Holly Lahti had very mixed emotions when she realized that she was the second winner of the recent $380 million Powerball Lottery Jackpot. As a resident of Idaho, a community property state, her estranged husband is entitled to one half of her $190 million prize because, although living separate from her husband for some time, she had not yet been awarded a legal separation or divorce.
Community property states have a very simple law; any assets acquired during a marriage, other than by inheritance or gift, are deemed equal property of the spouses. Had she been a resident of New York, an equitable distribution state, Holly may have a higher level of confidence that she will be able to keep most, if not all, of her lottery winnings. In New York, an asset acquired during a marriage, other than by inheritance or gift, is considered marital property, but does not necessarily get shared equally by the spouses. If Holly could show the Court that she and her spouse are estranged, have lived separate for a period of time, and have separated their finances not withstanding the fact that they are still married, the Court could decide that her husband, having contributed nothing towards winning the lottery prize is not entitled to share in the prize.