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How long can you hold a winning Mega Millions ticket?

Winning the lottery is a dream for many people, but what happens after you win? How long do you actually have to claim your prize? This article will examine the rules around holding a winning Mega Millions ticket and provide key information for lottery winners.

The Mega Millions Game

Mega Millions is one of the two big multi-state lottery games in the United States, along with Powerball. Mega Millions drawings take place every Tuesday and Friday evening at 11 p.m. ET. To play, you pick six numbers – five main numbers between 1 and 70, and one Mega Ball number between 1 and 25. To win the jackpot, you must match all six winning numbers. Even if you match some of the numbers, you can still win smaller prizes up to $1 million.

Mega Millions tickets cost $2 per play. You can choose your own numbers or use the quick pick option to have the numbers randomly generated for you. Tickets must be purchased by 10:45 p.m. ET on the night of the drawing to be eligible.

The current Mega Millions record jackpot is $1.537 billion, won in South Carolina on October 23, 2018. Jackpots start at $40 million and grow based on game sales and rolls without a winner. The odds of winning the jackpot are 1 in 302,575,350.

Claiming Your Prize

So you’ve won a prize in Mega Millions – congratulations! Now it’s time to claim your windfall. The rules around claiming a Mega Millions prize depends on what state you purchased the ticket in.

If You Bought the Ticket in a State Where You Don’t Live

If you purchased your winning Mega Millions ticket in a state that is different from your state of residence, you will need to file your claim in the state where you bought the ticket. Many states require you to submit your winning ticket in person at that state’s lottery headquarters. Some states allow you to mail in your ticket, but you should check the rules for the specific state.

Claim Periods

Every state has its own timeframe within which you must claim your Mega Millions prize. Here are the claim periods for some of the states that participate in Mega Millions:

State Claim Period
California 180 days
Florida 180 days
Georgia 180 days
Illinois 1 year
Massachusetts 1 year
Michigan 1 year
New Jersey 1 year
New York 1 year
Ohio 180 days
Texas 180 days

As you can see, the claim period ranges from 180 days to 1 year depending on the state. Make sure you know the rules for the state where you purchased the ticket.

Requirements to Claim Your Prize

To claim your Mega Millions prize, you will need to:

  • Sign the back of your winning ticket immediately.
  • Complete a claim form – usually available on the lottery website.
  • Show valid photo ID.
  • Provide your Social Security number for tax purposes.
  • Submit your original winning ticket in person or by mail depending on state rules.

Make sure you keep a photocopy of both sides of your ticket for your records. It’s also a good idea to get your ticket photocopied by the retailer where you purchased it if you will be mailing it in. This helps provide proof that you had the winning ticket in case it gets lost in the mail.

What Happens if You Miss the Deadline?

If you fail to claim your Mega Millions prize within the designated state timeframe, you will unfortunately forfeit your winnings. Every year, millions of dollars in lottery prizes go unclaimed because people miss deadlines, lose tickets, or forget they even played. The money then gets redistributed to other lottery games in the state.

Some states do allow a claims process for late prizes under certain conditions, but this is not guaranteed. The burden of proof is also much higher when submitting a late claim. At minimum, you would need to provide a solid reason (validated by the lottery commission) for missing the deadline as well as strong evidence that you are the rightful winner.

To avoid missing out, make sure to note the claim deadline at the time you win and put it prominently on your calendar. Keep your ticket in a very safe place until it’s time to submit it. If mailing it in, send it via registered mail with tracking and get a receipt showing proof it was delivered. Better yet, if allowed in your state, claim your prize in person as soon as possible.

Can You Remain Anonymous?

For major lottery prizes, most states require the name of the winner to be made public. However, a growing number of states now do allow winners to remain anonymous and claim prizes via an entity such as a trust. States that currently allow anonymous claims include Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas.

Even if you live in a state that doesn’t offer anonymity, there are ways around having your identity revealed. You can have a lawyer form a trust or limited liability company on your behalf that claims the money. Then the public announcement would contain the name of the trust rather than your personal name. You may need to plan this quickly though, as some states require trusts to be set up beforehand.

There are good reasons to want anonymity if you win a major jackpot. It helps protect your privacy and reduces security risks that come with public notoriety around your wealth. However, total anonymity makes it harder to prove you are the rightful winner, so be prepared for additional scrutiny if taking this route.

Splitting the Prize

For group lottery tickets, you will need to determine how you plan to split the prize prior to claiming it. Some states allow a single claim form for group tickets, while others require each individual to submit a claim form for their portion.

It’s important that everyone agrees upfront on the prize split to avoid disputes. Put your agreement in writing and have it notarized to make it legally binding. Some key points to cover:

  • How will the total prize be divided?
  • Who is responsible for paying applicable taxes?
  • Who will submit the claim form(s)?
  • Who will be announced publicly as the winner(s)?

Deciding these details ahead of time will make the claims process smoother and help avoid fractured relationships over lottery winnings.

Paying Taxes on Winnings

One downside to winning the lottery is owing a significant chunk in taxes. Mega Millions winnings get hit with both federal and state taxes that quickly eat into your prize amount.

For jackpots over $5,000, the IRS requires 24% to be immediately withheld for federal taxes. The top federal tax rate of 37% applies to prizes over $509,300 so you could owe significantly more at tax time. State taxes vary widely but can be up to 8% of your prize.

There are ways to reduce your tax payment if you win. You may be able to deduct professional fees related to claiming the prize. If you take the lump sum option, spreading your win over multiple years can avoid getting bumped into higher tax brackets. And you may be able to use losses to offset some of the earnings. Just make sure to work with an experienced tax professional.

Claiming Prizes as a Group

When playing the lottery in an office pool or other group, you should work out your arrangements ahead of time for how any prizes will be handled. Some best practices include:

  • Write up a formal agreement covering how winnings will be divided and taxes paid.
  • Have one reliable person responsible for buying tickets and checking results.
  • Photocopy the ticket and give copies to each participant.
  • Immediately sign the back of the ticket.
  • Store the ticket securely until claiming the prize.

If your office pool wins a major prize, you may want to retain a lawyer to assist with the claim process. Many states allow a trust or other entity to claim on behalf of a group. This avoids having a long list of individual winners publicly associated with the prize.

Collecting Your Winnings

Once you submit your valid winning ticket and required paperwork, you will get your Mega Millions jackpot! You typically have two options for how to receive the money:

  • Lump sum: You get the full amount all at once, minus taxes. The lump sum for Mega Millions is the prize amount invested to generate a 30-year annuity.
  • Annuity: You get annual payments over 30 years. Each payment is 5% larger than the previous one to help offset inflation.

The lump sum amount is significantly lower than the advertised jackpot. For example, the cash value on a $1 billion prize would be around $600 million. But you get your winnings right away to invest or spend at your discretion.

With the annuity, you receive less upfront but the total payout increases substantially over 30 years. Financial advisors generally recommend taking the lump sum so you can invest the bulk of your winnings immediately. But the annuity avoids discipline required to properly invest a huge windfall.

When collecting your prize, be sure to get help from legal and financial professionals to make informed choices and responsibly manage your new wealth.

Getting Expert Help

Winning a massive lottery prize can be thrilling and overwhelming. You will have key decisions to make around claiming your ticket, handling publicity, and managing your money.

It is highly recommended to assemble a team of experienced professionals to provide guidance and support through the process. Key experts you may want include:

  • Lawyer: Provides counsel on claiming your prize, establishing a trust, and handling publicity.
  • Tax professional: Minimizes taxes owed and ensures forms are properly filed.
  • Financial planner: Helps prudently invest and manage your windfall.

Take time to find professionals you can trust since your lottery fortune will heavily rely on their expertise. This support system can help you make the most of your winnings long-term.

Changes Coming to Mega Millions

Starting in October 2017, changes have been gradually made to the Mega Millions game to adjust the odds and jackpots:

  • Players can now choose numbers 1-70 and Mega Ball 1-25 (up from 1-75 and 1-15).
  • The minimum starting jackpot raised from $15 million to $40 million.
  • Odds of winning the jackpot worsened to 1 in 302 million (from 1 in 258.9 million).
  • Overall odds of winning any prize now 1 in 24 (from 1 in 14.7).

The goals of the changes are to increase excitement around larger jackpots while improving the overall chances of winning a prize. The updates seem to be working, as Mega Millions has awarded some record jackpots since the modifications.

Make sure to review the revised game rules and odds calculations when playing. And be sure to double check your tickets for winning numbers, as your old strategies may need adjusting.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do I have to claim my prize?

Mega Millions claim periods vary by state but are typically 180 days to 1 year. Check the rules where you purchased your ticket.

What are my odds of winning Mega Millions?

The odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot are 1 in 302,575,350. The odds of winning any prize are 1 in 24.

Can I claim my prize as a trust?

In most states, you can have a lawyer set up a trust on your behalf that claims the prize and keeps your identity anonymous.

Do I have to accept publicity for winning?

Most states require your name and city to be announced publicly for major prizes. A few states allow you to remain anonymous.

How much tax will I owe on my winnings?

You pay both federal taxes (up to 37%) and state taxes (up to 8%) on Mega Millions winnings, which quickly eats into your prize amount.


Winning the lottery can be a life-changing experience. With Mega Millions jackpots soaring to record highs, more players than ever are vying for those multi-million dollar prizes. If you are fortunate enough to land a big Mega Millions win, be sure to closely follow the rules around claiming your ticket and cashing in your windfall.

Make sure to sign your ticket immediately after checking the winning numbers. Double check the claim requirements for the state where you purchased it. Submit your ticket promptly within the 180 day to 1 year timeframe. And get professional support to help prudently manage your new fortune while dealing with taxes, publicity and other implications of your jackpot prize.

With thoughtful planning and smart decisions, your Mega Millions winnings can set you up for life. Just don’t miss your chance to claim those millions by losing or forgetting about that valuable ticket!