“A fool and his money are soon parted” is a phrase that sudden heirs find out all too often. Whether brought up in the lap of luxury or struggling to make ends meet, when people suddenly come into money, sometimes good judgment is thrown out the window and the need to indulge in their wants exceed the desire for financial stability. See who found themselves with a vast fortune that was gone far sooner than anticipated, which might make you thankful you’re not getting rich off family money.
Last updated: Feb. 17, 2021
Clarissa Dickson Wright
In the late ’70s, Clarissa Dickson Wright, now famous for her British television show “Two Fat Ladies,” received an inheritance of around 2.8 million British pounds upon her mother’s death. She already held a high-earning position as an attorney in London.
How She Lost It All by the Early ’80s
Even though she was left with enough money to last her throughout her life, the death of her mother was a hard blow to her emotionally. She was not only close to her mother, but her father as well. His passing shortly after her mother’s led her into a deep depression that she sought to remedy with alcohol. It was not only the alcohol that ate away at her inheritance but also lavish spending. She embarked on a life of partying and gambling with expenses going to luxury yachts, jets and hotels. By 1982 her partying lifestyle prevented her from ever practicing law again, and after the money was gone she became homeless.
Well-known actress and one of the heirs to father Aaron Spelling’s $600 million fortune, Tori Spelling’s spendthrift ways caused her father to limit her inheritance to a mere $800,000 for fear that she would bleed through the money in a matter of years. The larger portion of his fortune was left to his wife, Candy.
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How the Actress Ended Up in Debt
Unfortunately, the snub on the inheritance did nothing to curb Spelling’s spending habits. Although she still inherited what is a sizable sum to most people, she had a penchant for designer clothes and jewelry, sometimes dropping up to $60,000 dollars in one day of shopping. With mounting debt from spending, she was then hit with a tax bill exceeding $1 million leading to court demands to repay debt.
Graham Roos was only 26 when he inherited $750,000 after the death of his great aunt, he told the Independent. Even though he knew he would receive an inheritance, the size of it came as a shock as it was more than he had ever anticipated.
How He Ended Up in Debt in a Few Short Years
The minute the check hit Roos’s bank account, he thought he was on easy street, immediately quitting his jobs and embarking on a decadent spending spree. The money went fast, but he paid little mind to his dwindling account. Expensive vacations and costly art pieces accounted for a large portion of his spending, but it was his addiction to partying and drugs that would lead him into a downward spiral. By the time he had burned through the funds in his bank account, he had amassed debt and had to return to the workforce to avoid being homeless.
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A well-known figure in her own right, Maureen O’Conner was respected in the political arena, vying for a spot on the San Diego City Council when she met and married Robert O. Peterson. Peterson was the founder of the Jack in the Box fast-food restaurants, and it was the event of his death that left his wife with an inheritance valued at over $50 million.
How She Ended Up Destitute
The diagnosis of a brain tumor and the grief over the loss of her husband and several of her close friends led her to develop a gambling addiction, which predominantly revolved around video poker. Though her self-described grief gambling led her to winnings of over $1 billion in less than a decade, her losses accounted for even more, leaving her with less than she started. To compound her woes, she was convicted of money laundering for using money from her husband’s nonprofit to cover gambling debts. Though she received a deferred prison sentence, the restitution and court costs left her destitute.
“Poor little rich girl,” as Barbara Hutton became dubbed, was heir to the Woolworth fortune. It was on her 21st birthday in the early 1930s when she came into her inheritance of $50 million, which, when adjusted for inflation, would be over $900 million today — a staggering sum at any time in history. Her inheritance came about as a result of her mother’s death, who died by suicide in 1933.
How She Ended Up on the Edge of Bankruptcy
Even though the young Hutton grew up wealthy, she grew to be a deeply insecure adult. Her father was largely absent throughout her life, and her mother struggled with depression. Hutton’s weakness was shopping, especially for her loved ones whom she lavished with expensive gifts such as jewelry, haute couture and even art pieces once owned by Marie Antoinette. Her spending wasn’t her only downfall. Through a series of seven husbands and numerous affairs, her fortune dwindled, leaving her with almost nothing at the time of her death in 1979 at age 66.
Alex Lasarev differs from traditional heirs and heiresses because she did not grow up in a wealthy household. After being abandoned by her father at the age of 3, she grew up in a modest suburban home in Toronto under the care of her mother. She grew to be self-reliant, purchasing her own clothes from money she earned through a local paper route. Her inheritance was not expected, nor was it a cause for celebration — she inherited over $1 million after her mother committed suicide.
Photo disclaimer: This photo is used for representational purposes.
How She Quickly Went From Riches to Rags
Alex’s mother was a professional violinist who earned well and spent nearly nothing. It was only after her death that the teenaged Alex found a number of bank accounts totaling over $1 million. Alex sought to quickly change her impoverished lifestyle and decided to start at the top, moving into a luxurious penthouse at an exorbitant cost. Though she spent a lot on clothes and limo rides, a large portion of the remainder of her inheritance went to friends or was invested in business ideas that never truly panned out. It wasn’t long before she had lost everything and ended up right back where she began.
7th Marquess of Bristol, John Hervey
A part of English royalty, John Hervey inherited his fortune on his 21st birthday in the late ’70s. The $6 million inheritance would equate to close to $65 million by today’s calculations. This fortune was also increased during his 20s through a series of savvy investments in real estate, oil and other endeavors.
How He Died Penniless
Hervey may have been smart at investing, but he chose to live a decadent lifestyle that quickly exceeded his vast fortune. His money fell to yachts, sports cars and escorts, but these expenses were nothing compared to the uncontrollable drug habit he developed. In 10 years, more than $9 million of his fortune went to cocaine and heroin. The expenses began to mount as his drug habit resulted in multiple drug offenses, one resulting in deportation. By the early ’90s, he was penniless and soon succumbed to organ failure related to his drug use.
Huntington Hartford II
Huntington Hartford II grew up the epitome of wealth. He was spoiled from a young age by servants paid to cater to him and was given presents every time his heart desired one. He inherited his fortune at the young age of 11, upon his father’s death. The $90 million was a result of being heir to the vast A&P empire that included grocery store chains across the country.
How He Went From a Mansion to a Rundown Rental
Hartford was extremely well-educated but was not very savvy when it came to managing his finances. He sunk his inheritance into a number of failed businesses and passion projects, including a modeling agency that turned into a money pit and a real estate deal in the Bahamas that resulted in a loss exceeding $30 million. But the hemorrhaging of money did not end with investments. He was married and divorced four times, each settlement costing him more than the last. By 1992, he had to file for bankruptcy and was residing in a rundown Brooklyn rental.
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Post-grad Allison Cintins was only 22 and living at home when her stepgrandfather left with an unexpected inheritance of $66,000. Now having more money than she could imagine in her back account, her father thought it prudent for her to place the money into a high-interest bearing CD in the hopes that one day she could use it to secure her own home.
How Her Spending Left Her Broke After Only 2 Years
Even though her father had provided her with sound financial advice and a solid plan for her future, Allison had other plans for her newfound windfall. Feeling that homeownership was a long way away, and she would have plenty of time to save, Allison spent the money instead. Even though she agreed to put the first $61,000 into the CD, the $5,000 she kept only lasted one month, and she soon found herself tapping into her savings to buy clothes and other whims. Within two years, she had less than a couple of hundred dollars from the entire inheritance.
Clint Murchison Jr.
Son of an oil tycoon, Clint Murchison Jr. received $200 million after the death of his father in the late 1960s. His inheritance would be worth over $400 million today. Murchison Jr. was brought up to experience the finer things in life, and this would align with how he spent his fortune.
How He Became One of the Largest Bankruptcy Cases in the US
Unlike his father, who was a serious investor, Murchinson Jr. decided to have fun with his inheritance, investing the money in passion projects rather than sound investments. His first large investment was the founding of the Dallas Cowboys football team in 1960. He not only put millions into the football team but also invested in a number of other ventures, including restaurants, oil, real estate and even a radio station. Many of his investments failed, and the oil and real estate collapse in the 1980s put him into serious debt. By 85, he had no choice but to file for bankruptcy and died only two years later after selling off all of his assets.
Though not a celebrity or heir to a family fortune, Jacob Wade was no stranger to how a sudden windfall of cash can come and go in the blink of an eye. He inherited thousands of dollars thanks to two unhappy occurrences — his father died from cancer after receiving a misdiagnosis from the hospital, and he was in a car accident. Insurance payments after the accident started at the same time the annuity from his father’s death first paid out. Wade blew through $100,000 in less than three years.
How He Went From Flush to Struggling To Pay Off Debt
The money was gone in just three short years through a serious of poorly thought out and extravagant purchases. From college courses he did not attend, to a two-seater customized truck, the money went as quickly as it had come. Wade calculated that he ended up spending more than $35,000 on entertainment and dining out, $16,000 on school loans for an unobtained degree and $27,000 on living expenses when he chose to not work for an entire year. At the end of the three-year period, he found himself trying to claw his way out of debt.
Euan MacAndrew was an average working man who suddenly found himself heir to a six-figure inheritance; it totaled just over $128,000 after taxes. He came into the money upon the death of his grandfather. Young and financially inexperienced, he soon found out that the money brought more with it than he bargained for.
How He Blew It All and Ended Up Serving Time
MacAndrew wasted no time blowing his inheritance on fast cars, fashionable clothes and drugs. It was his new addiction to drugs that quickly brought his bank account to nothing, causing him to seek ways to supplement his income and feed his addiction. To achieve this, he turned to dealing cocaine. Even the money obtained from his foray into dealing was quickly gone as he was arrested, garnering himself a 10-month jail sentence, lawyer fees and restitution that effectively wiped out the balance of his accounts.
Fortunes can fade fast and, for some people, lavish spending, poor investments and an extravagant lifestyle can lead them to lose sums of money that others may only dream of obtaining.
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Please note photos are for representational purposes only. As a result, some of the photos might not reflect the people listed in this article.