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Who can garnish lottery winnings in Florida?

Winning the lottery can be a life-changing event. However, your lottery winnings may be subject to claims from creditors or the government in certain situations. Understanding who can legally garnish your lottery winnings in Florida is important to protect your windfall.

Taxes on Lottery Winnings

The federal, state, and local governments can garnish a portion of lottery winnings for taxes. Lottery winnings are considered taxable income by the IRS and must be reported.

Federal Taxes

For federal taxes, lottery winnings are taxed at the highest marginal tax rate, which can be up to 37% depending on your total income. The lottery organization will withhold 24% for federal taxes when you claim your prize. However, this may not cover your full federal tax liability. You are responsible for paying any additional federal taxes owed when you file your annual tax return.

Florida State Taxes

Florida does not have a state income tax. Therefore, no state taxes will be withheld from Florida lottery winnings.

Local Taxes

Some cities and counties in Florida impose local income taxes. For example, if you live in a city that taxes income, they may garnish a portion of your lottery winnings. Contact your local tax authority to find out if local taxes apply to your lottery winnings.

Child Support

Past-due child support is one of the most common reasons lottery winnings may be garnished in Florida. The Florida Department of Revenue (DOR) can intercept your lottery winnings to pay back-owed child support. They will take the funds directly from the Florida Lottery before you ever receive your prize.

How Child Support Garnishment Works

– If you owe back child support, the DOR can issue an order requiring the Florida Lottery to intercept your winnings.
– DOR will determine the amount owed and notify the Lottery.
– When you go to claim your prize, the Lottery is required to withhold funds to cover child support arrears before disbursing any remainder to you.
– Intercepted funds are paid to DOR and applied to child support owed.

Avoiding Child Support Garnishment

To avoid having lottery winnings garnished for overdue child support:

– Get up to date on all child support payments before claiming prize.
– Work out repayment plan or settlement of arrears with DOR.
– Consult an attorney about contesting amount owed.

Back Taxes

Along with child support, unpaid back taxes are another common debt that can lead to garnishment of lottery winnings in Florida. Both the IRS and the Florida DOR have authority to collect unpaid taxes from lottery prizes.

Federal Tax Lien

If you owe back taxes to the IRS, they may place a federal tax lien on any property you own, including lottery winnings. This gives them the right to seize your assets as repayment for delinquent taxes. The IRS will be notified if you win a lottery prize over $600. They can then intercept your winnings to satisfy the tax lien.

Florida Tax Warrant

Similarly, if you have an outstanding Florida tax warrant for unpaid state taxes, the DOR can issue a writ of garnishment to the Lottery. This will require intercepting any lottery winnings to pay toward the tax debt.

Avoiding Tax Garnishments

To prevent the IRS or DOR from seizing lottery winnings for back taxes:

– Pay off all tax debts prior to claiming prize.
– Enter into repayment agreement or Offer in Compromise.
– Dispute tax liability.
– File for bankruptcy (temporarily stops collections).

Federal Student Loans

Your lottery winnings can also be garnished to repay defaulted federal student loan debt. The U.S. Department of Education has authority to garnish up to 15% of a debtor’s disposable income to collect on defaulted federal student loans. State student loans cannot be collected through garnishment.

Defaulted Student Loan Garnishment

If you are in default on a federal student loan, here is how they can intercept lottery winnings:

– Department of Education is informed of lottery prize through database search or tip.
– They issue administrative garnishment order to the lottery.
– Up to 15% of net winnings are withheld to pay toward student loan debt.

Avoiding Student Loan Garnishment

To prevent federal student loan garnishment of lottery prizes:

– Get out of default status by bringing account current, rehabilitating loan, or consolidating debt.
– Enter affordable income-driven repayment plan.
– Dispute the debt.
– File bankruptcy to stop collections temporarily.

Judgments from Lawsuits

If someone sues you and wins a court judgment against you, they may be able to garnish your lottery winnings to collect on the judgment. This includes both private lawsuit judgments and state agency administrative judgments.

Civil Lawsuit Judgments

– A plaintiff who wins a lawsuit against you may seek a court order to garnish your assets, including lottery prizes.
– The court can order the lottery to intercept your winnings to satisfy the judgment.
– Only the amount owed can be garnished – you keep any remainder.

State Agency Fines

– Florida agencies can impose administrative fines for violations of state laws/rules which result in a state judgment against you if unpaid.
– Agencies like the Florida Commission on Human Relations and Department of Environmental Protection can garnish lottery prizes to collect administrative fines and costs imposed against you.

Avoiding Garnishment of Lawsuit Judgments

To prevent creditors from seizing lottery winnings to pay lawsuit judgments:

– Satisfy judgment by paying plaintiff in full before claiming prize.
– Enter into agreed structured settlement.
– File bankruptcy to stop collections on judgments temporarily.

Private Debts

In Florida, private creditors cannot garnish lottery winnings to satisfy ordinary consumer debts like credit cards, medical bills, personal loans, etc. This protection does not apply to the categories above like taxes, child support, and government fines. But for private debts, creditors cannot intercept Florida lottery winnings.

Limits on Private Debt Collection

Florida Statute 24.115(4) reads:

_”The right of any person, including any collateral assignee, to collect child support or to collect any debt from lottery winnings is subject to the issuance of a court order as provided by law.”_

This prohibits private creditors from garnishing lottery winnings without a court order. And courts will generally not order garnishments for ordinary private consumer debts. This makes lottery prizes off-limits for most private debt collectors.

Bankruptcy Asset Exemption

Also, under Florida bankruptcy law, lottery prizes are fully exempt assets. This means they are protected if you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Creditors cannot force you to liquidate or surrender lottery winnings to pay non-tax debts.

Bankruptcy and Lottery Winnings

While filing bankruptcy stops most private creditors from garnishing lottery prizes, it does not protect against government creditors like the IRS. The bankruptcy automatic stay halts collections temporarily, but government creditors can continue collection efforts after the stay is lifted.

However, Chapter 13 bankruptcy can help create a structured repayment plan over 3-5 years. While government creditors are paid back, you keep possession of your lottery winnings. An attorney can advise if this option makes sense for your situation.

Bankruptcy and Taxes

Discharging taxes in bankruptcy is very difficult. Non-payroll income taxes less than 3 years old are not dischargeable. Older income taxes can only be discharged if you meet strict rules showing inability to pay the debt.

Since lottery winnings are considered income by the IRS, any taxes owed on the winnings likely could not be discharged for at least 3 years. You would still have to pay back the taxes over time or enter an Offer in Compromise.

An attorney familiar with tax bankruptcy law should be consulted. The rules are complex.

Assigning Lottery Winnings

In some cases, lottery winners assign all or part of their future winnings to someone else before claiming the prize. This is usually done to avoid creditors or taxes. However, assigned lottery winnings are still subject to garnishment in Florida.

Treatment of Assigned Prizes

Florida Statute 24.1151 states:

_”Any assignment of lottery prize payments is subject to the Department of Revenue first satisfying any current support obligations and arrearages.”_

So assigned winnings can still be intercepted for back child support. And federal tax liens likely supersede any assignment under federal law.

Creditors of the assignor can argue the assignment was a fraudulent transfer to avoid paying them. A court can void the assignment and make the winnings available for garnishment.

Limits of Assignment

While assigning lottery winnings in advance is not an absolute guarantee, it adds an extra layer making garnishment harder. Creditors have to take legal action to undo the assignment first.

It may work if no creditors immediately file actions. And for child support or taxes owed by the assignor, not the assignee. But caution is warranted as assignments can be challenged later.

Lottery Trusts

Another option is creating an irrevocable lottery trust to receive winnings. A trustee manages the trust assets (the winnings) for beneficiaries per the trust terms. This can provide some asset protection.

Benefits of a Lottery Trust

– Winnings are paid directly to the trust, not the individual winner.
– Trust assets may be protected from personal creditors of the beneficiary.
– Terms can dictate only income distributions, protecting bulk of principal.
– Assets are exempt if beneficiary files bankruptcy.
– Can avoid probate process upon death.


– Extra costs and complexity of administering a formal trust.
– Government creditors like IRS still collect from trust asset income/distributions.
– Does not protect winnings from creditors of trust grantor who created the trust.
– State Medicaid agencies can file claims against trust assets.

Proper trust drafting is essential. An attorney experienced with lottery trusts and asset protection is highly recommended.

Divorce Proceedings

Lottery prizes won during a marriage may be considered marital property or joint assets subject to division in divorce. How a prize is treated often depends on when it was won:

Prizes Won Before Marriage

If you won a lottery prize before getting married, it is considered separate premarital property belonging only to you. Your spouse would typically have no claim.

Prizes Won During Marriage

Lottery winnings earned during the marriage are generally deemed marital assets. Your spouse would share a claim to the portion won during marriage, even if not yet received.

Prizes Won After Separation

Prizes won after spouses legally separate are usually separate property not subject to division. However, value could be given to other assets offsetting the winnings.

The timing, size of the win, and how prizes are handled can matter. Consult a divorce attorney to understand your risks and options to protect lottery assets.

Medicaid Recoupment

State Medicaid agencies can seek repayment from lottery winnings for nursing home care benefits received through Medicaid. However, federal law limits recoupment claims.

Allowable Recoupment

– Only amounts paid for long term nursing home care can be recouped, not other Medicaid health benefits.
– Claims can only be made after the person’s death against their estate.
– Total recoupment is capped at amount of payments made, and only what estate assets can repay.

Protecting Winnings from Medicaid Recovery

To shield lottery winnings from future Medicaid recovery claims:

– Establish first party special needs trust to hold the assets instead of individual.
– Convert winnings into exempt assets like a home.
– Spend the winnings on exempt assets.
– Make gifts of prizes more than 2 years before applying for Medicaid to trigger lookback period.

Medicaid rules for lottery windfalls are intricate. Meet with an elder law attorney to best plan your asset protection strategy.


While lottery winners are usually focused on celebrating their good fortune, it is wise to consider how to protect your windfall as well. In Florida, lottery prizes can potentially be garnished for a variety of old debts including taxes, child support, student loans, and court judgments. Private unsecured creditors, however, cannot seize winnings. Proper planning, such as shielding assets in trusts or filing bankruptcy, may help shield your lottery winnings. Understanding the rules in Florida allows you to take steps to reduce risks from creditors looking for a jackpot payday.