Because we’re worth it!

The Late Liliane Bettencourt was the world’s richest woman before she passed away at the age of 94. In 2017, Liliane had an estimated net worth of €33 Billion and was the icon of L’Oréal, one of the biggest cosmetic companies in France and indeed across the world. Two days after Liliane passed away, the company’s stock rose by 2.5%, increasing the value of her estate significantly.

Liliane’s mother passed away when she was just five years old, leaving her with just her father for inspiration. Her father was the late Eugene Schueller, a chemist and a Nazi supporter who became wealthy through his invention of the modern hair dye and in turn founded L’Oréal in 1907. Liliane joined her father company, L’Oreal, at the age of 15 as an apprentice; her role was to mix cosmetics and label bottles of shampoo.

Liliane went on to marry the politician Andre Bettencourt in 1950 and inherit L’ Oréal in 1957. Towards the end of Liliane’s long and successful life her daughter, Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, initiated legal proceedings against her mother’s best friend, the photographer François Marie Banier, accusing him of taking advantage of Liliane’s age and frailty and accepting extravagant gifts of Picasso and Matisse paintings made under duress. For a life centred around beauty, the resulting estrangement between Ms Bettencourt and her daughter was a somewhat sorry affair, though it captured the imagination of French journalists for years, not least because Ms Bettencourt’s domestic staff claimed that Banier had not only begged explicitly for money, but urinated in her flowerbeds.

Recordings made by Ms Bettencourt’s butler provided the evidence that landed Monsieur Banier in jail. In 2011 it was formally confirmed that Liliane had, since 2006, suffered from ‘mixed dementia’ and Alzheimer’s disease. A French judge subsequently placed Liliane under the guardianship of both her daughter and her two grandsons, charging the eldest, Jean-Victor Meyers, with ‘ward[ing] off all conflict between Liliane […] and her daughter’.

In August 2012, Liliane sold her private island, D’Arros Island, to a Seychelles registered conservation business linked to the Swiss Save our Seas Foundation for £60 million. Her eventful and extravagant life came to an end in 2017, though the ups and downs of the legal saga that gripped the French media for almost ten years have remained at the forefront of public imagination.

Though the circumstances of her family’s rise to wealth remain coloured by her pro-fascist father’s success in an occupied France, Liliane’s main legacy today is the multi-million pound philanthropy of the Bettencourt Scheuller Foundation, which continues to make lasting contributions to scientific research, the arts, and social progress causes. A powerful woman embroiled in the most extraordinary succession dispute of recent memory, the figure at the heart of L’Oreal’s beauty empire is an arresting figure to recall following International Women’s Day. The story of the richest woman in the world serves to remind us that the complexity of an estate is not limited to the extent of its assets, but is also a matter of the family relationships that go hand-in-hand.

Looking at the life of Liliane Bettencourt, we can see that having certain plans in place could have simplified some of the family conflicts. Having both types of Lasting Powers of Attorney (for Health and Welfare and Property and Financial Affairs) would mean that Liliane could have appointed a trusted family member while she was still of sound mind. This would have eradicated the need for the judge to have appointed three guardians, one of whom was solely responsible for stopping family conflict and ensuring the guardians acted in the best interest of Liliane. A Will would have also simplified the estate after Liliane’s death.

Family circumstances such as these are often seen by us at APS Legal and Associates and, as an Associate with us, you can help family’s plan for this before they get to any conflict.

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2 Comments

  • test

    Fascinating story and applicable to everyone even if they may not be a billionaire!

    Reply
  • test

    Liliane was French a French citizen and French estate law is fundamentally different to that of UK law. While I appreciate the point being made, it may be worth highlighting the fact about overseas wills

    Reply

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