Heiress Lets Strangers Give Away Her $27 Million Fortune

Austrian Marlene Engelhorn, who inherited millions from her family, poses with a placard saying "Tax the rich!" outside the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on January 15, 2024. Credit - Fabrice Coffrini–Getty Images

Marlene Engelhorn, an Austrian heiress who inherited tens of millions of euros from her grandmother, opted to let strangers decide where to give away €25 million ($27 million)—at least 90% of her fortune—over the past six weeks. Engelhorn has long criticized the Austrian policy of not placing any taxes for inheritances, since she feels being born into a wealthy family is a matter of luck and she did not earn the money.

"A large part of my inherited wealth, which elevated me to a position of power simply by virtue of my birth, contradicting every democratic principle, has now been redistributed in accordance with democratic values,” she said in a statement, per BBC News.

In an attempt to give away her fortune in as democratic of a way as possible, Engelhorn sent out emails to approximately 10,000 randomly selected Austrians, and chose 50 people who were designed to be as representative as possible of Austria’s demographics in terms of gender, ethnicity, and income.

The group was developed into an organization called the Good Council for Redistribution, and chose 77 different organizations, revealed on Tuesday, to which Engelhorn’s wealth would be distributed. Once the group was formed, the heiress withdrew from the process, saying in a public mission statement that “redistribution must be a process that extends beyond [herself].”

The largest distribution of cash went to the Austrian society for nature conservation, which received the equivalent of $1.7 million. The second largest distribution of $1.6 million went to an organization called Neunerhaus, which offers aid to homeless people. Other organizations that received money included climate charities, the left-wing think tank Momentum Institute, and religious organizations.

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