Albert von Thurn und Taxis has a fortune of $2.3 billion. His holdings include miles of German forest, a tech company and the family castle. And the 24-year-old has a royal title to go along with it all. It's Prince Albert to you.
There are very few ways to become rich and powerful quickly, but Prince Albert found one: Have fabulously wealthy ancestors. While the German prince essentially inherited his money when he was just seven years old, his family began building his fortune centuries ago.
In 1490, the von Thurn und Taxis clan organized a postal line between European cities. Albert's father claimed the family had the resources and manpower to start the organization after a stint as brigands in the Alps.
The Thurn und Taxis family eventually won the lucrative position of postmasters-general for the Holy Roman Empire. Their riches piled up. They moved into their 500-room castle in Regensburg in 1812. Albert still lives there with his mother and older sisters.
In our 2008 list of the planet's richest, published in March, we found 1,125 billionaires worldwide. Of that group, 370 inherited their money. Many have had plenty of wealth in their families for multiple generations.
The U.K.'s richest citizen Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor traces his $14 billion fortune back centuries. In the 1600s, his family bought a cabbage farm. Cabbages may not make billionaires, but great real estate does. Those hundreds of acres are now hugely valuable because of their central London location. Like Albert, Grosvenor also has a title to go along with his fortune. He's the sixth Duke of Westminster.
The U.S. prides itself on its rags-to-riches stories. Kenny Trout paid his way through college by working construction jobs. Carl Lindner Jr. dropped out of school at 14 to deliver milk. Both are now billionaires.
But America has its share of blue-blooded billionaire families too. Our most recent list of the richest Americans, calculated in late August, included seven members of the Cargill and MacMillan clan.
Their dynasty starts in 1865 when William W. Cargill bought a grain warehouse in Iowa. Within 20 years, he and his brothers possessed over 100 more grain buildings. Will's son-in-law John MacMillan took control of the company in 1909.
Over the years, the Minneapolis company expanded from grain storage to a dizzying array of food and agricultural products and services. Cargill is now the second-largest private company in America, and the Cargills and MacMillans own 88% of it.
Four of William Cargill's descendants have a net worth of $7 billion each. Another three have a net worth of $2.5 billion each. Combined, these seven have a fortune of over $35 billion.
The number of billionaires from the Cargill and MacMillan families highlights that wealthy family fortunes tend to fragment over the years. With every generation, there are more children and grandchildren among whom to split increasingly smaller inheritances.
Take the legendary Rockefeller clan. Family patriarch John D. Rockefeller struck a fortune when he founded Standard Oil Company in 1870. He was America's richest person until his death in 1937. Despite that, he has only one descendant on the most recent Forbes 400. That's partly because his original fortune is now dispersed among the 300 adult Rockefeller family members.
Rockefeller's fortune was also splintered by his generous donations to charity. That's the reason we probably won't see a Buffett billionaire dynasty in years to come. America's second-richest man has pledged almost of all of his $50 billion to charity. The Oracle from Omaha says that wealth shouldn't be mindlessly passed down to members of the "lucky sperm club."
Philanthropic giving is also why you shouldn't count on Paris Hilton continuing her family's billionaire tradition. Paris' great-grandfather Conrad Hilton's 1919 purchase of a hotel in Cisco, Texas, was the first step in a hotel empire which would eventually sell for $26 billion after his death.
Conrad's son William Barron Hilton has an estimated net worth of $2.5 billion. Last year, Barron announced plans to donate essentially all of his fortune to charity. Barron was reportedly embarrassed by the behavior of celebrity granddaughter Paris. Having billionaire ancestors might get you rich, but it's no guarantee.