Liliane Bettencourt | Heiress & Elder Financial Abuse Victim
You might think that being a billionaire, famous, glamorous, and the richest woman in the world would insulate you from elder financial abuse. Sadly, that turns out not to be true.
Heiress Liliane Bettencourt was born in 1922, the only child of Madeleine and Eugene Schueller, the founder of L’Oreal, which would go on to become one of the world’s largest cosmetics companies.
She was intensely private, so we know relatively little of Liliane’s personal life except that she lived in opulence and extravagance. She owned properties in many countries and surrounded herself with treasures, jewels and fine art. In 1950, she married a French politician, Andre Bettencourt, and together they had a daughter.
Andre lived until 2007, but even before that he and Liliane seem to have been estranged. In 1987, Liliane met a young French photographer, Francois-Marie Banier, and over the next 20 years she lavished gifts on her young friend, including paintings by Picasso and Matisse, life insurance policies, and even a 670-acre island in the Seychelles. It all added up to more than $1.4 Billion.
A month after Andre died, Liliane’s daughter, Francoise, filed a criminal complaint against Banier accusing him of “abuse of weakness” or “abuse of the feeble” or as we know it: elder financial abuse or elder financial exploitation.
It turned out that Liliane was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, and Banier exploited her to make him her sole heir. In a 2015 trial, doctors, maids and butlers described how Banier overmedicated the disoriented Liliane. He clothed her, monitored her appointments, and even suggested she adopt him. Liliane’s daughter explained how he did it: “The strategy of Mr. Banier was not just to divide and conquer. It was to break our family. It was programmed destruction.”
At trial, Liliane was forgetful and confused, even though she said she herself was fine and had full mental capacity. She said she could not remember if she gave Banier an island. For his part, Banier tried to deflect the accusation by telling investigators that he didn’t even want the island because it was infested with mosquitoes and sharks. A psychologist who examined Liliane said she had anosognosia, which is a condition in which someone is unaware of the existence of his or her disability. Anosognosia is quite common in cases of dementia, and we see it frequently in our legal practice.
In 2015, Banier was convicted of abuse and money laundering, and received a three-year prison sentence. He was also ordered to pay $173 million in damages.
Liliane Bettencourt died in 2017 at the age of 94. Fortunately for her, her daughter had taken over her guardianship, at which point it was discovered that several other people close to her mother, including former wealth managers, were also manipulating her for financial gain. Ultimately 8 more people were found guilty and given both fines and prison time for exploiting the vulnerable billionaire.