The Mystery of the ‘Minor’ Vanderbilt Inheritance

When CNN anchor Anderson Cooper—one of the sons of heiress, fashion designer and writer Gloria Vanderbilt—inherited his mother’s estate, the sum he received came as a surprise to many.

While a cool $1.5 million is far more than most people get, Gloria Vanderbilt was descended from one of the richest people ever to live in the US, according to an article in the Mercury News. Ms Vanderbilt died at the age of 95 in June this year.

Gloria was the great-great granddaughter of “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt, who made his fortune in shipping and railroads and was one of the wealthiest men in the world at the time. The Vanderbilt’s, the article says, built opulent mansions on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, in Newport, Rhode Island, and in North Carolina, all the better to display their incredible wealth.

Poor little rich girl

Born in 1924 to Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt and Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, Gloria Vanderbilt and her half-sister inherited a half share each in a trust fund of $5 million (worth about $71 million in today’s money) when their father died. She was christened the “poor little rich girl” in the press in the 1930s during an ugly custodial battle between her mother and paternal aunt, fighting over custody of her and control of her trust fund.

Ms Vanderbilt’s aunt accused her mother of being an unfit parent, and custody was eventually awarded to the aunt. When she got to the age of 21, Ms Vanderbilt took control of her $4.2 million inheritance (worth $53 million today).

However, she decided to work, starting to model as a teenager and later launching a fashion empire selling designer jeans and perfumes, which was eventually worth $100 million.

However, Ms Vanderbilt’s will left her Manhattan co-op (worth $1.2 million) to her oldest son, Leopold Stokowski, while the rest of her estate at less than $1.5 million is to go to Mr Cooper, her son from her last marriage.

Financial and legal challenges

Where had the rest of the money gone, the article asked? Ms Vanderbilt’s fashion empire did not last, and she faced a number of financial and legal challenges over the years. A 1993 lawsuit alleged her lawyer and psychiatrist stole millions from her and sold off her business interests without asking for permission. She had to sell off two of her substantial properties to pay off taxes and debts, and over the years she spent lavishly on philanthropic and personal projects.

In a 2014 interview, Mr Cooper told Howard Stern his mother had always made it clear to him there was no trust fund to rely on. He has also said if the money had been there he might not have been as motivated in a career sense.

Danny Curran, Finders International’s founder and CEO, said: “Most of us won’t inherit anything like the sum Anderson Cooper is to receive. However, an unexpected inheritance is still much more common than people think. We specialise in finding the entitled heirs to unclaimed estates, and the free website lists every new estate that comes on the Bona Vacantia register.

“Why not check the list to see if any of the names there ring a bell?”


Finders International trace missing beneficiaries to estates, properties and assets. For more information, visit our website, call us on +44(0)20 7490 4935 or email us at [email protected]