Mega Millions mania is hitting the home stretch. The jackpot stands at a record $540 million for Friday night's drawing and is likely to soar even higher in the final hours. Here are six tips for getting in on the game, and what to do when you win big. Best of luck.
1) Get your Mega Millions tickets. Now. Waiting until the last minute can be problematic. The lottery is played in 42 states plus the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. The Mega Millions drawing takes place on Tuesday and Fridays at 8 p.m. PDT. But sales of the $1 tickets are cut off at different times in different places. In most places, sales are halted 15 minutes before the drawing. But Oregon cuts ticket sales off a full hour before the drawing. And you know that the final hours will see long lines at convenience stores, gas stations, supermarkets, bodegas, and anywhere else the Mega Millions tickets are sold. Bottom line: Don't wait until the last minute.
2) Trust no one. Sorry, but it's true. If you are going in on Mega Millions tickets with a friend, a relative, or the folks at the office, it pays to be untrustworthy. Don't believe us? Earlier this month, a New Jersey jury found that a construction worker tried to swindle co-workers out of their share of a winning lottery ticket. So, what to do? Start with No. 1. Pool your money and buy your tickets now, well in advance of the drawing. Then, comes the most important part: Make copies of the tickets purchased with the pool money. Just line 'em all up on the copy machine. Copy both the fronts and the back of the tickets (the back contains the tickets' serial numbers). Finally, hand out copies of all the tickets to all pool players well in advance of the drawing. This way, everything is on the up and up: Everyone knows who's in the lottery pool, and everyone can keep track of the pool numbers during the drawing.
3) What to do if you win? Nothing. That's right. Say nothing. Do nothing. Buy nothing. Just put the winning ticket in a safe, secure place and take a deep breath. There's no reason to panic or do anything rash. Depending upon the area that you live in, you have 180 days to one year from the draw date to claim your prize, according to the Mega Millions site.
4) Hire experts. Emphasis on the word "experts." This is not the time to hand over the reins to your cousin Vinny who always dreamed of working on Wall Street. Hire a reputable, experienced attorney and a money manager to help guide you through these treacherous waters. Here's why: Lottery winners' names are typically made public. You can expect everyone and their grandmother will try to separate you from some of that cha-ching, so you need to be prepared in advance. Experts won't just help you with setting up trusts and estate planning as needed. They will also fight off the feeding frenzy that is sure to be unleashed when everyone discovers you're the winner of the biggest Mega Millions jackpot in history.
5) Dream big -- but risk nothing. What would you like your life to look like now that you've joined the 1%? What would you like to do for others? You don't actually have to do anything, mind you. Just dream. Think. Play with the numbers. Revise those dreams again and again. And then pencil it out with your trusted advisors. Most importantly: Take steps to make sure that your future -- and the future of your loved ones -- will be safe and secure. You've gambled once, and won. There's no reason to get risky with your gains.
6) Cash in your ticket. When you do so, you'll have one big decision to make. Take it all now, or take it in 26 annual payments. The tendency can be to take the money and run. Especially if you're of a certain age. But this is where it pays to know thyself. Will you be tempted to blow it all? Are you at risk for losing it all because of greedy friends, relatives and others? Do you have a hard time saying no to people? There's much to be said for taking all the money in one lump sum. But there's also a certain amount of wisdom in a self-imposed savings plan. Taking the money over the next 26 years ensures that you don't follow in the footsteps of other lottery winners who managed to blow it all and found themselves left with nothing.
Video: Does George Zimmerman look injured to you?
Snowplow driver and wife accused of killing Vermont teacher