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Isha Ambani, just 16, is worth $80 million

By Devon Pendleton, Forbes
September 01, 2008 15:37 IST
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From the lyrics of Hall and Oates and Gwen Stefani to the lens of Andy Warhol, the entitled rich girl has long been fodder for artists and gossip mongers. These days that lens is turned on these girls at ever younger ages.

Consider the world's fascination with two of the newest potential billionaire heiresses, Valentina Paloma Pinault, the 1-year-old daughter of Salma Hayek and Francois-Henri Pinault, the son of Francois Pinault, the world's 39th richest man; and the still-unnamed baby daughter of O.C. actress Kelly Rowan and her now former fiance, Canada's richest man David Thomson.

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Still, for all the attention lavished on the daughters and granddaughters of the world's wealthiest, many will never actually inherit a billion-dollar fortune. For one thing, fewer wealthy parents are leaving their fortunes to their offspring these days, in part due to estate taxes or charitable interests but also for fear of indulging the "Paris Hilton syndrome" or a "trustafarian lifestyle."

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Some billionaires have even opted have to cut the kids out almost entirely. "Unearned money can be a horrible curse," says Holly Isdale, head of strategic wealth services at Lehman Brothers who counsels clients on trust issues. America's two richest men, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, have both announced intentions to leave the bulk of their fortunes to charity. Buffett has even urged others to follow suit.

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So who among heiresses actually stands to inherit a fortune and make it into the ranks of the world's richest? We looked at the daughters of the 150 richest people, all of whom had a net worth of $6.4 billion or more in March when we last locked in fortunes (all ranks and net worths are from that time). Then we focused on those daughters who come from smaller families, with few or no siblings. Finally, we eliminated anyone whose mothers or fathers had already announced Carnegie-esqe philanthropic pledges.

The result is a hypothetical list subject to change. Parents could lose their fortune. Plus, as Leona Helmsley's dismayed relatives discovered last year, Mom or Grandma might just leave it to the dogs. We did not include women who have already inherited their money, such as the world's richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, or China's richest, Yang Huiyan, who at 26 is also one of the world's youngest billionaires.

No. 1 on our list is Vanisha Mittal Bhatia, daughter of Lakshmi Mittal, the fourth-richest person in the world as of March. Perhaps best known for the $60 million wedding her father threw for her in 2004, she now serves as a director on the board of dad's $103 billion (market cap) steel company, ArcelorMittal. Her corporate involvement and small family--she has only one brother--puts her in good stead to inherit a sizable chunk of her father's fortune.

The only daughter of Mukesh Ambani, an Indian billionaire ranked fifth in the world, Isha Ambani is just a teenager but already has her own stake in the family's Reliance Industries, worth about $80 million. She's second on our list.

Also making the cut are several heiresses who already play an active role in the family empire, a fact that appears to bode well for their chances of inheriting the business as well as a piece of the estate. Leading that group is Delphine Arnault-Gancia, the daughter of Bernard Arnault, the world's 13th-richest man, who heads $50 billion (market cap) luxury goods behemoth LVMH. Delphine who sits on LVMH's board was named managing director of couture house Christian Dior in April, adding to her roles at sister brands Pucci and Loewe and positioning her as her father's likely successor.

Another one poised to inherit and lead is Marta Ortega Perez, daughter of Spanish retailer Amancio Ortega. She could choose live a life of idle pleasures off her presumed cut of his $20.2 billion fortune, but instead she's being groomed to succeed him at the helm of fashion conglomerate Inditex.

Some of the heiresses on our list aren't waiting for their windfalls to pursue their passions. Anastasia Potanina, whose father, Vladimir Potanin, has amassed a $19.3 billion fortune in publishing, banking and mining, is a former Russian champion in the extreme sport of Aquabiking (or Jet-Ski as it's known in the US). Former wild-child heiress Samantha Kluge, daughter of media mogul John Kluge, has tapped into her entrepreneurial gene and is now running a jewelry and accessories design firm in Los Angeles.

Missing from these rankings are far more visible socialites like Paris Hilton or Amanda Hearst, whose relations to billionaires are more distant, and whose chance of inheriting the family fortune not as great. Even Paris' nightclub-appearance fees wouldn't bring her close to the ranks of these 10 women.

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Devon Pendleton, Forbes
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