Mark Zuckerberg has committed to giving away 99 per cent of his wealth to "advance human potential". Simon Cowell has made clear he wants his multi-million-pound fortune to go to "kids and dogs". Meanwhile, legendary US investor Warren Buffett – determined that the vast majority of his hundred-billion-dollar-plus fortune goes to his five charitable foundations – is believed to be halfway towards his goal.
The largesse is undeniable, but it can come at the detriment of others – namely, their own children.
Welcome, then, to the ‘Ski’ club, which comprises the ultra-rich and/or famous who announce that they will be cutting their family out of their wills and intend to Spend their Kids’ Inheritances, usually, but not always, on philanthropic causes.
Most recently arrived the newest Ski club member: James Bond actor Daniel Craig.
"Inheritance is quite distasteful," he said, on sharing the news he will not be leaving his fortune to his three-year-old daughter with his wife, Rachel Weisz, and adult daughter, Ella, from his first marriage. "Isn’t there an old adage that if you die a rich person, you’ve failed? I don’t want to leave great sums to the next generation. My philosophy is: get rid of it, or give it away before you go." His words were echoed in 2014 by Sting, a fellow Ski-er. When discussing his $300 million haul, the singer said: "I’ve told [my children] there won’t be much money left, because we are spending it. We have a lot of commitments. I certainly don’t want to leave them trust funds that are albatrosses around their necks. They have to work."
Nigella Lawson has previously signalled that she, too, has no intention of leaving much of an inheritance to her dependants. "I am determined that my children should have no financial security," she said. "It ruins people not having to earn money."
Before Bill and Melinda Gates announced their divorce this year, they had intended to bequeath a tiny fraction of their joint wealth to each of their three children, with the rest of the vast fortune – an estimated $148 billion in total – going to charity.
While such sentiments doubtless come from a good place, and are intended to be motivating and self-improving for the children who go without, many a Ski kid has ended up unhappy with the arrangement.
Ronald Getty, son of billionaire John Paul, found himself in a lengthy legal battle after his father, reputed to be the world’s richest man, died in 1976. After Ronald went through a terrible divorce from his third wife, Adolphine, his father declared that his second son would only receive $3,000 a year; instead, the bulk of Ronald’s share of the estate went towards the new J Paul Getty Museum in Malibu. A series of acrimonious lawsuits followed from family members contesting the will. Ronald eventually got $10 million and a house plus some shares – but only after a lot of family heartache.
Tony Curtis’s children were said to have been ‘blindsided’ by their father’s decision to disinherit them, with no reason given. When Mickey Rooney died in 2014, at the age of 93, he left his estate to Mark Abner, his stepson and caretaker in his final days. Seven of his eight biological children were left with nothing: the feuding was so intense that Rooney’s body had to be refrigerated for two weeks as his family fought over funeral arrangements. The children finally dropped their case in 2015.
More recently, Tori Spelling – star of the 90s series 90210 and daughter of TV mogul Aaron – was reportedly left a mere $800,000 of his $600 million fortune when he died in 2006, because he was so worried about her "uncontrolled" spending. "It’s not my fault I’m an uptown girl stuck in a midtown life," Spelling said later. "My standards are ridiculously high. We can’t afford that lifestyle, but when you grow up silver spoon it’s hard to go plastic."
But some Ski kids do understand their parents’ decisions to give their hard-earned money away to anyone but them.
Barrie Wells, 81, is a Lancashire-based former insurance magnate and philanthropist, best known for his charity work and million-pound gifts to Olympic athletes who’ve been left out of National Lottery funding. "I told my children I’m giving away my inheritance," he said recently, "and my kids don’t mind."
Wells’s 44-year-old daughter, Fiona, is surprisingly stoic about his decision: "It’s not our money, and we don’t have any rights to that money. And if Daniel Craig wants to give away his earnings, at the end of the day, he is free to do as he wishes. Unless, of course, it’s some sort of publicity stunt. But I doubt he needs that sort of publicity."
Fiona suspects that the children of famous offspring will have property and assets enough by the time their parents die. Of her own background, she says: "I never felt like a trust-fund baby. We lived in a nice, non-flashy house and I went to a private but non-flashy school, and Dad was generous when he had to be.
"He didn’t dish it out for fun. We didn’t sit around waiting for someone to come and polish the floor." Her first car was her mum’s old Fiesta, before upgrading to a third-hand Peugeot. When Dad got her a job at his company when Wells was 18, she worked in the warehouse.
"I also peeled potatoes at a restaurant, cleaned floors in nightclub – Dad didn’t like that much – and worked in a prison. At 30, I decided to settle down and go to university. Dad funded me to study social work at Lancaster University."
She is now on a brief sabbatical as a child protection social worker. "Yes, maybe I go home to a nicer home than my wage can afford, or others in the same job, but I don’t think my brother Matthew or I are spoiled. Dad taught us the value of money."
So how much of her inheritance will her father be giving away? "We never talk figures," she demurs, "and I would never ask." In fact, it’s something a family joke to ask: "Who are you giving it to today, Dad?" (In return, Wells senior likes to shoot back: "Are you off out, spending your inheritance...?")
Wells is in the process of a divorce and has been writing her own will, "so I’m aware I don’t have that many assets," she says. "But why should people have more than they need?
"I suspect that Daniel Craig feels this way about his own children. Ultimately, he can do what he wants with his cash – he’s earned it."
The Daily Telegraph