Winning the lottery is a dream many of us share, and for good reason! We fantasize about receiving enough money to not only pay off all debts, bills, and mortgages, but to live glamorously and luxuriously as well. How many times on a Monday morning have you imagined scratching that winning ticket and leaving your job in the flourish of your dreams? Perhaps you want to move somewhere new, take that vacation you’ve always wanted, or even just buy something that, for now, is beyond your reach.
Most people who play the lottery do not win it, but simply entertaining the thought is enough to get the mind racing. However, the reality of such a big win is rarely a dream — especially if you’re only adjacent to the winner. For example, one’s spouse may win the lottery – and then go through great pains to hide those winnings. That is a sure-fire way to sour any relationship, but is it legal? And, if you find out your spouse kept a giant monetary gain from you, what can you do about it?
Can my spouse hide lottery winnings from me?
But why would someone want to hide a lottery win from their spouse? For one woman, it was for her family’s own good — in her mind. She won big but, being legally single at the time, chose to claim her prize anonymously and invest it over the course of eight years with her partner none-the-wiser. He only found out accidentally and was, understandably, hurt, but she says she didn’t trust him to be smart with the money, and wanted to ensure it was handled responsibly and with their combined future in mind.
Regardless of how one may feel about that decision, was it even legal? It depends. We don’t know what state she lives in but we know it is one of the few that allow for lottery winnings to be claimed anonymously. She was indeed single when she won them, and has maintained separate accounts throughout her marriage, but should she and her husband ever get divorced, she may end up having to share those winnings after all, depending on what she does with them.
For the record, here in North Carolina, claiming anonymously is not an option — which means there is no legal way to hide one’s winnings, especially from a spouse with whom you share accounts and other assets.
Separate and marital property in North Carolina
In North Carolina, separate property is anything acquired before you got married, and marital property is everything acquired after – though there are exceptions to the rule in both cases. Marital property is, generally, what is divided during a divorce, while separate property remains separate. This is exactly why all assets must be disclosed, especially something like winning the lottery. If that happens while you are married, you both have a claim to it. Your spouse cannot just decide otherwise (and neither can you).
The waters may get murky when it comes to specific gifts or if, for example, the woman from the previous example claimed her prize before getting married, but that is why at least consulting with a family law attorney is never a bad idea. Even if you are not looking for a divorce, talking to an experienced representative who can answer your difficult, un-Google-able questions can really make all the difference.
What if I think my spouse is hiding assets?
Even if you and your spouse are not considering divorce, it is incredibly important for both of you to have transparent and active roles in your finances. Everything from wages to gifts to, yes, lottery winnings should be not only disclosed to each other, but invested and tracked together. Working with a financial advisor can help make this easier.
Because you cannot always know when your spouse is hiding something from you, you should work with legal and financial professionals who can help you properly value any properties or assets you have, and who can help you discover hidden assets. Your lawyer can:
- Request a credit check to see if there are open accounts in your name (or debts) that you did not know existed
- Review your bank statements and accounts to see if money is suddenly missing, or if it has been moved into another account
- Request copies of tax returns, account records, loan applications and/or financial statements from your spouse/ spouse’s attorney
As a general rule, the courts do not approve of people attempting to hide assets, and if you or your spouse lied about any financial disclosures, there will be consequences. If those false disclosures were made before you signed a premarital or postmarital agreement, the agreement could be voided entirely.
Whether you or your spouse have won big, you deserve to dream big! What you cannot do is break the law by hiding assets that rightfully belong to you and your spouse. If you are unsure whether or not that is the case, we can help. At the Epperson Law Group, our experienced Charlotte family law attorneys know just how complicated these situations can be. We have locations in Charlotte, Boone, Concord, and Weddington for the convenience of all our North Carolina clients. Call us today at 704-321-0031 or use our contact form to learn more.