No trust fund for the TV news icon raises questions that everyone should be asking: how much does 90-year-old Gloria actually have left and where will it actually go?
All of this became headlines in a recent Howard Stern Interview with Cooper that uneartthed his first time disclosure about being disinherited and why he really dosen't care about his $200 million inheritance.
The once-private Anderson Cooper has been making waves telling people that his branch of the Vanderbilt dynasty no longer considers inherited money anything but a “curse.”
He revealed recently that he’s not getting a dime from mother Gloria, who told him there is no trust fund waiting for him. His eagerness to earn his own millions is a testament to the personal brand he’s built, dovetailing nicely into debates over whether handing everything to the kids helps them become productive people or holds them back. But Gloria definitely inherited a lot of money and then parlayed it into what some have speculated is a $200 million fortune. If she’s not leaving it to Anderson, where will it go? And if we can’t figure out where that much wealth is headed, how sure are we that it exists at all?
Based on the facts we have, a few scenarios present themselves.
Scenario 1: All in the Family Anderson Cooper is by far the highest-profile of the Vanderbilt heirs but despite the media’s somewhat lazy tendency to focus on the famous one, Gloria had other sons. Stan Stokowski is now in his mid-60s and running a Long Island landscaping company. He only makes headlines when a family wedding runs in the society pages, and that seems to be the way he likes it. Chris Stokowski famously stays off the radar entirely after a big fight with mom close to four decades ago. Gloria apparently tracked him down in Massachusetts, but even that reference is now pushing 30 years old. While both seem well out of the Vanderbilt loop, they may still be in the will because Gloria wants to make sure they get their share of the legacy – or because they never got rich on their own. Anderson Cooper is raking in $11 million a year from CNN and routinely donates book and appearance fees to charity. He doesn’t really need a massive trust fund to set him up for the rest of his life. If anything, rumors of nepotism have been enough of a drag on his professional reputation that it’s probably worth a lot more to him to refuse the Vanderbilt wealth he might have otherwise had coming to him. In that event, Gloria might not have needed to disinherit Cooper at all. All he would have needed to do is refuse the money when her executors hand it over. Stan and Chris, of course, are under no such obligation.
Scenario 2: Everything Goes to Charity If Gloria doesn’t have a trust fund set up for any of the boys, her assets will eventually have to go somewhere. She might have friends or staff members she’d like to reward with a monetary bequest. And of course, she might follow the family tradition of philanthropy. If almost all the money goes to charity, she dies with something like a clean slate as far as the IRS and public opinion are concerned. One red flag here, however, is that Gloria is not known for her passionate support of any particular cause. Like Anderson Cooper, her advocacy is a lot more diffuse, so it’s anybody’s guess what charity or charities she would favor in her estate plan. We know, however, that she hasn’t signed Warren Buffett’s “giving pledge” and so is not under any public commitment to give her money away instead of leaving the bulk of it to relatives or other people she may like. Not all philanthropically minded rich people have joined Buffett – most of the 122 people on the list are bona fide billionaires and quite a few are self made – but if Gloria feels so strongly about making a difference, she could give the movement added cachet. After all, previous Vanderbilts managed to amass vast multi-generational wealth as well as fund universities, churches and artistic institutions. Gloria inherited some of that money and parlayed it into a high-fashion empire in the 1970s. Leaving that augmented fortune to charity would be in line with Buffett’s creed as well as Cooper’s own view of the Vanderbilt family as “believing in working.” But again, in the absence of known philanthropic passions, what organizations end up with the money, and why isn’t she lending them her celebrity now?
Scenario 3: The Money’s Not There Gloria inherited the equivalent of $33 million in 1925 and family wrangling over the trust eventually accelerated her control of a bigger share. A lifetime of artistic and business pursuits presumably helped her independent cash flow, but unless she stopped taking distributions long ago, nine decades is a long time for a traditional trust to run. People have muttered that the trust was actually empty by the 1950s. And it’s unclear how much money the designer jeans and perfume actually made her. Like a lot of fashion people more interested in the creative end than the business, she sold the licensing rights to her name early on. In her late ‘70s heyday, Gloria was actually only earning $1.2 million or so a year on the clothes.
By the time the perfume came out, she was already fighting her partners over a relatively insignificant $1.3 million. A few years later, a Manhattan court ruled that her lawyer and psychiatrist had colluded to misappropriate a whopping $1.4 million from her accounts. In the meantime, the IRS seized and liquidated her assets to pay a $2.5 million tax bill. While the patterns should be familiar to all Trust Advisor readers, the figures are tough to reconcile with Gloria’s image as someone worth hundreds of times the amount of money in dispute in either case.
Maybe she lived quite nicely on $1 million a year plus the occasional check from a family trust. Maybe she had other investments that panned out extremely well over time. But I have yet to see detailed evidence that she was ever worth $200 million beyond vague references to her grandfather leaving that much wealth behind when he died in 1899, a quarter century before she was born. Unless anyone can come forward and document Gloria Vanderbilt’s current net worth, it’s quite possible that Anderson Cooper is not in line for a vast trust fund because the money itself is just not there. There’s no shame in that, of course. She may eat peanut butter every day, but it seems to be a matter of choice and not financial necessity.
And she looks great. However, “disinheriting” Anderson and the other boys may really be less about matter of family principle and more about economic realities.
A famous name only buys so much, even if it’s embroidered across millions of jean pockets.