For Powerball winner, along with all those dollars can come unexpected change

Powerball frenzy as jackpot hits $550M

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Powerball frenzy as jackpot hits $550M 02:13

Story highlights

  • Invest, rather than play, Dave Ramsey says
  • Winning such a jackpot is a life-changing event
  • Experts say it can unmask good and bad behavior
  • Winners don't want to change, but that's difficult

Just breathe.

OK, now take a moment.

And then go stay in a hotel for a week.

That's just what Cynthia Stafford did after winning $112 million in the California lottery.

Stafford's winnings may seem like chump change compared to the $579 million Powerball jackpot that players across the country were just sure they would win Wednesday night.

A ticket's cost of two bucks, normally good for, maybe, a soda and a candy bar, can yield a treasury of opportunities and, possibly, a tower of disappointments, winners and consultants said.

"It will change your life ... you will be able to do things you weren't able to do before," Stafford told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, citing formation of a production company, investments in startup companies and philanthropy.

But your pals may choose to get too close -- or walk away.

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"I've had people who were dear friends who didn't feel comfortable being around me with the wealth," said Stafford.

The huge jackpot drew new players, including Juan Hernandez, an unemployed New Yorker. "I found 10 bucks, so I decided to grab two bucks of it and play a ticket," he said.

New York attorney Jason Kurland, who has represented lottery winners, said "you see the shock" in people who win it big but don't want to change.

"There are very few things in life that someone's life could change that great, that suddenly," Kurland said.

Within hours, calls and e-mails gush in, seeking donations and investment money.

Kurland suggests big winners lie low, hire professionals and lock away the winning ticket until they are ready to claim the prize.

This is the stuff of consultants and psychologists, given the fact that -- says one financial planner -- only half of lottery winners are happier three years later. Sometimes winners make good decisions with their money, sometimes they don't.

"I think Henry Ford said it really, really well," said Michael Boone, whose Seattle-based company advises winners and who put forth the 50% happiness divide. "He (Ford) said that money doesn't change a person, it simply unmasks them."

There are some other side effects, according to psychologist Alduan Tartt.

Lottery winners become accustomed to having lots of money and spending it, said Tartt, of Decatur, Georgia. "You actually have to spend more money to get the same level of happiness."

Millions go unclaimed

New York legal expert and estate attorney Ann-Margaret Carrozza said players should be careful when participating in office pools.

Put a few ground rules in writing, she told CNN. "There's a lot of room for misunderstanding." Participants should appoint someone to be a lottery captain to collect money and keep a sheet of collections.

In New York, Stuart Zuckerman talked wistfully about the "what ifs" should he win.

"I would have to sit calmly down, I would hope, and then just start making plans," he said. "Wife, three kids and a business. There's a lot of planning."

Author and financial expert Dave Ramsey told CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight" that the huge jackpot provides "false hope." Players, instead, would be better off investing the money, he said.

But Yolanda Vega, spokeswoman for the New York Lottery, told Morgan that Powerball provides a "source of entertainment, an opportunity to dream and to hold on to what they believe can happen positively and hopefully for the best for all and all the people around them."

For Stafford, her advice for wannabe winners is, don't worry that the chance of a ticket winning a Powerball jackpot is 1 in 175,223,510.

"If you are spending your money on winning the lottery, believe that you will win it."