By Don McNay
CNHI News Service
Amanda Clayton was not your typical millionaire.
In her short life, Amanda won a million-dollar lottery in Michigan, was convicted of collecting welfare after she got the lottery payout and found herself embroiled in a multitude of dramas and legal battles.
Now she is dead, at age 25, of a possible drug overdose.
I’ve devoted much of my life to studying why people, especially lottery winners, run through large sums of money. I’ve written two books, and my latest, "Life Lessons From the Lottery," will be out on Kindle on Nov. 10. All focus on why people run through money needlessly.
I keep thinking Amanda might be alive if she had read one of them, 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 shortly after she hit the jackpot: She let the world know she won. If you search the Internet, you can find a picture of a happy and attractive Amanda from September 2011. She is smiling, holding a huge check from the Michigan Lottery.
It's possible for lottery winners in Michigan to collect their winnings anonymously, except for Mega Millions and Powerball winners. Amanda would have been better off to quietly take her winnings. But it didn’t work out that way.
Telling the world you have money you never expected is asking for trouble. Just like the experience of Abraham Shakespeare, another lottery winner who wound up dead in Florida, people who think your money should be “our” money come out of the woodwork.
According to various news accounts, it seemed Amanda had a ton of newfound “friends.” All wanted 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: Those at the public assistance office.
Amanda pleaded no contest to fraud in June after prosecutors accused her of receiving $5,500 per month in food and medical benefits after she won the lottery, according to the Detroit News.
Millionaires are not supposed to collect food stamps. Of course, had Amanda tried to rip off the government as a Wall Street banker, her crime would been ignored and she probably would have received a bailout.
She got nine months' probation instead. She wound up not living until the end of her sentence.
I’m not sure winning the lottery was the source of Amanda's problems, but I've see this happen too many times: People who win lose perspective on normal things in life. They start to think rules don’t apply to them.
It’s been said that 90 percent of people who win the lottery will run through the money in five years or less.
I tell lottery winners to do five things to protect themselves:
1. Don’t tell anyone you won. Collect the money anonymously, if you can.
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 adviser who has worked with people who have more money than you do. If you win $100 million, find an adviser who has clients with $150 million.
5. Use your money to give something back to society.
In Amanda’s case, she thought she could outsmart the welfare people and apparently do serious drugs without consequence.
She lost her bet both times.
Don McNay is a columnist for the Richmond (Ky.) Register. Contact him at email@example.com.