Dear Quentin,

About 10 years ago, I won over $55 million in the California lottery. I never told my parents or my sister, or anyone for that matter. I have kept a low profile. I did buy a new truck and a house, but I told them I was renting the house. Was I wrong to not tell anyone? 

I know that my parents would not have asked for a thing, but my sister would have told me to donate half to her church. I have not donated money to anyone or any organization. I also do not believe in loaning money to friends and relatives, no matter what. If I did, I would be broke.

I am now 67 and very comfortable with my life. I don’t spend a lot. I have no kids, and both parents have passed away. I have not provided for my sister because I do not like her or her husband, and I have not spoken to her in over 10 years. 

She hopefully has no clue where I live; besides, my parents took her out of the estate before they died. She tried to do some horrible things to our parents, which I managed to put a stop to. Was I wrong in not telling anyone about my winnings?

Low-Key Lottery Winner

Dear Low-Key,

It’s not easy to win the lottery, and it’s probably just as hard — if not harder, in fact — to keep the win to yourself and to maintain a levelheaded, peaceful existence. You managed to pull off both. At least, as far as your sister is concerned. You bought a new home and made a few changes to your life, but nothing too dramatic.

California is one of more than half-a-dozen states that prevent lottery winners from maintaining total anonymity, and the names of lottery winners are part of the public record. It may help if your name is John Brown, of course, but previous lottery winners have been contacted by media and unscrupulous financial advisers.

You no doubt realize that money doesn’t change who you are. It can, however, change others’ perceptions of you. People project their own needs, resentments, insecurities and ambitions onto others. Compare and despair is an often unavoidable human trait. 

Money can buy you many things: freedom to choose whether you decide to work or not, peace of mind that you won’t have to worry about retirement, the ability to travel or simply stay home and enjoy your life. It can also buy a lot of stuff — stuff you probably don’t need.

But money cannot buy you authentic relationships with friends and neighbors, and it can’t buy you more time on the planet. For that reason, I see nothing wrong with living your life the way you want to live it, and resisting the urge to share the news with anyone, even and especially your family.

Money cannot buy you authentic relationships, and it can’t buy you more time on the planet. For that reason, I see nothing wrong with living your life the way you want to live it.

If you told one person, he or she would in all likelihood tell somebody else. And sooner or later, the phone would ring or there would be a knock on your door, perhaps with a financial request. As my late father said, “I can keep secrets — it’s the people I tell who can’t.”

We live in a culture where millions of people want to get rich quick — exhibit A: cryptocurrency, something that has no intrinsic value except as use as a form of exchange outside the banking system — and display their wealth on social media. If that filled a void, Facebook and Instagram would not be what they are today.

Your win raises some similar questions for people everywhere who have enough. If our job, the size of our bank account, our possessions, or the kind of house or zip code we live in does not keep us striving for more, what will fill that void? The only answer I can find is asking a friend or neighbor, “How are you today?”

My only unsolicited suggestion: When you are planning your estate with a financial planner, think about causes that are important to you — perhaps an organization that helps those who have been the victims of elder abuse, or another cause that is close to your heart.

The ideal scenario, of course, is to get in and out of the world without breaking anything, and also to leave it a better place by contributing our time or energy to something outside of ourselves. Enjoy your good fortune, and your privacy, as long as it lasts.

Once the latter is gone, no amount of money will get it back.

Also read: Jamie Dimon insists his workers return to the office — here’s why that’s a bit rich

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at [email protected], and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

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