Business, Finance & Economics

Liliane Bettencourt, L'Oreal heiress, declared mentally unfit by French judge


French Billionaire L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt (L) and her daughter Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers.


Francois Guillot

Liliane Bettencourt, the L'Oreal heiress who is France's richest woman, has been declared mentally unfit to manage her own affairs by a judge in Paris.

Bettencourt, 88, heir to a $20 billion fortune, is suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's, French newspaper Le Monde reports, citing a medical report. 

The court decision grants control of her financial affairs to her only child, daughter Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, and grandsons Jean-Victor and Nicolas. 

According to Forbes, Bettencourt-Meyers has been fighting for years to protect her mother from financial exploitation by celebrity photographer Francois-Marie Banier, "who she claimed had charmed the elder Bettencourt out of assets worth almost one billion euros (about $1.4 billion)."

Bettencourt-Meyers claimed Banier had taken advantage of her mother's frail state of mind to persuade her to hand over artworks, insurance policies and cash.

Bettencourt had also named Banier as sole heir in a new will and as beneficiary to vast life insurance policies.

The New York Times reports that:

Under the decision, Mrs. Bettencourt’s assets — which represent almost 30 percent of the voting shares of L'Oreal — will be placed under the guardianship of her daughter. But the judge appointed her grandson, Jean-Victor Meyers, to guard over her health and personal life.

Only a few weeks ago, the cosmetics heiress had told a French newspaper that she would leave France if any attempt to make her a ward of court was successful, Times reports.

"If my daughter wins I will go abroad … the worst thing, the nightmare would be to depend on Francoise," she reportedly said, The Guardian reports.

Lawyers for Bettencourt will be lodging an appeal.

The family says the court's decision will have little impact on the running of the cosmetics giant.