Most of us don’t have to worry about what to do with our $12 billion-dollar fortunes, although it’s certainly fun to dream about it. Most would probably consider giving a portion to charity. However, descendants like children and grandchildren are the usual beneficiaries of larger estates. But what happens if you never had children, if you want to name someone other than a biological child as heir, or if you establish an estate plan but then later change your mind?
All of these circumstances together have created an interesting legal challenge for 80-year-old Nicolas Peuch, the holder of Europe’s largest family fortune. Peuch, the French heir to the famous Hermes fashion house and its associated holdings, previously established the Isocrates Foundation and created an inheritance contract with the charity. But now, he has announced plans to cancel that contract and bequeath a considerable portion of his estate to his gardener.
To accomplish that goal, Peuch has initiated proceedings to adopt the man, aged 51, who is married and has two children of his own – making the entire family potential heirs to an enormous fortune.
Naturally, the Isocrates Foundation takes issue with this decision, and released the following statement: “From a legal standpoint, the abrupt and unilateral annulment of a succession agreement appears void and unfounded. The foundation has opposed this move while leaving the door open to discussion with its founder and president.”
It isn’t clear why Peuch wishes to part ways with his foundation, which historically has backed diverse actions in charitable, humanitarian, religious, medical, cultural, and environmental science spheres. The charity recently shifted its focus to the public interest and investigative journalism, responsible digitalization, and a “healthy digital public space,” according to its website.
Initially created by seed money in the amount of 10 million Swiss francs, the Isocrates Foundation now relies upon the fruits and revenues of Peuch’s fortune along with donations, subsidies, and government aid. Statutes recently adopted by the foundation state that “In no case can the foundation’s assets be returned to the founder, his heirs or to donors.”
Peuch previously agreed to pass along his fortune to the foundation but now wishes to cancel that agreement and leave the bulk of his estate to his household employee, a gardener and handyman who has worked for him for three decades. To that end, he has filed paperwork to adopt the man rather than simply naming him in a will.
Presumably, the intent of this move is to solidify the employee’s claim to the fortune, should the Isocrates Foundation or any other distant family member attempt to challenge the estate plan in court after Peuch’s death.
These decisions by the Hermes billionaire might seem unusual by standard expectations, but they do represent wise estate planning. Rather than simply naming the employee in a will, which could be contested, Peuch is wisely taking advance legal action to ensure that his final wishes are abided by family members and the courts.
As for the rest of us, we usually don’t have to worry about the fate of billions of dollars. But our life’s earnings and possessions still matter, and most importantly, we wish to prevent legal and emotional strife for our loved ones. Whether you need a standard estate plan or hold wishes outside the ordinary, meeting with an estate planning attorney now is paramount to ensuring that your plans are followed to the letter. Call Shoup Legal to schedule an appointment, and we will help you identify the appropriate documents and legal strategies to create an airtight estate plan.