First, there's one action you can take that makes receiving any prizes you may win goof-proof and much easier. Buy lottery tickets online via a secure concierge service to ensure you'll never miss out on a payment you're due.
You will be contacted if you hit a prize, and what's more, your ticket is always stored safely in your online account, protected from loss or theft. Additionally, prizes below the jackpot are paid automatically - you don't even need to go through a claims process.
- Safety first: Sign the back of the winning ticket immediately, snap a photo of the front and back, and store the ticket in a secure place. A lottery ticket is a bearer instrument, which means that anyone who has the ticket, if it's unsigned, can claim the prize - so take steps to protect yourself in the event of loss or theft
- Tick-tock: Claim periods vary widely depending on where you bought the ticket, so get informed and keep an eye on the calendar
- Location, location, location: You must claim the prize in the same jurisdiction where you purchased the ticket. For example, if you live in State A and picked up a winning lottery ticket while visiting State B, you will only be able to claim in State B
- Value judgment: The options for how to claim a win differ according to how much the prize is worth. Lower-value tickets can often be cashed by lottery retailers, while a jackpot claim may require a visit to lottery headquarters. Claiming a prize by mail is also an option in most areas
How Long is a Ticket Good For?
The clock starts ticking on the prize claim period from the winning draw date. However, the claim deadline varies between lottery jurisdictions, ranging from a narrow 90-day window in New Mexico to up to one year in other states.
There are also other factors to be aware of that may have an impact on how long you have to redeem the ticket.
For example, you may have less time to claim if you want to take the lump sum cash option payout, whereas the annuity claim period is longer.
The amount you've won may also play a role in how much time you have. In California, winners have 180 days to claim all prizes - except if you've hit the jackpot, in which case you have one year from the draw date to come forward.
Check the table below to find the claim period information for the jurisdiction where you purchased the ticket.
California (non-jackpot prizes)
|U.S. Virgin Islands|
|California (jackpot winners)
What Happens to Unclaimed Prizes?
Unfortunately, prizes are not always claimed within the required timeframe. Sometimes a ticket gets lost, thrown away by mistake, or is even destroyed by accidentally going through the wash!
That's why it's key to take steps to protect yourself in the event of a ticket-astrophe. Sign the ticket and always carefully check your numbers after the draw.
"Even if you don’t win the jackpot, many games have numerous other prize levels," points out Gordon Medenica, Mega Millions lead director and director of Maryland Lottery and Gaming. "While most unclaimed prizes tend to be for much smaller amounts, we still encourage our players to always check their tickets."
However, missing the claim window happens more often than you might think - and the bad news is that once the prize is gone, it's gone for good. After the deadline has expired, the winner may no longer claim and the ticket becomes worthless. It's as if the prize was never won.
But what happens to the prize money if the winner misses the deadline?
Generally, the funds go back to the individual lotteries that sold the tickets - Powerball and Mega Millions are called multi-state games and are played in many jurisdictions. The funds that each lottery contributed to the prize pool from its ticket sales are returned.
Each state has its own laws regarding what expired lottery winnings are earmarked for. In some cases, the money makes its way back to players via, for example, second-chance drawings. In other areas, money may be contributed to the state's General Fund or allocated for a specific priority such as local schools.
How to Claim A Powerball or Mega Millions Prize
Below are some guidelines as a rule of thumb for how to redeem a winnning ticket; however, make sure you always check with your local lottery to confirm their rules as they may differ from what is outlined below.
Generally speaking ... smaller amounts can be paid by a lottery retailer; medium-value prizes can be redeemed in person at a lottery office or by mail; and jackpot wins must be claimed in person at lottery headquarters.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many lotteries have expanded the range of prizes that may be claimed by mail. Some states, like Florida, also offer secure dropboxes at their lottery offices where you can leave a prize claim.
|Prize Value||Where to Claim|
|$599 & below|
Tickets worth less than $600 can typically be cashed by an official lottery retailer, although this is at the retailer's discretion.
You can also mail your winning ticket to the lottery. Sign the ticket and complete any other information, such as your address and phone. A claim form and other documents may also be required.
|$600 & above|
Prizes of $600 and up can usually be redeemed at a lottery district office or headquarters.
Prizes may also be claimed by mail, as per above. The top prize value that is eligible for a mail-in claim differs by jurisdiction.
If you’ve won the top Mega Millions or Powerball prize, get in touch with the lottery in the jurisdiction where you bought the ticket. You'll most likely need to visit the lottery headquarters to claim the prize in person.