, etc. cannot be named as beneficiaries on most lottery annuities.
  • Contingent beneficiaries may also be required – Having a secondary beneficiary helps ensure the annuity company can continue payments if the primary beneficiary passes away.
  • Domestic partners may not qualify – Depending on state law, unmarried partners may not qualify as beneficiaries.
  • Beneficiaries can be updated under certain conditions – Most lottery annuities allow you to change beneficiaries later under select circumstances like divorce or death of the beneficiary.

Additionally, key considerations when naming a beneficiary include:

  • Age of the beneficiary – Annuity companies may have age minimums and caps for beneficiaries.
  • Number of beneficiaries – Limits may exist on how many beneficiaries can be named.
  • Percentage allocation – You may have to allocate specific percentages to each beneficiary.

Some lottery winners may consider complex arrangements like trusts to manage annuity payments. However, annuity companies generally do not allow trusts to be named as beneficiaries. Overall, the best approach is to learn and follow all requirements imposed by the annuity company when you claim your lottery prize.

Tax Considerations

For large lottery prizes, significant taxes are due. If you win a lottery and then pass away with some annuity payments still owed, taxes can come into play for your beneficiary in a few key ways:

  • Estate taxes – Beneficiaries may need to pay federal or state estate taxes on lottery payments, reducing their inheritance.
  • Gift taxes – Transferring remaining lottery payments to a beneficiary may incur federal or state gift taxes in some cases.
  • Income taxes – Beneficiaries will owe income taxes on each annuity payment they receive at their personal tax rate.

Proper estate planning is important to minimize taxes owed by beneficiaries on inherited lottery winnings. Some tips that can help include:

  • Claiming the lump sum upfront provides more assets to cover potential estate taxes.
  • Using trusts as part of your estate plan even if they cannot directly be beneficiaries.
  • Gifting annuity payments to beneficiaries while still alive to use your lifetime gift tax exclusion.
  • Planning with experts to use allowable deductions and exemptions to reduce tax liability.

Impacts on Means-Tested Government Benefits

Another consideration if you name a beneficiary for lottery annuity payments is how that could impact government benefits they receive. If your beneficiary currently gets any means-tested benefits based on their income and assets, inherited lottery winnings may put those benefits at risk.

Some examples of benefits that could potentially be reduced or eliminated include:

  • Medicaid
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Food stamps
  • Subsidized housing assistance
  • Low-income home energy assistance

Any beneficiary you designate who relies on these types of assistance programs could see them reduced or cut if they inherit your future lottery payments. Consulting with a financial planner and program experts can clarify if naming them as a beneficiary poses risks.

Spousal Considerations

An important category of beneficiary to consider is your spouse or registered domestic partner. Naming your spouse as sole primary beneficiary is generally the simplest approach.

However, alternatives like splitting percentages between a spouse and other beneficiaries or naming your spouse as a contingent beneficiary after children may make sense in some situations. Those decisions should align with your broader estate planning goals and financial situation.

Additionally, relationship status changes can impact beneficiary designations. Requirements may exist to obtain spousal consent to name someone else as a primary beneficiary. Divorce may also invalidate an ex-spouse as beneficiary absent proper updates.

Using a Trust as Beneficiary

Given the complex tax and benefits considerations, some lottery winners consider using trusts in their estate planning related to annuity payments. Important restrictions apply, but some key advantages of trusts potentially include:

  • Avoiding estate taxes on lottery winnings inherited by beneficiaries
  • Protecting lottery payments if the beneficiary has financial issues or creditors
  • Setting conditions on how beneficiaries can access the inherited money
  • Facilitating estate planning goals like caring for a special needs beneficiary

While most lottery annuity issuers do not allow trusts to directly be named as beneficiaries, lottery winners do have options to realize some of these benefits.

For example, you can name individuals as beneficiaries of your annuity payments, and then have your overall estate plan direct the inherited payments into one or more trusts after your death. Consulting experienced estate planning attorneys is important when considering how to best incorporate trusts.

Preparing Your Estate Plan

To decide whether to name a beneficiary and handle all the related considerations, thorough estate planning is crucial after a big lottery win. Key recommended steps include:

  • Assemble your financial team – This may include a financial planner, tax professional, lawyer, and annuity company representative.
  • Review beneficiary options – Learn all requirements and restrictions from your lottery annuity company.
  • Develop an estate plan – Map out your goals for assets, taxes, trusts, and beneficiaries after your death.
  • Designate beneficiaries carefully – Name primary and contingent beneficiaries in alignment with your estate plan.
  • Revisit periodically – Update your beneficiaries and estate plan as your life situation evolves.

Estate planning with professional help enables you to consider all angles so that your beneficiaries and heirs are provided for in the way you intend.

Pros of Naming a Beneficiary

Naming one or more beneficiaries for your lottery annuity offers some key potential advantages:

  • Provides inheritance for loved ones – Directly names who should receive any remaining lottery payments after your death.
  • Avoids legal disputes – Clear beneficiary designation minimizes potential fights over who you intended to inherit annuity.
  • Offers control – Allows you to pick who inherits versus state laws on inheritance in absence of designation.
  • Can outline shares – Allows allocating exact percentages to multiple beneficiaries.
  • Provides continuity – Annuity company makes ongoing payments to beneficiary so they have ongoing income.

For many lottery winners, the ability to precisely direct remaining payments to their desired heirs is an important advantage of naming beneficiaries on the annuity.

Cons of Naming a Beneficiary

While often beneficial, there are also some downsides and risks to consider with naming lottery annuity beneficiaries:

  • May disqualify a beneficiary from benefits – Inherited payments could make beneficiaries lose eligibility for certain government programs.
  • Can complicate taxes – Beneficiaries face potential taxes on payments received, reducing inheritance.
  • May conflict with estate plan – Directly naming beneficiaries could override how you want assets passed through your will or trusts.
  • Locks in the beneficiary – The named beneficiary receives the payments, even if relationships or intent changes later.
  • Involves paperwork – Proper forms must be submitted and any changes require updates and approvals.

These factors emphasize the importance of fully thinking through your decision and planning carefully with professional help before officially naming a lottery annuity beneficiary.

Alternatives to Naming Beneficiaries

While naming specific beneficiaries on lottery annuities is common, other options do exist. Some alternatives you may want to discuss with your financial team include:

  • Declining the annuity – Take the jackpot as a lump-sum payment so no beneficiary is needed for future installments.
  • Annuity reverts to estate – Allow any unpaid annuity after your death to go to your estate to be distributed according to your will.
  • Create a trust – Have annuity payments go into a trust after your death for distribution to heirs per the trust terms.
  • Purchase a life insurance policy – Rather than tying up lottery winnings in annuity payments, use some of the lump sum to buy a life insurance policy payable to heirs.

Weighing all options including alternatives to direct beneficiary naming ensures you make the most informed plans for your lottery inheritance wishes.

Have a Backup Plan

Even if you do decide naming specific beneficiaries makes sense for your lottery annuity, it is smart to have backup plans in place in case any issues arise. Potential backup options include:

  • Naming contingent beneficiaries in case any primary beneficiaries are deceased at the time of your death.
  • Allocating your estate and trusts to provide for key heirs in case they lose eligibility to directly inherit annuity payments.
  • Purchasing life insurance to guarantee needed funds are available to beneficiaries even if other inheritance plans fail.
  • Granting a trusted person power of attorney to make any needed updates to beneficiaries or payments on your behalf if you become incapacitated.

Building redundancies into your plans where feasible helps ensure your intentions for your lottery winnings are fulfilled.


Winning a major lottery prize provides the exciting chance to provide financial support to your loved ones even after you are gone. But the rules around naming beneficiaries on lottery annuities mean winners need to carefully consider all implications.

Key steps include checking if beneficiary naming is allowed for your lottery winnings, understanding any requirements and restrictions, weighing tax and benefit eligibility impacts, coordinating with your overall estate plan, exploring alternatives, and having backup plans in place. With proper preparation using financial and legal experts, you can develop an estate plan with confidence that your lottery annuity will continue benefiting your heirs for years to come.