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Family to care for L’Oréal heiress

Liliane Bettencourt declared mentally unfit to manage €17bn fortune due to dementia amid fears she was being exploited


L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt has lost control of her €17 billion fortune after a judge declared her mentally incompetent to handle her own affairs. She has been placed under tutelle - guardianship of family members - just days short of her 89th birthday.

The richest woman in France was diagnosed as suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's and her 25-year-old grandson was given control of her personal care and her only daughter, Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, and two other grandsons were put in control of her financial affairs.

Her family said they wanted to protect her from people "exploiting" her mental decline. They added that the judgment would have no impact on the running of L'Oréal, in which Mme Bettencourt holds 30% of the shares.

Mme Bettencourt's lawyers immediately announced they "had no choice" but to appeal as the decision was a "deep injustice" and contained "manifest legal errors and was against all common sense".

She herself has already threatened to flee "abroad" if the judge placed her under the control of her daughter.

Newspaper Le Monde obtained details of the psychiatric assessment of Mme Bettencourt which said she suffered "mixed dementia", "moderately severe" Alzheimer's, memory problems and reasoning difficulties. One of the symptoms was "anosognosia" - the same affliction as is affecting former president Jacques Chirac - where the victim does not know that they have an impairment.

The decision comes after three years of battling between mother and daughter. It started when Ms Bettencourt-Meyers filed a legal action against a society photographer accusing him of abusing her mother's mental decline to pocket more than a billion euros in art and financial benefits.

Last December the pair were reconciled and Mme Bettencourt severed connection with the photographer and wrote him out of her will, where he had stood to gain several hundred million.

However, the feud erupted afresh when the lawyer looking after Mme Bettencourt was said to have invested €170 million in a client's company, which Ms Bettencourt-Meyers saw as a conflict of interest.

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