Sunday, April 22, 2007

Money...That's What I Want
But What Price Do I Have To Pay For It?

Money. It seems we all need it...and want it. I always say that, "Money can't buy you love, but it can rent long-term happiness." Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. But I think that is truly the case. Many of us have tried to "live large" and have paid the price for it. I'm guilty of it. In fact, I'm working hard right now to get out of debt. If only I could win the lottery or something. Hmmm.

The bad news is that I probably won't win the next huge PowerBall lottery. The good news is that I may be better off if I don't. I did a little research and found that lottery winners typically are no happier swimming in money than when they were broke. Some become embroiled in lawsuits, estranged from family and friends, and divorced from their spouses. One study I found that instant millionaires are no happier than recent accident victims.

Winning the lottery doesn't change people's lives as much as is imagined, according to H. Roy Kaplan, author of several books on lottery winners. Kaplan has interviewed more than 600 winners of more than $1 million, and found that "people's lives don't change radically. You can catapult people from one economic status to another overnight, but a lifetime of beliefs and experiences change more slowly. Most lottery winners keep their jobs, but find their relationship with co-workers changed. Most are inundated with requests for money, both from friends and strangers. And some, like Jack Whittaker, have their lives changed forever. Read on.

It was a made-for-TV Christmas story, and Whittaker's hardworking family became celebrities overnight. Whittaker's wife, Jewel, and their granddaughter Brandi Bragg would appear on no fewer than eight television shows. But as Whittaker celebrated his good fortune, he had no way of knowing that he was embarking on a journey that would lead to tragedy and the loss of everything he held dear.

On Christmas morning in 2002, Jack Whittaker woke up to perhaps the biggest gift imaginable. Whittaker had won the Powerball lottery jackpot — a whopping $315 million. "I got sick at my stomach, and I just was [at] a loss for words and advice," Whittaker said. "You know, I was really searching for advice, and it's, like, Christmas Day."

Whittaker now says that he regrets winning the lottery. "Since I won the lottery, I think there is no control for greed," he said. "I think if you have something, there's always someone else that wants it. I wish I'd torn that ticket up." He had the very best of intentions...he truly wanted to share his good fortune and help people. Within months, Whittaker was making good on his promise. He handed over $15 million for the construction of two churches alone.

The initial blitz of publicity meant that everyone knew about Whittaker's record-breaking win, and he was besieged by requests for help. In order to deal with these requests, he formed the Jack Whittaker Foundation. Jill, the clerk who sold him his winning ticket, went to work for him in the mailroom. "There were so many letters that they wouldn't even deliver the mail. It was nothing for us to sit for 10 hours just opening envelopes," said Jill. The foundation received all kinds of requests, such as, "people wanting new carpet, people wanting entertainment systems, people wanting Hummers, people wanting houses — just absolutely bizarre things."

Whittaker gave away at least $50 million worth of houses, cars and cash. Suddenly, the man who won a fortune at Christmas had become everybody's Santa Claus. "Any place that I would go they would come up," he said. "I mean, we went to a basketball game and we must have had 150 people come up to us…and it would be going right back to asking for money."

Less than a year after winning the lottery things began to change. Rob Dunlap, one of Whittaker's many attorneys, said Whittaker has spent at least $3 million dollars fending off lawsuits. "I've had over 400 legal claims made on me or one of my companies since I've won the lottery, " said Whittaker. When asked why that might happen, Whittaker said it's because "everybody wants something for nothing."

"What I really enjoyed the most was watching my granddaughter Brandi enjoy it," he said. Whittaker bought and decorated an elaborate home for her and her mother that included a perfect recreation of the bottle from the 1960's TV sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie." He also gave Brandi about $2,000 a week and bought her four new cars. Whittaker said while Bragg was only 17 years old at the time, she was very responsible with her money. "To a young kid cars mean a lot," Whittaker said. "She had four cars and I'm very proud that she had four cars."

According to her friends, Bragg's cars and cash began to attract the attention of some "bad people," including drug dealers. Whittaker said. She started to use illegal drugs. Whittaker repeatedly tried to get her help and sent her to several treatment programs, but she couldn't stay clean. "She doesn't want to be in charge of the money; she doesn't want to inherit the money; she just looks for her next drugs," Whittaker said. "She said, 'Pawpaw, all I care about is drugs.' It broke my heart."

Almost two years after Whittaker hit the jackpot, Bragg disappeared. After a frantic two-week search, on Dec. 20, 2004, she was found dead, wrapped in a plastic sheet, dumped behind a junked van. The cause of death was listed as unknown. Whittaker believes that the Powerball win had become a curse upon his family. "My granddaughter is dead because of the money," he said. "She was the shining star of my life, and she was what it was all about for me," he said. "From the day she was born, it was all about providing, and protecting, and taking care of her. You know, my wife had said she wished that she had torn the ticket up. Well, I wish that we had torn the ticket up too."

Whittaker believes that money isn't what makes people happy — family is. "Family is what is dear," he said. "I don't know where it'll end. But you know, I just don't like Jack Whittaker. I don't like the hard heart I've got. I don't like what I've become."

Do you really think you'd be better off with $100,000? $1,000,000? $10,000,000? $100,000,000? Consider the highlights of these unlucky winners while standing in line for your next lottery ticket:

Norman Fletcher of Deckerville won $1 million in September 1974, and then was sued by his best friend.

Charles Lynn Riddle of Belleville won $1 million in August 1975. Afterward, he got divorced, faced several lawsuits and was indicted for selling cocaine.

Kenneth P. Proxmire of Hazel Park won $1 million in 1977. Within five years, he declared bankruptcy and his children and wife of 18 years left him.

Larry Frederick of Livingston County split a $33 million jackpot in 1988. Frederick, who was financially well-off before winning the lottery, found himself awash in lawsuits.

Willie Hurt of Lansing won $3.1 million in 1989. Two years later, he was broke and charged with murder. His lawyer said Hurt spent his fortune on a divorce and crack cocaine.

Money doesn't change a person's level of happiness. People who say money is most important to them are usually the unhappiest. I guess it's like that song from the 70's says...

"Just be thankful...for what you've got!"