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Who hasn’t dreamed of being born into a wealthy family? Or fantasized about what it might be like to have an unknown great-uncle or aunt who passes away peacefully one day, leaving behind a fortune? It sure would be easy to get used to that life of yachts, vacations in Monaco and exotic cars. Private jet? Personal chef? Don’t mind if we do!
But being born into massive wealth doesn’t always guarantee that you’ll inherit the mother lode. Some uber-wealthy tycoons have already made it known that they won’t be leaving their huge cash stashes to their kids. That doesn’t mean the offspring will be turned out on the street. But many of the ultra-rich recognize that handing billions of dollars to a generation that didn’t have to work for it isn’t healthy.
The Giving Pledge is a commitment made by some of the world’s wealthiest people to dedicate the majority of their wealth to giving back, not just ensuring Junior has a twelfth Porsche in the garage. By signing on, they’ve agreed to commit more than half of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes, either during their lifetime or in their will.
Here are 21 big earners who’ve either signed the Giving Pledge or stated publicly that they don’t plan to leave all their riches to their offspring.
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Gates, who famously made his fortune with Microsoft, created the Giving Pledge along with his wife, Melinda, and the couple’s friend, billionaire investor Warren Buffett. Bill and Melinda Gates have three children who will surely never want for anything, but they are also growing up witnessing their parents’ generosity to others through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “This is about building on a wonderful tradition of philanthropy that will ultimately help the world become a much better place,” Gates says on the Giving Pledge site.
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Buffett is one of the co-founders of the Giving Pledge, so it’s to no one’s surprise that the Oracle of Omaha will be giving away most of his riches. “Were we to use more than 1 percent of my claim checks (Berkshire Hathaway stock certificates) on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced,” Buffett says. “In contrast, that remaining 99 percent can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others.”
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Rocker Gene Simmons of Kiss may want to rock and roll all night and party every day, but he’s sensible when it comes to his millions. The Financial Post quotes Simmons as saying his children will be well taken care of, “but they will never be rich off my money. Because every year they should be forced to get up out of bed, and go out and work and make their own way.”
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Martial artist and movie star Jackie Chan may get a kick out of making money, but he’s not going to let it stop his son Jaycee from seeking his own success. “If he is capable, he can make his own money. If he is not, then he will just be wasting my money,” Chan said to ChannelNews Asia in 2011, according to Metro UK.
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Hit “Like” if you approve of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s attitude towards his billions. Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan, who have two very young children, signed the Giving Pledge. “We’ve had so much opportunity in our lives, and we feel a deep responsibility to make the world a better place for future generations,” the couple said in 2015.
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“Star Wars” creator George Lucas and wife Mellody Hobson have a lot of galactic money credits piled up, thanks to Lucas’ filmmaking galaxy. Lucas says on the Giving Pledge site that his passion is to use his riches to improve opportunities for learning. “My pledge is to the process; as long as I have the resources at my disposal, I will seek to raise the bar for future generations of students of all ages,” he writes. “I am dedicating the majority of my wealth to improving education.”
T. Boone Pickens
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Financier T. Boone Pickens is a Giving Pledge signatory as well. “To date, I’ve given away nearly $800 million to a wide range of charitable organizations, and I look forward to the day I hit the $1 billion mark,” he writes. “I’m not a big fan of inherited wealth. It generally does more harm than good.”
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“The reality of great wealth is that you can’t spend it and you can’t take it with you,” writes former New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who’s also the founder, CEO and owner of Bloomberg L.P. “For decades, I’ve been committed to giving away the vast majority of my wealth to causes that I’m passionate about — and that my children are passionate about. And so I am enthusiastically taking the Giving Pledge, and nearly all of my net worth will be given away in the years ahead or left to my foundation.”
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CNN founder Ted Turner says he was inspired to give by his father, who quietly supported the tuition of two African-American students at his alma mater, Milsaps College, in the late 1950s. “I don’t measure success in numbers, but I consider my contributions of more than 1.3 billion dollars to various causes over the years to be one of my proudest accomplishments and the best investment I’ve ever made,” Turner writes on the Giving Pledge site.
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Sara Blakely, the billionaire founder of Spanx intimate apparel company, has a clear focus for her philanthropy: Helping women. “I pledge to invest in women because I believe it offers one of the greatest returns on investment,” Blakely says on the Giving Pledge site. “While many of the world’s natural resources are being depleted, one is waiting to be unleashed — women.”
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The South Africa native, who founded car company Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, is a Giving Pledge signer as well as chairman of the Musk Foundation, which provides solar-power energy systems in disaster areas. He’s donated to those struck by natural disasters across the world, from hurricanes in the United States to tsunamis in Japan.
Andrew Lloyd Webber
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The English composer and musical theater impresario’s philanthropy is arts-focused, to no one’s surprise. “(A will) is one thing you do start to think about when you get to my age,” the Financial Post quotes Webber as saying. “I don’t think (wealth) should be about having a whole load of rich children and grandchildren. I think it should be used as a way to encourage the arts.”
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The founder of Virgin Group uses much of his Giving Pledge note to give thanks for his close family, and he has a very inspiring perspective on what’s important in life. “‘Stuff’ really is not what brings happiness,” Branson writes. “Family, friends, good health and the satisfaction that comes from making a positive difference are what really matters.”
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The Oracle co-founder liked to keep his giving private, but agreed to go public with the Giving Pledge because of one man. “Many years ago, I put virtually all of my assets into a trust with the intent of giving away at least 95 percent of my wealth to charitable causes,” Ellison writes. “I have already given hundreds of millions of dollars to medical research and education, and I will give billions more over time. … Warren Buffett personally asked me to write this letter because he said I would be ‘setting an example’ and ‘influencing others’ to give. I hope he’s right.”
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Facebook’s chief operating officer is a Giving Pledge signer and also runs the Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg Foundation, named after her and her late husband. The foundation splits its interest among two areas. LeanIn.org, named for Sandberg’s famous book, “empowers women to achieve their ambitions.” And OptionB.Org, founded after Goldberg’s sudden death while on vacation in 2015, helps people build resilience and find meaning in the face of adversity.
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Barron Hilton, son of famed hotelier Conrad Hilton, is also chairman of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, which focuses on such initiatives as safe water development, homelessness, children, substance abuse, Catholic sisters, education and more. “I am gratified that our Foundation will live on forever, aiding the most vulnerable populations in the world,” Hilton says in his Giving Pledge statement. “It will operate in perpetuity as a tribute to the customers, executives and hotel employees who created our wealth in the first place.”
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In 2016, the founders of lodging service Airbnb joined Gates’ and Buffett’s Giving Pledge. At the time, Nathan Blecharczyk, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, all in their early 30s, were among the youngest to join the pledge. They’ve also made individual donations: In 2014, Gebbia donated $300,000 to his alma mater, the Rhode Island School of Design. “My philanthropic contributions will aim to build pathways for future creatives and entrepreneurs, no matter what their age, gender, or location, to achieve their dreams,” Gebbia writes on the Giving Pledge site.
Richard and Nancy Marriott
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Richard E. Marriott’s father founded Marriott Hotels, which rose from a small root-beer stand in Washington, D.C., to a global hotel chain. “Down through the years we have always supported the schools that have educated and trained us, the institutions that have helped us live healthy lives, and the communities that have supported us in our business endeavors,” Marriott and his wife, Nancy Peery Marriott, wrote on the Giving Pledge site. “We will continue to do so during our lives and pledge that the bulk of our estate will go to a charitable foundation that will be run by our four very capable daughters who are already heavily involved in supporting their own communities.”
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Judy Faulkner started Human Services Computing, which later became medical-software company Epic Systems, with just $6,000, and today is one of the world’s few female billionaires. “Many years ago I asked my young children what two things they needed from their parents,” Faulkner writes on the Giving Pledge site. “They said ‘food and money.’ I told them ‘roots and wings.’ My goal in pledging 99 percent of my assets to philanthropy is to help others with roots — food, warmth, shelter, healthcare, education — so they too can have wings.”
Dan and Jennifer Gilbert
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Ohio mogul Dan Gilbert founded Quicken Loans, but you may know him better for owning several Cleveland sports teams, including co-owning the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA team. Gilbert signed the Giving Pledge, writing, “Wealth is created. If that wealth is all passed on to another generation, its benefits often are greatly underutilized, as those who inherit the wealth view their mission as one of maintaining it. The better path is one that allows wealth to be activated as a force to make the world a better place through endless avenues.”
Do the ultra wealthy have an obligation to give to charity or an obligation to give their riches to their children? Share your thoughts in comments below or on our Facebook page.