The Forbes 400- An Estate Planning Nightmare!

The Forbes 400 has been around since 1982 and has become a wonderful resource guide to the wealthy families throughout the United States and abroad.   However, a deeper analysis of the Forbes 400 lays out a spectacularly eclectic grouping of some of the most sophisticated and unsophisticated estate plans in the world!

Although never fully examined, the world’s richest people are really like you and I:  they have never really gotten around to successfully or artfully planning their estate.

Few of the representative families in this group actually have sophisticated tax planning—much less succession planning for the control of their business or real estate empires.

The Forbes 400 or 400 Richest Americans is a list published by Forbes magazine of the wealthiest 400 American citizens who own assets in the U.S., ranked by net worth. The 400 was started by Malcolm Forbes in 1982 and the list is published annually around September.[2] Peter W. Bernstein and Annalyn Swan describe the Forbes 400 as capturing “a period of extraordinary individual and entrepreneurial energy, a time unlike the extended postwar years, from 1945 to 1982, when American society emphasized the power of corporations.” Bernstein and Swan also describe it as representing “a powerful argument – and sometimes a dream – about the social value of wealth in contemporary America.”[3]

Inherited wealth may help explain why many Americans who have become rich may have had a “substantial head start”.[4][5] In September 2012, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, “over 60 percent” of the Forbes richest 400 Americans “grew up in substantial privilege”.[6]

The Forbes 400 reports who has the most wealth in the United States. They annually create a list of the richest people in America to exhibit the shape of the economy. The magazine displays the story of someone’s rise to fame, their company, age, industrial residence, and education. The list portrays the financial shift of trends, leadership positions, and growing philanthropy intentions.[7][8]

In the first Forbes 400 list,[9] there were only 13 billionaires, and a net worth of US$75 million secured a spot on the list. The 1982 list represented 2.8% of the Gross Domestic Product of the United States. The 1982 Forbes 400 had 22.8% of the list composed of oil fortunes, with 15.3% from manufacturing, 9% from finance and only 3% from technology-driven fortunes. The state of New York had the most representation on the list with 77 members followed by California with 48.[10]

In the year 2000, Forbes 400 saw the highest percent of the Gross Domestic Product represented by the list at 12.2% driven by the internet boom.[11]

In April 2018, an ex-Forbes reporter Jonathan Greenberg alleged that Donald Trump had inflated his actual wealth in order to be included on the Forbes 400 listing. Greenberg provided original audio recordings of his 1984 exchange with “John Barron”, one of the pseudonyms of Donald Trump, and eventually included Trump at the end of the Forbes 400 list at $100 million, one fifth of the $500 million which “Barron” was claiming as Donald Trump’s net worth. This figure was later corrected and, following civil proceedings years later, Trump admitted the name was fabricated.[12][13]

Over the first 25 years of the Forbes 400 list, 1,302 distinct people made the list. In that time period, 97 immigrants (7.5%) and 202 women (15.5%) made the list. Four of the top five richest people in the United States in 2006 were college dropouts: Bill GatesSheldon AdelsonLarry Ellison, and Paul Allen.[3]

A few articles draw on data of the Forbes 400 to test an evolutionary hypothesis referred to as the Trivers–Willard hypothesis. This hypothesis predicts that parents of high socioeconomic status produce more male offspring than parents of lower socioeconomic status.[14] Whereas an earlier study using data on the Forbes 400 shows a strong effect for U.S. billionaires that is consistent with the Trivers-Willard hypothesis,[15] a more recent study shows some caveats: First, the result is only consistent for male, but not female, billionaires. Second, it can only be found among heirs and not self-made billionaires.[16]

This has to do with the timing of wealth accumulation: some self-made billionaires had their children before they were rich, but heirs, by definition, were rich before ever becoming parents (see also [17]). Third, the size of the effect was largely overestimated, given that the male offspring of billionaires as compared to female offspring is easier to find on the Web: Women sometimes change their last name upon marriage which makes some harder to find. Therefore, earlier reports on the male bias among billionaire offspring were partially an artifact of sample selection.[16]

In 2010, a Business Insider ethnic-demographic breakdown of the Forbes 400 richest Americans found 3 gay people, 4 Indians, 6 (non-Indian) Asians, and 34 women on the list.[18] Additionally, American Jews made up as many as 30% of the richest 100,[18] and (at least, in 2009) 139 of the Forbes 400.[19] In 2017, just two African Americans made the Forbes 400: media proprietor Oprah Winfrey and tech investor Robert Smith; only five members of the Forbes 400 have Latino backgrounds.[20]


  1. ^“The Forbes 400 2019”. Forbes. October 2, 2019. Retrieved October 22, 2019.
  2. ^Kroll, Luisa. “The Forbes 400.” Forbes Oct. 2010 p.17. Print.
  3. Jump up to:ab Bernstein, Peter W., and Annalyn Swan, eds. All the Money In the World: How the Forbes 400 Make and Spend- Their Fortunes. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. Print.
  4. ^Bruenig, Matt (March 24, 2014). “You call this a meritocracy? How rich inheritance is poisoning the American economy”Salon. Retrieved August 24, 2014.
  5. ^Staff (March 18, 2014). “Inequality – Inherited wealth”The Economist. Retrieved August 24, 2014.
  6. ^Pizzigati, Sam (September 24, 2012). “The ‘Self-Made’ Hallucination of America’s Rich”Institute for Policy Studies. Retrieved August 24, 2014.
  7. ^Kroll, Luisa. “The Forbes 400.” Forbes October 2010 p.23. Print.
  8. ^Racke, Will. “Eric Lefkofsky returns to the Forbes 400”. Chicago Business Journal.
  9. ^Kilachand, Sean. “The Forbes 400 Hall Of Fame: 36 Members Of Our Debut Issue Still In Ranks”.
  10. ^Kroll, Luisa. “The Forbes 400.” Forbes October 2010 p.20. Print.
  11. ^Kroll, Luisa. “The Forbes 400.” Forbes October 2010 p.19. Print.
  12. ^Borchers, Callum (May 13, 2016). “The amazing story of Donald Trump’s old spokesman, John Barron – who was actually Donald Trump himself”The Washington Post. Retrieved July 20,2016.
  13. ^Greenberg, Jonathan (April 20, 2018). “Perspective Trump lied to me about his wealth to get onto the Forbes 400. Here are the tapes”. The Washington Post. Retrieved July 22,2018.
  1. ^Cameron, E. Z.; Dalerum, F. (2009). Reby, David (ed.). “A Trivers-Willard Effect in Contemporary Humans: Male-Biased Sex Ratios among Billionaires”. PLoS ONE. 4(1): e4195. doi:1371/journal.pone.0004195PMC 2614476PMID 19142225.
  1. ^Cameron, E. Z. (2004). “Facultative adjustment of mammalian sex ratios in support of the Trivers-Willard hypothesis: Evidence for a mechanism”. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 271(1549): 1723–1728. doi:1098/rspb.2004.2773PMC 1691777PMID 15306293.
  2. Jump up to:ab Nolan, Hamilton (September 23, 2010). “The Forbes 400: A Demographic Breakdown”. Business Insider. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
  1. ^Rupert Neate. “Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett are wealthier than poorest half of US”. The Guardian. Retrieved November 9, 2017.



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