The Richmond Register

October 6, 2012

Death by being a lottery winner

By Don McNay
Register Columnist

RICHMOND — “I can feel the hand, of a stranger,

And it’s tightening, around my throat.

Heaven help me, Heaven help me”

— Grand Funk Railroad

Amanda Clayton was not your typical millionaire. In her short life, she won a million-dollar lottery in Michigan, was convicted of collecting state welfare money AFTER she got the million dollars and was embroiled in a plethora of drama and legal battles.

Now she is dead, at age 25, of a drug overdose.

I’ve devoted much of my life to studying why people run through large sums of money. Especially lottery winners. I’ve written two best-selling books, along with a new book, “Life Lessons From the Lottery,” which will be out on Kindle on November 10.

And they all focus on why people run through money needlessly. 

I keep thinking that if Amanda had read one of them, she might be alive, but probably not. She lived a troubled life. Getting the lottery money added rocket fuel to her problems.

Like so many lottery losers, Amanda made the first big mistake when she won the lottery: She let the world know she won.

In her home state of Michigan, it’s possible for state lottery winners to collect their winnings anonymously, except for Mega Millions and Powerball winners.

Thus, Amanda would have been better off to quietly take her winnings, but it didn’t work out that way.

If you go online, you can find a happy and attractive Amanda from September of last year. She was smiling, holding a huge million-dollar check from the Michigan Lottery.

Now she is in a coffin, holding a lily. For eternity. To me, the big check and lily are correlated.

Telling the world that you have money that you never expected to have is asking for trouble. Like Abraham Shakespeare, another lottery winner who wound up dead in Florida, people thinking that your money should be “our” money seem to come out of the woodwork.

From various news accounts, it seemed like Amanda had a ton of newfound “friends.” All wanting to take advantage of her.

Although Amanda was not shy about making headlines with her check, there was one group of people she “forgot” to mention it to.

The food stamp and public assistance office.

According to the Detroit News, Clayton plead no contest to fraud in June after state prosecutors accused her of receiving $5,500 in food and medical benefits after she won the lottery.

Millionaires are not supposed to collect food stamps. If Amanda had tried to rip off the government as a Wall Street banker, her crime would been ignored and she probably would have received a government bailout.

She got nine months probation instead. She wound up not staying alive until the end of her sentence.

It’s sad to see a 25-year-old throw their life away. I’m not sure that winning the lottery was the source of her problems, but I see it happen too many times.

People who win the lottery lose perspective on normal things in life. They start to think that rules don’t apply to them. In Amanda’s case, she thought she could outsmart the welfare people and do serious drugs without consequence.

She lost her bet both times.

It’s been said that roughly 90 percent of people who win the lottery will run through it in five years or less. I tell lottery winners five things to protect themselves.

1. Don’t tell anyone you won. If you can collect the money anonymously, do so.

2. Stop and think for a minute before rushing down to collect the check.

3. Don’t take the lump-sum payment. Take the money over time instead.

4. Find an advisor who has worked with more money than what you have. If you win $100 million, find an advisor who has clients with $150 million. They are out there.

5. Use your money to give something back to society.   

It looks like Amanda went five for five in things that she did wrong.

Now she is no longer with us.

Don McNay is author of the upcoming book, Life Lessons From The Lottery, which will be available on Kindle on November 10. He is the author of two bestselling books, Son of a Son of a Gambler: Winners, Losers and What To What to Do When You Win the Lottery and Wealth Without Wall Street.