Money & Power
The Richest Woman in the World Could Be One of These Two People
A L'Oréal heiress and a Wal-Mart heiress go head-to-head.

Following the death of L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt on September 21, there's a new richest woman in the world. The question remains, though, as to who exactly she is. Here are the two contenders along with supporting evidence:


Françoise Bettencourt Meyers

Bloomberg credits the 64-year-old Meyers, a "reclusive" academic who has written a genealogy of the Greek gods and reportedly plays the piano for several hours a day, with inheriting Bettencourt's entire estate, which is estimated at $42.5 billion at the time of her death.

France has strict inheritance laws, and in the case of someone like Bettencourt who dies with no surviving spouse and one child, half of the estate (la réservé) is legally earmarked for that child. The other half, known as the quotité disponible, is freely disposable.

The question is whether Meyers children may have also inherited sizable sums. "We're still digging into Bettencourt's heirs, but we're fairly confident based the preliminary information that we’ve come up with that [Meyers's] children also received portions" of the estate, says Luisa Kroll wealth editor for Forbes magazine. (Meyers has two children: Jean-Victor, who is on the board of L'Oréal, and Nicolas.)

If Meyers did inherit the entire estate, Bloomberg puts her net worth at $42.6 billion today, just behind Jack Ma and directly ahead of Wal-Mart heir Rob Walton.

Speaking of Wal-Mart...


Alice Walton

Alice Walton, the daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, is the richest woman in the world, according to Forbes. Forbes tracks billionaires in real time, and after the markets closed on Tuesday it ranked Walton's net worth at $38 billion (up $305 million compared to Monday). In March, when it released its annual list of the world's billionaires, Walton was estimated to be worth $33.8 billion and Bettencourt was at $39.5 million.

Wealth-X, a company that studies and provides intelligence on the ultra-wealthy, also counts Walton as the world's wealthiest woman now. It estimates her net worth to be at least $39.2 billion, with $7.1 billion of that in liquid assets. Her stake in Wal-Mart reportedly adds up to $31.9 billion, and the remainder of her wealth comes from real-estate assets in New York City and Millsap, Texas. (She also founded Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in her native state of Arkansas.)

"Our research team waits until estates are reported to be settled before we attribute a transfer of inherited wealth to an heir’s dossier," says Wealth-X spokesman Michael W. Phillips. "As there can be legal disputes among the potential heirs, tax issues, issues surrounding wealth held in trust for grandchildren/other relatives/pets/beloved household staff or donated to charity, rather than passed directly to the logical heirs, we find it is better to wait for confirmation of the distribution of inheritance rather than to assume, and the process of settling a large estate can often take months."


So which one is it? Until Meyers's estate is resolved, we're giving it to Walton.

This story originally appeared on
* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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Sam Dangremond
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