Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Story of Han and Li

[Note: Most lottery winners either continue to work, or at least find new work. For most of us, this is a good idea. But the implications of the following parable go beyond simply work. And it’s not just for lottery winners. It’s applicable to life in general.]

chinese-painting-1600sIn a fishing village in ancient China there lived two boys. One was named Han, and the other was called Li. And the two boys used to play together along the shore of the great river.

Now the day came when Han’s father called him and said, “My son, the time has come for you to seek your way in the world. You must go and find a master, who will teach you how to live.” And Li’s father said the same thing to him.

Now it happened that two new masters had recently arrived in the village. So Han approached the first master and asked him, “If I become your student, what will you teach me?”

“I will teach you the way of the salmon, who swims upstream in the summer,” replied the master. I will teach you to climb the mountain in the hot sun. I will teach you to run until you are thirsty. And I will teach you to lift boulders until you are tired.”

Then Han went to the second master and asked him, “If I become your student, what will you teach me?”

“I will teach you the way of the seagull,” replied the second master. “I will teach you to soar upon life, just as the seagull spreads its wings and soars effortlessly on the breeze. I will teach you to live off of the bounty of the land. I will teach you to float, just as the seagull floats on the water. And I will teach you to be free — just as the seagull goes wherever he pleases, whenever he pleases, and is beholden to no man.”

“I should very much like to learn this way of the seagull,” thought Han. And so he stayed with the second master.

In his turn, Li also approached the two masters, just as Han had done. And when he had spoken with both, he thought to himself, “I should very much like to learn this way of the seagull, as my friend Han is doing. However, I have also wished my entire life that I might be able to climb the mountain, and at least once see its magnificent view. I think I shall go and stay with the first master, at least until he has taught me to climb the mountain. Then I shall return and learn the way of the seagull with my friend Han.”

And so Li went and lived with the first master. He began to learn the way of the salmon, who swims upstream in the summer. This path demanded effort from him every day. It was often challenging, but it was not beyond his ability. It simply took effort. As time went by, he learned the skills needed to climb the mountain. And when after some months of training he reached its peak, he found the experience and the view to be so exhilarating that he decided to stay and see whether there might be some reward also in learning to run until he was thirsty.

In the end, he forgot all about learning the way of the seagull at all.

Han stayed with the second master, and he learned the way of the seagull. He learned the silence of the ocean on a quiet day, and the roar of the ocean in the storm. He learned what foods there were in nature, and he roamed through the wilderness with his master, going where the master pleased. He enjoyed the bounty that life had to offer him. He learned to live without concern, without obligation to others, and almost without effort, because he understood all the things that grew in the forest, and which of them could be eaten, and how.

After some time, the two boys — who were now young men — were released by their masters.

Li went and lived in a village. He built for himself a house made of stone — for he had grown strong lifting boulders in the wilderness, and it was now not a difficult or unusual thing for him to carry rocks and use them to make buildings. He also began to build such houses for others, and was happy to see the things he had made. These others also paid Li, and he became prosperous.

When invaders came, he repelled them, for not only was he strong — he was also swift, because his master had taught him how to run until he was thirsty. And like the salmon, he had learned to follow a purpose to its end, and to expend effort to achieve a goal.

And so Li gathered his relatives and friends around him. He lived a long and mostly happy life. When he died many years later, he left children and grandchildren, and was sorely missed by those who knew him. And he had taught his children the way of the salmon as well.

Han went and lived in the forest. There he was fortunate enough to find a valley by the river that was overflowing with the riches of nature. There was fruit of all kinds, and he gathered it — almost without effort. Monkeys and golden pheasants lived in the valley, and some of them became his friends. He also lay beside the river with his fishing line in the water, and whenever a fish would attach itself to the line, he would pull it in, cook the fish, and toss the bones on the ground.

And so Han made his home there beside the river, and sheltered under an overhanging rock. When invaders came through the land, there was no need for Han to fight them, because he lived in the wilderness, and did not have anything that interested them anyway. Han grew soft and fat on the bounty of the earth, until he found it difficult to walk up the steep slope that led out of the valley. But he cared little to leave his valley in any event, because it provided for all of his needs.

Unfortunately, on a dark and moonless night just three years after he had left his master, Han was swarmed and eaten by mice. It was a sad way to go, but being badly out of shape from years of no effort, he was unable to fight them off.

And so ended the way of the seagull.

(Moral: An easy, effortless life may not be as great of an idea as it might first sound.)

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Lessons From Kevyn Ogawa’s Story

When It Comes to Advisors, the Magic Isn't in the Suit.

When It Comes to Advisors, the Magic Isn’t in the Suit.

In 2009, Kevyn Ogawa, a grocery store worker, collected $70 million from the lottery (after taxes).

Ogawa was a young man, 32 years of age. He had no wife, no siblings, and only one living parent.

So Kevyn did what everyone tells you to do: He went out and got a financial advisor. Two of them, in fact.

Even better, it seems that both of his financial advisors — Clinton Hodges and Kyle Dunphy — were attorneys. Well, there you go. Two birds with one stone.

Actually, three birds: They were insurance agents, as well.

There was just one problem. Things did not go well. Mr. Ogawa is currently suing his former financial advisors for multiple millions of dollars. The lawsuit alleges that these guys, contrary to their specific duties under the law, acted in such a way as to benefit themselves rather than their client.

The first thing they did, was to sell Kevyn some life insurance. A lot of life insurance.

$100 million worth of life insurance.

Now there may be a few instances in which someone buying $100 million worth of life insurance is appropriate. But… for a single guy who’s not a big businessman, who has $70 million and only one close living relative?

The details are scant, but this must’ve been some kind of “cash-value” policy, in which it appears that Hodges & Dunphy encouraged Mr. Ogawa to place some large amount of his winnings.

They reportedly told him these insurance polices “would earn [him] $50 million by the time he was 50 years old.”

I’m not sure what the current effective interest rate is on these kinds of policies, but if we assume it’s around 5% over 18 years, then it would be possible to get there with about $35 million. If it’s 4%, then it would take $50 million, and if it’s around 3-1/2%, it would take $60 million.

Hodges and Dunphy “made about $1 million in commission on the sale of the insurance.” If that’s a 2% commission, then we’re back at $50 million. If it’s more, then less than that amount. In any case, it appears he shelled out a lot of his cash on whatever policies it was that they sold him.

By the way, I don’t know if it was the case here, but such policies are often subject to high fees (as well as big commissions for the agents who sell them).

They also advised him to buy several expensive pieces of real estate, which “saddled Kevyn with $27 million in debt, while earning Hodges and Dunphy further commissions.”

Okay, so the fact that Kevyn had to borrow $27 million is a pretty good indication that his cash — pretty much all the $70 million of it — must have been tied up elsewhere.

Now the real estate might or might not have been a good idea. But even if it was a decent investment, I would think one would need a pretty darn good reason to go $27 million in debt over it.

Two years later, according to Kevyn, the defendants “tried to persuade him to surrender his existing life insurance policies and take out a single $600 million policy.”

What the @#%*@?!?

There’s at least some rationale that I can see for a permanent insurance policy — although I personally have serious doubts that such a large policy could be in Mr. Ogawa’s best interest.

But a $600 million life insurance policy? Are you kidding me?

And if the policies they sold him were a good idea two years ago — and these kinds of policies are LONG TERM deals — then why on earth would he need to surrender them just two years later for some other policy?

Well, here’s one reason that comes to mind: Another financial advisor pointed out to Kevyn that this was a deal that Hodges and Dunphy stood to make a multi-million-dollar commission on.

Hmm… I wonder whose pocket those millions of dollars were going to come out of?

The court papers continue, “Kevyn stood no chance to benefit from the insurance financially since he was not named as a beneficiary of the trust that owned the policies.”

Whaaa? What the heck is THAT about?? At this point the whole story starts to become surreal, especially given that both Hodges and Dunphy are lawyers. Now I’m not a lawyer, but I simply can’t figure out any reason for that at all.

Kevyn’s lawsuit was filed 3 months ago, and the result, as far as I know, is pending.

There are a number of lessons we might get out of Kevyn’s tale.

  • Unless you’re really sure of what you’re doing, you need someone else looking at advisors and their proposals with you, to help you sort out the good from the bad. In fact, in many instances it wouldn’t hurt to have a second, entirely independent, investment advisor review a proposal your first investment advisor has put forth.  Incidentally, it was getting a second opinion that reportedly made Kevyn really realize that he’d been had.
  • Don’t just trust what your advisors tell you — particularly if there’s any way that they stand to make big money from you following their particular advice, versus not following it. Think for yourself. Ask questions if you have doubts.
  • A single guy with $70 million, no spouse or children, and one living parent, probably does not need $100 million of life insurance! Let alone a $600 million policy.
  • Be damn careful about anyone who wants to sell you a huge life insurance policy. Those things can be very, very tricky.
  • If you have millions or tens of millions of dollars, there is almost certainly NO NEED for you to go into debt. Yes, there are big businessmen like Donald Trump whose businesses take on large amounts of long-term debt. Those people have years — and usually decades — of successful business experience, and they really, massively, know what they’re doing.
    Even so, there’s no “need” for them to do so. If you have multiple millions of dollars, you don’t “need” to take on the risk of going into debt. You can simply invest the money wisely and live for the rest of your life off of the proceeds of your investment.
  • Finally, it is well worth paying some money — significant money, even — to have a good, independent advisor, who will legitimately work in your best interest. A “fee-only” investment advisor, as long as his fees are reasonable, is probably a decent way to go about this. Why? Because he isn’t going to be making a commission on a particular deal. An advisor who makes commissions may be okay, but you need to know where those commissions are coming from and exactly how much they’re going to be.
  • Paying a small annual percentage for fee-based help is far better than having advisors who are going to mislead you and quite possibly fleece you of hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars. I don’t know how much Kevyn Ogawa has lost, but it sounds like a lot.
  • It still costs money, but Mr. Ogawa ought to have been able to find an advisor who would’ve done a good, impartial fee-based job of managing $70 million for him for well under $1 million a year, total.

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Ira Curry Takes Home $120 Million

Ira Curry of Georgia was one of two winners in Tuesday’s $636 million Mega Millions jackpot.

Ira will take home around $120 million. She came forward to claim the prize immediately — on Wednesday, the day after the lottery and the same day she found out she’d won. I would have advised her to take her time, of course.

But she also didn’t appear in a press conference (good move there) and has so far told reporters she wants privacy (also a good move).

By the way, I don’t feel like I’m adding to her public profile here — her name and her photo (which I won’t publish) are all over the news. They’re talking about her as far away as China.

So that particular cat is well out of the bag, and there’s no putting it back in. Those high-profile articles are going to last on the web for years to come. Maybe decades.

The only public statement I’ve seen says that Ira “hasn’t decided” what to do with the winnings. For the present, this is good move #3. She should make no quick commitments. She’s scrubbed her Facebook account — good move #4 — but quite a bit of information did leak out before she did, including some photos. Which of course is not as good.

Like other big winners, Ira needs to let the story die.

Now come the various challenges of life after the win. Fortunately, Ira’s own children are reportedly grown, which is probably a good thing. But she does have grandchildren in the mix. I hope she and her husband will be wise in how they deal with the family challenges, and especially the grandkids growing up in the shadow of $120 million. From the very little I’ve seen, Ira and her husband look like fairly astute individuals. That does give cause for optimism.

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David Lee Edwards Is Dead

“I want this money to last, for me, for my future wife, for my daughter and future generations.” — David Lee Edwards
David Lee Edwards married girlfriend Shawna shortly after winning the lottery. Their bright future quickly turned dark.

David Lee Edwards married girlfriend Shawna shortly after winning 1/4th of the Powerball jackpot. Their bright future quickly turned dark.

In August of 2001, David Lee Edwards won one fourth of the Powerball jackpot. After taxes, his share came to $27.1 million in cold, hard cash.

In less than 5 years, David and his new wife Shawna were living in a storage unit, after coming to the end of the money and losing their $1.5 million mansion.

Shawna left David not long after the money ran out. David then spent the last 7 years or so broke before dying alone in a hospice, reportedly thousands of dollars in debt. He was only 58.

David leaves behind not a single penny for his daughter Tiffani. She now works as a clerk at an amusement park.

There are many lessons that could be learned from David Lee Edwards’ tale. For one thing, a prudent couple could easily be set for the rest of their lives on less than one tenth of the resources Edwards and his wife had.

The frugal and well-advised could probably even do it on a twentieth the amount.

And that’s in reasonable comfort, for the rest of two people’s lives, without ever working again, and even having something left to leave to the kids.

But with David and Shawna, it was all gone in less than five years.

“If he followed my advice, he’d be pulling in about $85,000 a month for the rest of his life.” — James Gibbs, former financial advisor to David Lee Edwards

Another lesson is: Exercise some prudence and humility. If you’re a multimillionaire, don’t try to live like a multibillionaire. If you do, don’t be surprised when total poverty is the result.

Also, if you have any interest in drugs, then you’d better get yourself seriously sorted out, or else find a way to restrict yourself from blowing through your fortune. The same may be true if you’re inexperienced in managing money.

And you’d better find ways to restrict those you hire from fleecing you, as well.

Another lesson — and this is a big one — Good intentions aren’t enough.

David wanted to be responsible. He wanted the money to last. He wanted to leave a legacy for his daughter and future grandchildren. He even said so. In fact, it was one of the first things out of his mouth.

But the world doesn’t give a fig about your good intentions. It only cares about what you do.

And David Lee Edwards didn’t do the things that go along with either living a long and happy life, or holding on to your fortune.

Here’s one of the cold, hard truths of life: Winning the lottery is just money. It doesn’t change your nature. If you were a screw-up before you won the lottery, then winning the lottery isn’t going to automatically make you a success.

The good news it that it will give you the opportunity to have enough space and resources to reform yourself. But unless you actually put yourself onto that path, and keep on it just as seriously as if your life depended on it — because it well may — you’re only going to keep being a screw-up.

Only now, you’ll be a screw-up with money. Enough money to fail spectacularly. And the entire world is going to know you’re a screw-up.

And in the end, the money will do you no more good than it did David Lee Edwards. Dying penniless and alone at age 58? I don’t call that a benefit.

Finally, what’s the good of hiring a financial advisor if you’re not going to follow his advice? David Edwards seems to have enjoyed joking about how upset his spending decisions were making his financial advisor.

The value of a financial advisor is not in showing him off as some sort of status symbol. It’s in getting good advice from him, and then actually FOLLOWING good advice, so that you don’t end up as Edwards did.

If he doesn’t give good advice, then get an advisor who does. If he does give good advice, then follow it.

What David Lee Edwards seems to have missed at the time — when he was making fun of his upset financial advisor — is that the joke wasn’t on his advisor — it was on him.

The advisor wasn’t upset over David’s unwise use of the advisor’s money. The advisor was upset over David’s unwise use of David’s money.

And the advisor was only in danger of losing a client — which he did.

Edwards was in danger of losing his fortune and his life. Which he did.

More information about David Lee Edwards’ tragic life and death can be found here, and here.

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Congratulations To…

raining-moneyCongratulations To:

  • Kevin Carlson, Kansas City, Missouri: $71.5 million, Powerball.
  • Edward Prakapas and Daniel McCarthy, Boston, Massachusetts, $1.4 million after taxes, Powerball.
  • Amy Gourlay, Niles, Michigan: $1 million, Mega Millions.
  • Kenneth and Colleen Beard of Arkansas: $1 million, MIllionaire Madness.
  • Nathan Wilson, Karlene Zephirin, Keith Robinson, Isai Cortez and Marvin Rosales-Martinez, of New York — each winners of $1 million in the New York lottery. Rosales-Martinez is a landscaper who found his lottery ticket outdoors, blowing in the breeze.
  • Patricia Edwards, Troy, Ohio: $1 million, Mega Millions.
  • Ramon Mendez, Virginia: $2 million, Powerball.
  • Ira Curry, Stone Mountain, Georgia: $120 million after taxes, Mega Millions.
  • Kathryn Jones, Hamilton, Ontario: $46 million US, Ontario Lottery.
  • Karina Ahumada, Phoenix, Arizona: $1 million, Powerball.
  • David & Erica Harrig, Gretna, Nebraksa: $61 million, Powerball.

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