Photo: AP Images
L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt has long enjoyed the title of Europe’s richest woman — and she still is technically — unless you consider that on Monday a judge ordered that the elderly billionaire’s fortune, an estimated $23 billion, be placed under the legal control of her daughter and grandsons. The 88-year-old, who ranked #15 on Forbes’ annual billionaires list released in March, was deemed mentally unfit to manage the family’s wealth.
So how did Bettencourt come to lose control of her vast inheritance?
The ruling has been years in the making — the unfortunate by-product of long-running family spats, national scandals, and above all, the uncontrollable, yet damaging affect that time has on the brain.
Liliane Bettencourt was born in Paris on October 21, 1922, as the only child of Eugène Schueller, the founder of cosmetic giant L'Oréal.
In 1950, Liliane married André Bettencourt, a French politician who would later be appointed deputy chairman of L'Oréal. The Bettencourts only daughter, Françoise, was born on July 10, 1953.
In 1957, Bettencourt became the principal shareholder of L'Oréal when her father passed away. In 1974, the heiress traded almost half her stock for a 3% stake in Nestlé.
It all started in 2008 when Liliane's daughter, Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, filed a criminal complaint against François-Marie Banier, a well-known French photographer and long-time friend of Bettencourt's, accusing him of taking advantage of her mother's confused mental state to defraud the ageing heiress of more than $1 billion in cash and gifts.
François-Marie Banier was alleged to have manipulated Bettencourt into giving him lumps of cash, expensive works of art, and life insurance policies.
In 2010, the saga grew even more convoluted when Bettencourt's former butler handed over secretly taped conversations that made the heiress the target of several other investigations, including possible tax evasion and making illegal donations to Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign, an issue that is still being examined.
The investigation also drove a wedge between Bettencourt and her only daughter. The pair were reportedly on non-speaking terms, only making an effort to mend their relationship after the lawsuit against Banier was dropped in late 2010.
Despite all the controversy, Bettencourt managed to stay in the elite ranks. In 2011, Forbes listed her as 15th richest person in the world (and second richest in France), with an estimated worth of $23.5 billion.
BUT in October 2011, Bettencourt lost control of her $23 billion fortune after a judge declared the 88-year-old heiress mentally unfit to manage the family's wealth, placing it under the legal control of her daughter and grandsons, while simultaneously rekindling an ancient family feud.
Her lifestyle is still subject to envy. Bettencourt splits her time among three luxury properties, including a Classical style villa in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, a mansion off of the Brittany Coast, and a secluded island in Seychelles.
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