Here's what to do if you become an overnight multimillionaire

Winning a life-changing amount of money can be overwhelming but it is important to have a financial plan in place, say experts

It is important to have a financial plan after winning a life-changing amount of money . Getty Images

It’s been more than a month since Junaid Rana became an overnight multimillionaire after winning Dh50 million ($13.6m) in a Mahzooz prize draw in October.

Even now, the 36-year-old Pakistani driver is quick to admit that he is still overwhelmed by the knowledge that he is suddenly very wealthy.

Mr Rana has gone from earning Dh6,000 a month as a company driver to now having the financial freedom that millions of people around the world spend years seeking.

Since winning the life-changing amount of money on October 24, Mr Rana has quit his job, is planning to open his own business and will be fulfilling a long-held dream of bringing his family to the UAE to live.

“I couldn't believe it at the time; it’s like dreams come true,” he told The National during a recent Pocketful of Dirhams podcast. “The thing is, I still cannot believe that I have won. I’m in shock because the amount is huge. I cannot believe it, even now.”

After the initial shock of winning millions in a lottery, it is important for the person to stay grounded, according to Soniyaa Punjabi, a life coach and founder of Illuminations, a Dubai well-being centre.

"That is definitely a monumental moment in a winner's life," Ms Punjabi says. "However, once the initial high is over, it is essential to remain grounded and put your roots down before you spread your wings."

To date, Mahzooz, which means lucky or fortunate in Arabic, has created 19 millionaires and given away more than Dh125m in prize money to 133,000 winners from 122 countries.

Two weeks after Mr Rana’s record-breaking win, a 54-year-old oil and gas worker became Mahzooz’s second-biggest prize winner when he won Dh10m.

“We had waited for this big win to happen for 11 months,” says Farid Samji, chief executive of Ewings, the operator of Mahzooz.

“When we finally had a winner for the Dh50m grand prize, I was thrilled. We are creating winners, but also creating winners from the moment that bottle of water is channelled through the CSR work that we are doing.”

While many people often dream about winning a life-changing amount of money, the reality can be very different – and difficult, according to Stuart Ritchie, the Dubai-based director of wealth advice at AES International.

One of the most important factors for people who suddenly become wealthy is to have a financial plan, says Mr Ritchie, who has advised lottery winners since 2014.

One couple he advised won £13m [$17.2m] in the UK National Lottery. Aged 52 and 57 at the time of their windfall, the couple lived in a modest three-bedroom home and their joint income was £45,000 a year.

“Understandably, they thought their worries were all gone,” Mr Ritchie says.

“But by the time they sought financial advice, they had £8m left. They had spent £5m on a dream home, two new top-of-the-range BMWs, plus six more properties for family and friends.

“Even though they were living their dream life, they were becoming worried, frustrated and anxious. They didn't have a plan to manage their wealth.”

Mahzooz and its operator Ewings are not financial advisers and this is made clear in the company's terms and conditions, according to Mr Samji.

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Even though they were living their dream life, they were becoming worried, frustrated and anxious. They didn't have a plan to manage their wealth
Stuart Ritchie, director of wealth advice at AES International

“However, when the winner does come to our offices to get the paperwork done, we do tell them to be careful, to be mindful and we tell them to seek and consult the right advice from regulated, bona fide financial advisers at their own free will,” he adds.

“Obviously, we would want the winners to be cautious about large sums of money that [they] had never dreamt of, but it is their responsibility on how they get on with their lives.”

Here, Mr Ritchie offers his top tips on what you should do if you find yourself suddenly wealthy or inherit a large amount of money.

Seek advice from a fiduciary financial expert

The lottery winners Mr Ritchie helped in 2014 were heading for financial disaster in their early 70s because they had started to spend their winnings at an unsustainable rate, he says.

“Their general spending had spiralled out of control at £280,000 (after tax) per year, as well as one-off expensive gifts. Soon, they would have to start selling the houses they had bought for family and friends. And if they kept up their spending and tried to match inflation for 30 years, then their new home would need to be sold, too,” Mr Ritchie adds.

However, the couple chose to partner with a fiduciary financial expert who was ethically bound to have their best interests at heart and not sell them products they didn’t need or understand.

Tip: a fiduciary expert with wealth management experience can help guide people who have come into sudden riches. This includes estate and tax planning, bank accounts and carrying out lifetime cash-flow modelling to ensure the money lasts for generations.

Stay calm and don’t be tempted to splash out or quit your job immediately

While it might be tempting to quit your job immediately and buy unnecessary things when you win a life-changing amount of money, financial experts advise that it is better to remain calm and not make any major decisions immediately.

“It is easy to be blinded by what we want now versus what we need over time,” Mr Ritchie says. “There are many studies which show that delaying gratification is one of the keys to long-term success in life, such as business and investing,” he says.

Tip: most wealthy people talk about their investments, not their spending. It is important to strike a balance by saving money for tomorrow but also enjoying some today.

Pay off your debts

For someone with newfound wealth, they should make any necessary adjustments to their short-term savings, longer-term investments and debt position, Mr Ritchie says.

“If you have large debts incurring high interest rates, it’s best to pay them down as fast as you can,” he says. “Thomas Fuller once said: ‘Debt is the worst poverty’ – and in retirement, this is certainly true.”

Tip: eliminating consumer and mortgage debt should be your focus when you come into a large sum of money as it will free up funds and make your financial decisions much easier.

Start an emergency fund

Everyone should have an emergency fund regardless of their wealth, says Mr Ritchie. It should provide expenses for three to six months or be at least three times a person's salary.

“This should be no problem for a lottery winner, but the trick is to keep the money liquid so it’s easily accessible, like in a bank account.

“Having this money can be the difference between a small bump in your financial life and a complete disaster in your entire life. It gives you some freedom and peace of mind.”

Tip: keeping your emergency fund separate from the money you use to pay bills can help curb frivolous spending. Ask yourself if your emergency fund is sufficient and when you use it, build it straight back up again.

Put away money for retirement

Even sweepstakes winners need a retirement plan that will last a lifetime, as Mr Ritchie’s lottery clients discovered.

“Lottery winners should continue to plan and control their spending as the cost of goods and services are likely to continue to rise,” he says.

Tip: it is important to factor inflation into your retirement plans as your spending power will continue to shrink even when you have stopped working.

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Lottery winners should continue to plan and control their spending as the cost of goods and services are likely to continue to rise
Stuart Ritchie, AES International

Diversify your investments

One of the secrets to growing your wealth is diversification, according to Mr Ritchie. Billionaires, including Warren Buffett, follow this method for good reason.

“A globally diversified portfolio of low-cost investments in the world's best companies is the evidence-based approach I’d recommend,” says Mr Ritchie.

“It’s how I invest and how I tell my clients, family and friends to invest as well. We’re all broadly invested in the market, based on 95 years of data that has been tested by academics for 60 years and implemented in markets around the world.”

Tip: it is important to understand your risk level, but experts recommend spreading your wealth across a variety of platforms and asset classes. These assets could include property, stocks, government bonds and fixed-income products, for example.

Set up education funds for your children

School and university fees can take a toll on your finances at the best of times, but winning millions in a lottery can help to put you ahead in terms of your children’s education, Mr Ritchie says.

“If you want to save for your children’s education, the sooner you start investing the better it is – no matter the age of your children,” he adds.

“What you invest will begin to benefit from compounding [interest] and the gains you make will generate gains of their own.”

Junaid Rana, right, and his brother Yaser. Photo: Antonie Robertson / The National

However, it is important to avoid the outdated contractual savings plans peddled by banks and salespeople, Mr Ritchie adds.

“They are often sold as education fee planning solutions but in reality, they can often be inflexible, expensive and opaque. They don’t maximise your results and better options now exist.”

Tip: although investing in education is a good decision, it is important that you don’t put your family’s financial future at risk by overcommitting to this goal. Instead, build it into your financial plan. Another option is to consider placing your investments in a trust to safeguard the money for your children’s future.

Give to charity

Research shows that giving to charity in terms of both time and/or money can give us a great deal of happiness and increase our overall well-being.

“Be really intentional about giving your time and money to causes that are important to you,” Mr Ritchie says.

“A financial planner can help define what 'having it all' means to you, be that happiness, contentment, philanthropy, more time for family/leisure or, indeed, a mountain of money.”

Philanthropy should be factored into your financial plan, he says, adding that a typical amount that “regular” people aspire to donate ranges from 3 per cent to 10 per cent of their taxed income.

“But this may be different for the super wealthy.”

Tip: many people choose to make charitable gifts in their wills. Although not always considered part of estate planning, such gifts can reduce the inheritance tax rate if used in the correct way.

How to protect your good fortune

Winning a large amount of money can mean that people you haven’t been in touch with in years will suddenly want to be your friend again and ask for money.

When it comes to financial advice, it is important to keep in mind that professionals don’t cold call, says Mr Ritchie.

“Think lawyer, doctor or accountant. A fiduciary in Dubai is like a hen’s tooth; a financial salesperson is far more common,” he says.

This was the case for Mr Rana when he won his Dh50m. He says it was uncomfortable when strangers and people he hadn't been in touch with for years approached him to ask for money.

“Even those people who are dead for me … like 20 years back. I don't know how they got my number but they were calling me, saying 'help me'. But still I know what is fake and what's real,” he said during the Pocketful of Dirhams podcast.

Tip: don’t be afraid to ask direct questions about how financial advisers are paid and opt for someone who charges a fee, not someone who is paid an incentivised commission. And don't be swayed by strangers and long-lost friends asking for money.

Updated: December 9th 2021, 5:00 AM