Liliane Bettencourt

Guardianship and the Richest Woman in the World

On September 20th, Liliane Bettencourt, the richest woman in the world died at age 94. Scandals of several types plagued the last years of her life and the lives of those around her going as far as alleged campaign contributions in great excess of the legal limit to former president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy.

 

Aside from the political scandals, Bettencourt was involved in intense family drama to put it mildly. The heiress to the L’Oreal fortune amassed an incredible amount of wealth and at her death was worth approximately $44 billion. Her father, and known Nazi sympathizer, started the company that owns brands such as Garnier and Lancome and Bettencourt began working as an apprentice there at age 15. Throughout her long life, she was involved in developing cosmetics and served on the board until she stepped down in 2012 amidst claims that she was incompetent to handle her own affairs.

 

Bettencourt grew up in French high society and lived a life of luxury, eventually marrying a French politician. They had one daughter together, Francoise Bettencourt-Myers, from whom she grew estranged later in life. Bettencourt-Myers would ultimately seek guardianship over her mother and sue a long-time friend of her mother’s for abusing her mother’s mental frailty.

 

This friend was Francois-Marie Banier, a society photographer 25 years Bettencourt’s junior, but for nearly 20 years they were inseparable. Whether this is because a genuine friendship existed or he was taking advantage of her may never be truly known, but when Bettencourt’s daughter dropped the civil suit against Banier, French prosecutors pressed charges. Banier was accused of abus de faiblesse or “exploiting the weakness” of Bettencourt’s aging mind to the tune of over $1 billion in cash and assets, including an island in the Seychelles. He was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison, but his sentence was suspended.

 

Aside from the civil suit turned criminal prosecution against the photographer Banier, Bettencourt’s daughter sought guardianship over her mother. In 2011, a French court determined that she was unfit to manage her affairs because her dementia rendered her incompetent. Prior to the court’s ruling, Bettencourt had appeared in interviews claiming her daughter needed to seek psychological help and they were at constant odds with one another in the press and in court. She even threatened to leave France if her daughter was named as guardian. Court doctors cited “mixed dementia” and “moderately severe Alzheimer’s disease.” As such her grandsons and estranged daughter were named as guardians and they managed her vast wealth until her recent death at her mansion near Paris.

 

At Lindley Law, some of our guardianship cases are a result of conflict between family members, though not (yet) as high profile as the Bettencourt Affair, as it’s often called.  Sometimes, one family member is the guardian and is wastefully spending assets of the person they are supposed to be advocating for. This is called breach of fiduciary duty. Another relative may enlist our help to transfer guardianship from the wrongdoer to themselves so they can better protect their loved on.

 

In other instances, there may be no conflict. It can simply be that an aging parent shows signs of dementia and does not have a durable power of attorney in place. If that person’s mental condition has progressed beyond that point at which they can competently execute such a document, Lindley Law can guide our clients and their family members through the process taking the burden off their shoulders.

 

Recently, we handled a transfer of guardianship from Vermont to North Carolina under the newly adopted rules for adult guardianship proceedings, the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act. This process was not contentions in the least, but it required a good deal of paperwork and an appearance before a hearing officer, so our clients enlisted our assistance to handle the matter.

 

You or your loved one may not have assets totally $44 billion, but if you need assistance with a guardianship proceeding or suspect someone is breaching their fiduciary duty as a guardian – or any other financial role – give us a call at 704-457-1010. To learn more about our firm and practice areas, including guardianship, please visit our website at www.lindleylawoffice.com.

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