top of page

When a Windfall Comes Your Way


Getting rich quick can be liberating, but it can also be frustrating. Sudden wealth can help you address retirement saving or college funding anxieties, and it may also allow you to live and work on your terms. On the other hand, you’ll pay more taxes, attract more attention, and maybe even contend with jealousy or envy. You may also deal with grief or stress, as a lump sum may be linked to a death, a divorce, or a pension payout decision.

Windfalls don’t always lead to happy endings. Take the example of Alex and Rhoda Toth, a Florida couple down to their last $25 who hit a lottery jackpot of roughly $13 million in the 1990s. Their feel-good story ended badly: by 2006, they were bankrupt and facing tax fraud charges. Or Janite Lee, who won $18 million in the Illinois Lottery. Just eight years later, she filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy; she had $700 to her name and owed $2.5 million to creditors. (1)

Windfalls don’t necessarily breed “old money” either. Without a long-range vision, one generation’s wealth may not transfer to the next. As Fast Company notes, the wealth built by one generation fails to migrate to the next 70% of the time, and two generations later, it is gone 90% of the time. (2)


What are some wise steps to take when you receive a windfall? What might you do to keep that money in your life and your family for years to come?


Keep quiet, if you can. If you aren’t in the spotlight, don’t step into it. Who really needs to know about your newfound wealth besides you and your immediate family? The Internal Revenue Service, the financial professionals you consult or hire, and your attorney. The list needn’t be much longer.

What if you don’t have the opportunity to keep quiet? Winning a lottery prize, selling your company, signing a multiyear deal – when your wealth is publicized, expect friends and strangers to come knocking at your door. Be fair, firm, and friendly – and avoid handling the requests on your own. One generous handout may risk opening the floodgate to others. Let your financial team review appeals for loans, business proposals, and pipe dreams.


Yes, your