An heiress to the Disney fortune has given away $70 million and teaches her kids that money is the least important thing about them

Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
  • By the time she was in her 20s, the documentary filmmaker and Disney heiress Abigail Disney was “embarrassed” by the family money she’d inherited, she told The Cut.
  • Disney worked hard to earn degrees from prestigious schools to “feel legitimate” and has donated more than $US70 million of her fortune to date.
  • Disney now tells her four children that money doesn’t make someone a good or bad person and encourages them “to earn it in reverse.”

Abigail Disney started feeling uneasy about her family’s wealth by the time she was in her 20s.

In a recent interview with The Cut, the 59-year-old granddaughter of Roy Disney, a Walt Disney Co. cofounder, said her parents’ wealth had reached new heights by the time she went off to college.

“So all of the sudden, we went from being comfortable, upper-middle-class people to suddenly my dad had a private jet,” Abigail Disney, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, said. “That’s when I feel that my dad really lost his way in life. And that’s why I feel hyperconscious about what wealth does to people. I lived in one family as a child, and then I didn’t even recognise the family as I got older.”

Disney told The Cut that the fortune she inherited would have made her “a billionaire if I wanted to be a billionaire,” but she instead “wore s—– clothes,” worked hard to hide her wealth from classmates and friends in graduate school, earned degrees from Yale, Stanford, and Columbia to “feel legitimate,” and began donating even more money than her parents had.

“I was embarrassed by it. I didn’t want anyone to know,” Disney said, adding that her family’s wealth bred deep self-doubt and an “inferiority complex around people who have actually earned their money.”

To date, Disney has donated about $US70 million and plans to keep “giving a lot of money away” until her death, she said. Disney and her husband, Pierre Hauser, are cofounders of the Daphne Foundation, which supports programs to end poverty in New York City. Her production company, Fork Films, focuses on documentaries about international social issues.

Still, Disney’s four children have adopted a familiar scepticism of wealth, which she’s attempted to wring from them, she said.

“I keep trying to tell them that money is morally neutral,” Disney said. “It does not, in and of itself, make you a bad person. It also does not, in and of itself, makes you a good person. You are who you are and the least important thing about you is what you have.” As Disney puts it, “you try to earn it in reverse.”

The billionaire Warren Buffett has shared similar advice with his children, who are set to inherit at least part of their father’s fortune. Buffett told his children to use their talents to pursue whatever path that will most benefit society, not the path they feel is expected of them or the one that’s most prestigious or lucrative, Forbes reported.

The billionaire Bill Gates agrees. “It’s not a favour to kids to have them have huge sums of wealth,” Gates said in 2016. “It distorts anything they might do, creating their own path.”

Read the full story on The Cut ยป

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