Why hasn't $1.3 billion Mega Millions winner claimed prize yet?

More than a month has passed since a single ticket purchased at a Des Plaines gas station was announced as the winner of the $1.3 billion jackpot.

It could be several more months before the winner claims that prize, experts say - assuming, of course, that the valuable ticket hasn't been lost or accidentally discarded.

"We could be in the dark on this for a long time about who it was," said Christine Field, an attorney with the Hirsch Law Group, a Chicago-area firm that has handled several lottery winners' payouts in the past. "People are wise to take their time before coming forward because they have to make a lot of decisions."

One of the first decisions is whether to choose the lump sum payout or spread the payout over 30 years.

A lump sum payout amounts to $780.5 million, lottery officials said. Choosing the one-time payout reduces the risk that more money would be lost if the winner doesn't live for all 30 years of the annualized payout.

"There are tax consequences to either one you want to choose," Field explained.

California-based lottery attorney Kurt Panouses also notes that Illinois allows lottery winners to set up corporate shelters that help reduce tax obligations if someone were to distribute the winnings among family members or a group of co-workers.

"It avoids the gift taxes," Panouses said.

Panouses said he often meets with potential clients two or three times before he's hired.

"It's a lot of money, so you're looking for a comfort level there with someone that's going to help you make some very important, life-changing decisions," he said. "It can take some time to build that relationship."

The winner of the July 29 drawing has a year to claim the prize, lottery officials said. The operators of the Des Plaines gas station where the ticket was sold have received their $500,000 bonus, though.

"For a prize of this magnitude, it's not unusual for a winner to take a little bit longer to claim the prize as they may want to seek professional legal and financial advice prior to claiming," Illinois Lottery spokeswoman Meghan Powers said.

She noted the winner also has the right to remain anonymous when claiming the prize. Illinois is one of only a handful of states to allow that.

"The Illinois Lottery will support the winner through the prize-claim process to ensure a great winning experience and support any requests for anonymity," she said.

Field warned that whoever won shouldn't try to finagle the winnings from others who may have a claim to a share.

"If you're going through a divorce when you won the lottery, you'd likely get a big fight that it was marital property," she said. "And if there was any expectation you were going to share it with co-workers, you're best to keep up your end because you're not only going to engender a lot of bad blood in the workplace, but you're going to engender a lot of lawsuits."

Ultimately, Field believes it could be five or six months before the winner steps forward.

"One month is not a lot of time to get your ducks in a row," she said. "I hope they're planning a fabulous life."

Gordon Midvale fills out a lottery ticket July 26 inside a 7-Eleven store in Oakland, Calif. Associated Press
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