Lessons from a Dead Millionaire



Basic Manual Speech 7:
Apply Your Skills

by Luke Setzer

True or false? "The complex world of personal finance can overwhelm the average person." True. How many of you have ever experienced frustration with trying to figure out mortgages, insurance, taxes, investments, real estate, employment, or business? Practically all of us. How many of you have sought out advice from books or magazines on these subjects? A lot of you. Do you appreciate it when advice makes you money? You bet you do. Do you appreciate the people who give you that advice? I hope so.

Charles J. Givens has produced some of the all-time best-selling books on personal finance. The story of his rise to fame, fall from grace, and final demise provide lessons for all of us.

Charles J. Givens was born in 1941. As a young man, he experienced mixed results in his quest to become one of America's wealthiest men. Finally, he got his act together. As Givens' business savvy matured, he formed his own company to teach his hard-learned success strategies to others. The stated mission of his company, the Charles J. Givens Organization, was to "stamp out financial ignorance in America". In a pioneering effort, Givens' company offered one-stop shopping for a variety of low-cost financial services. They also supplied a financial hotline to get fast answers to tough questions.

Givens' next goal was to publish a series of books on wealth and success. Wealth Without Risk, the first in that series, quickly became a top seller across the U.S. Givens embarked on a whirlwind tour of talk shows around the country to promote his message. Givens followed up his first best seller over the next few years with the books Financial Self-Defense, More Wealth Without Risk, Wealth Without Risk For Canadians, and SuperSelf. The success and persuasive message of his books led many people to join the CJGO.

All of Givens' effectiveness as a personal financial planner served him well in the years to follow. In the U.S., wealthy people provide easy targets for the poor, stupid, unscrupulous, and envious persons who wish to file frivolous lawsuits to gain easy money. In fact, a recent survey of Americans found many of them believing that the most effective way to become wealthy is through the winning of lawsuits.

Charles J. Givens and his company fell victim to this "sue-happy" mentality of in the early 1990s. The first blow came from a woman whose husband failed to follow Givens' insurance advice properly. One of Givens' more effective strategies for personal cost-control comes in the area of life insurance. He offers conclusive explanations for why term life insurance is always a better buy than whole life insurance. He explains, step-by-step, how to move safely from whole life insurance coverage to term life insurance coverage. Givens clearly states in his books to secure the new term life insurance policy before dropping the old whole life insurance policy. The man in question dropped his whole life policy and waited nine months without obtaining replacement term insurance. Before he got around to purchasing a new policy, he died in a car accident, leaving his wife and children broke.

The woman filed suit against Givens, claiming that he offered faulty advice.

In the usual style of litigious lawyers, the woman's attorneys exercised great leeway with the facts. They made all manners of specious, damaging assertions and then expected Givens' lawyers to prove that the assertions were not true. These events demonstrate an unfortunate aspect of U.S. civil law: If even a tiny award is presented by a court to a plaintiff in a lawsuit, then all assertions made by the plaintiff's lawyers against a defendant in that lawsuit can be used as legal facts in future lawsuits.

Givens chose to settle out of court rather than risk a "Pandora's Box" of lawsuits opened by a sympathetic jury easily swayed by manipulative barristers. None of this seemed to matter. Several other lawsuits against Givens followed, and all of them were just as frivolous.

Smartly and rightly, Givens and his lawyers had already cleverly structured his estate to make his personal fortune almost impossible to touch. Even with the multi-million dollar judgments against him, the plaintiffs had little hope of ever seeing a penny of his wealth transferred to their own coffers. A lengthy article in The Orlando Sentinel in 1997 detailed Givens' own personal "wealth-protecting" strategies that included multiple overseas phantom accounts, joint ownership of property with his wife, and other asset-protection methods. In his usual unfazed brazenness, he reported to the court a personal net worth of less than $800.

Charles J. Givens died of cancer in 1998 at the age of 57. Despite all his wealth and knowledge, he never did determine a way either to become immortal or to take any of his wealth with him. Luckily, it appears that no one outside of his final wishes will get his fortune, either.

The next time you hear someone speak harshly about Charles J. Givens, remember that you are probably not hearing all of the facts. The mission of my speech today is to encourage you to go out and actually to read the books by Charles J. Givens. Disregard the critics' ignorant say-so. Read the books and evaluate them using your own independent judgment. I suspect that you'll find, as I did, that his financial lessons are quite valuable.


Objectivism 101
Objectivism 101