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What happens if you take Powerball annuity and die?

The Powerball lottery is one of the most popular lottery games in the United States, offering jackpots that can reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars. When a player wins the Powerball jackpot, they have a choice between taking the winnings as a lump sum payment or as an annuity paid out over 30 years. However, what happens if you choose the annuity option and then die before receiving all of the payments? This is an important question for any Powerball winner to consider when weighing the annuity versus lump sum decision. In this article, we’ll provide a full overview of how the Powerball annuity works, what occurs when a winner who chose the annuity dies, and how annuity heirs and beneficiaries are determined.

How the Powerball Annuity Works

When the Powerball jackpot is won, the winner has 60 days to choose between receiving their prize as a one-time, lump-sum cash payment or as an annuity. The annuity option pays out the full jackpot amount through 30 graduated payments over 29 years. Here is a quick overview of how the Powerball annuity payments work:

  • The initial payment is made immediately, which is generally in the range of 4-5% of the total annuity amount.
  • The remaining prize money is invested in U.S. government securities by the Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL).
  • Each subsequent annual payment increases by 5% to protect the winner against inflation and maintain the value of the prize.
  • Payments are made once a year on the anniversary of the initial payout date.
  • The total prize amount is divided evenly among the 30 payments.

For example, if the jackpot is $100 million and a winner chooses the annuity, the payments would be structured as:

  • Immediate payment: $4 million
  • 29 annual payments starting at approximately $3 million, increasing by 5% each year.
  • Total payout over 30 years: $100 million

The appeal of the annuity is that it provides the winner steady income for life and protects against spending the money too quickly. However, it does come with risks if the winner dies before receiving the full amount.

What Happens if You Die Before Receiving All Annuity Payments?

If a Powerball winner who chose the annuity option dies before receiving all their prize money, here is what happens to the remaining payments:

  • The annuity payments do not end completely, but instead transfer over to designated beneficiaries.
  • Most lottery winners name a beneficiary to inherit their future annuity payments upon death.
  • If there is no beneficiary named, the remaining payments would go to the winner’s estate.
  • Beneficiaries have two options in how they can receive the payments:
    – Lump Sum: A one-time, discounted lump sum payment of the remaining cash value.
    – Continued Annuity: Keep receiving the annual payments over the full original schedule.

The rules around beneficiaries and inheriting lottery annuities vary slightly by state. But in general, the annual payments will transfer to heirs and successors identified by the winner. Beneficiaries do not have to wait until the original winner dies – they can start receiving payments immediately if desired.

Let’s take a look at some examples to illustrate what would happen in different beneficiary situations:

Example 1: Winner names spouse as beneficiary

John wins a $300 million Powerball jackpot and chooses the annuity. He names his wife Jane as the sole beneficiary. If John passes away after receiving 12 payments, Jane as the beneficiary has two options:

  • Lump Sum payment: Jane could take the remaining cash value of $180 million (60% of the unpaid prize) as a one-time discounted payment.
  • Continued Annuity: Jane could continue receiving the annual payments over the original 30-year schedule. She would receive the remaining 18 payments increasing by 5% each year.

Most states give the beneficiary 60 days to decide between the lump sum or ongoing annuity. Jane would be able to choose whichever option is best for her financial situation.

Example 2: No beneficiary named

Michelle wins a $500 million Powerball jackpot and chooses the annuity but dies shortly after without naming a beneficiary. In this case:

  • The remaining payments would go to Michelle’s estate to be distributed according to her will or passed through probate if no will exists.
  • The executor of her estate would likely take the discounted lump sum payment to simplify distributing the assets.
  • If Michelle was married, her spouse may have legal claim to some or all of the remaining annuity payments depending on state law.

Michelle’s situation emphasizes the importance of designating beneficiaries if you win the lottery. It prevents legal complications and ensures your wishes are followed if you pass away before all payments are made.

How Are Beneficiaries and Heirs Determined?

For Powerball winners who choose the annuity, determining who will inherit their future payments upon death is an important consideration. Here are some key factors in how beneficiaries are determined:

Naming the Beneficiary

Powerball winners who opt for the annuity payments are encouraged to proactively designate beneficiaries:

  • This is usually done at the time the annuity election is made after winning the jackpot.
  • Beneficiaries are named on a designated form and can be individuals, trusts, charities, etc.
  • Winners can split percentages between multiple beneficiaries as desired.
  • Beneficiaries can be updated or changed over time with proper documentation.
  • Minor children must have a guardian or trustee named to manage payments.

Proactively naming beneficiaries is the best way to define who should inherit any remaining lottery payments. It avoids legal disputes and provides clarity on the winner’s wishes.

If No Beneficiary Named

If a winner dies without naming a beneficiary, the situation becomes more complex:

  • The lottery payments would go to the winner’s estate and be distributed either per the person’s will or through probate.
  • The estate’s executor would likely take the lump sum payout, but may consider the annuity if requested by heirs.
  • If the winner was married, the spouse may have legal rights to some or all of the unpaid prize money.
  • Other next of kin, like children, parents, or siblings, may make claims depending on the specific family situation.
  • Without clear documentation of the winner’s wishes, legal disputes over the remaining payments are very possible.

Not naming a beneficiary can lead to lengthy legal battles over who is entitled to the lottery funds. A will can help mitigate this by spelling out intentions, but the best course is still naming beneficiaries upfront.

Divorce or Separations

If a Powerball winner names their spouse as beneficiary but later goes through a divorce, the situation becomes complicated. The outcome depends largely on state law and if beneficiary designations were properly updated:

  • In community property states, part of the prize may automatically belong to the ex-spouse.
  • If beneficiary forms were not updated and the divorce settlement did not cover lottery winnings, courts may find the ex still has rights as the named beneficiary.
  • Holding remaining payments in trust or naming a new beneficiary after a divorce may be necessary to avoid disputes.

Divorce or separations after a big lottery win emphasize the importance of revisiting beneficiary designations and clearly spelling out in prenups or divorce terms who maintains rights over any annuity payments.

Lump Sum vs. Annuity Considerations for Beneficiaries

A beneficiary who inherits Powerball annuity payments after the winner’s death has an important decision to make – taking a lump sum payment or continuing the annuity. Here are some factors to consider:

Lump Sum Payment

  • A lump sum allows full access to funds right away for whatever purpose the beneficiary chooses.
  • The lump sum amount is discounted from the overall annuity – usually 40-60% of the remaining prize value.
  • Taxes are due immediately on the full lump sum amount.
  • A lump sum avoids investment risk associated with the annuity payments.
  • There is risk of mismanaging a large influx of cash suddenly.
  • May be the best approach if the beneficiary needs immediate funds.

Continued Annuity

  • Provides set income for life that increases to match inflation.
  • The full prize amount is paid out over time versus taking a discounted lump sum.
  • Taxes are spread out annually over each payment versus one large tax bill.
  • Annuity investment risk stays with the lottery company versus individual.
  • Payments cease upon the beneficiary’s death.
  • Ongoing annuity may work well for risk-averse beneficiaries.

Most financial experts recommend taking the lump sum, as the full amount can be invested and grown. But the right choice still depends on the beneficiary’s goals, time horizon, risk tolerance and family situation. Consulting a tax attorney and financial advisor can help analyze the pros and cons in each case.

Taxes on Transferred Annuity Payments

Taxes also play a key role in inherited Powerball annuity winnings. Some important things to know:

  • Federal taxes (up to 37%) apply to each annual annuity payment.
  • State taxes may also apply depending on where the winner lived and purchased the winning ticket.
  • Payments to beneficiaries are taxed at their federal/state income tax rates.
  • A lump sum payout is taxed immediately on the full discounted amount.
  • The estate tax may apply before annuity transfers to beneficiaries.
  • Structuring payments through trusts may help reduce total taxes depending on situation.

Working with legal and tax advisors to minimize taxes is key. Annuity payments may transfer to heirs free of federal or state estate/inheritance tax. But the annual payments are still taxed as income to beneficiaries. Proper estate planning is important to reduce tax burdens as much as possible.

Using Trusts and Charities

For larger Powerball jackpots, many winners choose to have their annuity payments made to a trust or charity to help manage taxes and distributions to heirs:


  • A properly structured irrevocable trust allows you to outline how lottery funds are used after your death.
  • Trusts help minimize estate taxes when transfers occur.
  • Trusts provide control over distributions to heirs compared to directly naming individual beneficiaries.
  • Can help manage inheritances for minor children or beneficiaries with special needs.


  • Naming a charity to receive some or all annuity payments can provide an estate tax benefit.
  • Donating to charity helps reduce income tax burden over the life of the annuity payments.
  • Can split payments between individuals and charities in whatever percentages desired.

Given the large jackpots possible, trusts and charities are common estate planning strategies used by Powerball annuity winners. They help minimize tax impacts and provide control over how prize money is ultimately paid out.


The Powerball annuity provides steady, guaranteed income for life to jackpot winners. But it comes with important considerations around what happens if you die before receiving the full amount. Working with legal and tax experts to plan your estate and beneficiaries is highly recommended. The overall takeaways are:

  • Annuity payments will transfer to designated beneficiaries upon the winner’s death.
  • Naming beneficiaries is critical to avoid legal disputes over payments.
  • Beneficiaries can take a lump sum or continue the annuity.
  • Trusts and charities can provide tax benefits for large jackpots.
  • Beneficiaries face taxes on any inherited payments.
  • Proper estate planning is key to managing the annuity for heirs.

Winning the lottery is life-changing, but also complex when it comes to tax, legal, and estate planning factors. For Powerball winners debating the lump sum or annuity, be sure to fully consider the impacts on your beneficiaries as well before making a final decision. With proper planning, you can ensure your prize provides value for heirs even long after your lifetime.