Won The Lottery? Learn These Four Key Tax Planning Concepts Now

Winning the lottery will change your life, but it also adds a complexity to your finances that few people ever dream of. You can meet the challenge of planning for your future—and your family's future—by learning about these few estate planning tax elements for large winners.

Gift Tax. Few ordinary wage earners ever have to deal with the federal gift tax. That's because, while all gifts with a financial value are subject to gift taxes, there is an exemption for the first $15,000. Most average gifts are, then, exempted. But if you win the lottery, you likely will want to give away a portion of your money to friends, family, and charities. So you should learn the rules to both report and avoid gift taxes. 

Unified Tax Credit. The Unified Tax Credit is another tax item that few ordinary Americans are even aware of. It is a lifetime exemption from several kinds of estate taxes, including gift taxes, estate taxes, and generation-skipping transfer taxes. This tax credit means that even if you make gift over the annual exclusion and have an estate when you pass away, your estate can still receive a tax credit before it's subject to estate taxes.

Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax. The Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax (GSTT) is not only unknown to most people, but it can also be very complicated. This tax takes effect when you pass on money to heirs two generations or more below you. If you want grandchildren to inherit your winnings, for instance, you will have to calculate and pay any applicable GSTT. Don't have family? You may still be subject to the GSTT if you give money to unrelated individuals who are younger than you by a set number of years. 

Estate Taxes. More Americans have heard of the estate tax (or "death tax") than these other taxes, but they probably don't know the details. The good news is that estates under $11,180,000 are generally excluded from all estate taxes. If your winnings are in this range—or you give away money to bring them into this range—you won't have to worry about taxes. Otherwise, your executor will need to understand how to complete the estate tax return and pay what's due. 

Tax complications of winning a big amount in the lottery are confusing. Work with an experienced accountant as soon as you learn of your windfall so that you can make the best choices about what to do with your money and how to protect your loved ones when you pass away.