The public will decide how this heiress will spend her $27M fortune

Marlene Engelhorn says she doesn't even want veto power over how the group of 50 decides to redistribute her wealth.
Austrian heiress Marlene Engelhorn is pictured.
Posted at 3:46 PM, Jan 22, 2024

A multimillionaire is inviting random people to an exclusive gathering in Salzburg, Austria, so they can help her decide how to dole out her $27.4 million inheritance.

It sounds like the plot of a movie, but this isn't the set-up for a "Clue" remake. The multimillionaire in question, Marlene Engelhorn, is not a fictional character, but a 31-year-old heiress who wants to redistribute her wealth.

So how did she become one of the richest women in the world?

Her ancestor Friedrich Engelhorn was an industrialist who founded BASF in 1865, which went on to become the largest chemicals company in the world. Now Marlene Engelhorn controls the family’s millions after inheriting it when her grandmother died in September 2022.

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But she’s not spending her millions on frivolous things — instead, Engelhorn wants to use her inheritance to help as many people as possible.

Earlier this month, Engelhorn mailed out 10,000 invitations to randomly selected Austrians who can then register to participate in the Good Council for Redistribution. Of those who register, 50 lucky citizens will be chosen to convene in Salzburg in March, where they will participate in a series of meetings with nonprofit organizations and other charities to vote on who should receive $25 million of Engelhorn's inheritance. All the while, each participant will receive free child care and travel expenses along with a paycheck of $1,300-$1,200 (in euros) per weekend.

Christoph Hofinger, managing director of the Foresight Institute, is helping with the initiative. He told the BBC that the 50 chosen Austrians will be a diverse group of all ages and backgrounds. They will be asked to “contribute their ideas in order to jointly develop solutions in the interests of society as a whole.”

In addition to these 50 people, 15 alternates will be chosen in case members cannot attend the planned sessions.

"I have no veto rights," Engelhorn told the BBC. "I am putting my assets at the disposal of these 50 people and placing my trust in them."

Since inheriting her fortune, Engelhorn has devoted her life to redistributing her wealth. In 2021, she co-founded the nonprofit Tax Me Now, an organization that aims to address income inequality in German-speaking countries.

The heiress has also pushed for higher taxes for the millionaires and billionaires who control most of the world’s wealth. In 2008, Austria abolished inheritance tax, widening the gap between the country’s richest and poorest citizens.

"I have inherited a fortune, and therefore power, without having done anything for it," she said in a statement released by the BBC. "And the state doesn't even want taxes on it."

This story was originally published by Bridget Sharkey on Simplemost