This heiress will take advice from 50 strangers on how

This heiress will take advice from 50 strangers on how to spend $27 million – CBS News

A woman from a European business dynasty takes part of her inheritance and lets 50 strangers decide what she does with more than $27 million. Why? It's their way of fighting wealth inequality.

Marlene Engelhorn, 31, believes the Austrian government should levy taxes on assets and inheritances – but since this isn't the case, she says she's taking matters into her own hands.

She invited 10,000 randomly selected people in Austria to take part in a survey. Of those who fill it out, she will narrow the batch down to 50 people from diverse backgrounds who she believes represent the Austrian population.

They will become “Guter Rat” – which translates to “Good Advice” – and will help her develop ideas for distributing 25 million euros – more than $27 million.

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In her mission statement, Engelhorn says that her wealth was accumulated before she was born. “It was accumulated because other people did the work, but my family was able to inherit ownership of a company and therefore all rights to the fruits of its labor,” she writes on the project’s website.

Marlene Engelhorn, taken at the Republica Festival in Berlin 2023. Monika Skolimowska/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

According to BBC News, Engelhorn inherited millions from her grandmother, who died in 2022. They are descendants of Friedrich Engelhorn, the founder of the German pharmaceutical company BASF. It is unclear how much Engelhorn, who lives in Austria, inherited from her grandmother, who is worth about $4.2 billion, according to Forbes. She stated before her grandmother died that she would give away about 90% of her inheritance.

Engelhorn believes that many heirs return almost no part of their assets to society and benefit from tax privileges.

“Inheriting is an imposition on society. Inheriting means being born directly into the boss's chair – but not even needing it. Inheriting means that doors open – doors that others will never see in their lives. Inheriting means feeling a financial security that protects you from unbearable work, unbearable or inadequate housing, health disadvantages and much more,” she writes.

Poverty is also increasing in Austria, she says. According to EUROSTAT, which provides statistical information on EU countries, Austria's at-risk-of-poverty rate was 14.80%, approaching the country's record high of 15.20% in December 2008.

Engelhorn doesn't want the family we're born into to decide whether we have a good life. Instead of simply donating the money herself, which she says “gives me power I shouldn't have,” she wants others to help her redistribute the money.

As a result, the 50-member council will meet over six weekends between March and June to hold moderated discussions about how their assets can be used to effect change. It covers the travel costs and stay during the conferences and also compensates them.

According to the website Guter Rat, the richest 1% of Austria's population owns 50% of the country's net worth. Most of that 1% inherited their wealth, like Engelhorn.

According to Guter Rat, there are no inheritance, inheritance or wealth taxes in Austria and yet more than two thirds of Austrians support a wealth tax.

Although these taxes exist in the United States, very few people pay inheritance tax – the tax paid when wealth is inherited. According to the Congressional Budget Office, only about 5,500 decedents actually had taxable estates in 2016.

And in 2023, the IRS exempted up to $12.92 million from estate taxes – a 7.1% increase from 2022.

Many of the wealthiest Americans have signed the Giving Pledge, which began in 2010 with a pledge by 40 of the wealthiest Americans to give up a large portion of their wealth to help social problems. Members include Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates and Jeff Bezos.

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Caitlin O'Kane