But Bloomberg has declared that Bettencourt's only daughter, Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, is now officially the world's richest woman, ahead of Alice Walton, the Walmart heiress. Bloomberg puts Bettencourt Meyers' net worth at $42 billion, compared to $37.7 billion for Walton.
Bettencourt Meyers, 64, has rarely granted interviews and shuns the spotlight. According to Bloomberg, she is known for playing piano for several hours a day. An academic, she's written a five-volume study of the Bible and a genealogy of the Greek gods.
"She really lives inside her own cocoon," Tom Sancton, author of The Bettencourt Affair, told Bloomberg. "She lives mainly with the confines of her own family."
In a separate email to Money, Sancton said splashy purchases aren't "her style."
"She is a very sober person, more comfortable with her piano and her books than with the worlds of big business and finance," he said.
Although raised a strict Catholic, Bettencourt Meyers married the grandson of a rabbi killed in Aushwitz — all the more notable given that L'Oreal's founder, Eugène Schueller, was a known Nazi sympathizer.
Bettencourt Meyers is arguably best known for bringing legal action against her mother, after the elder Bettencourt began giving away millions in assets and insurance to society photographer François-Marie Banier, with whom she'd struck up an unusual friendship. Bettencourt Meyers accused Banier of preying on her mother's onsetting dementia. When Bettencourt Meyers sued, her mother responded by calling her daughter “une emmerdeuse” (a pain in the ass), according to Vanity Fair.
The case was ultimately decided in Bettencourt Meyers' favor, and she and her two sons were named guardians of Liliane’s interests in 2011.
In an excerpt of The Bettencourt Affair published by TIME, Sancton, a former Paris bureau chief for TIME, wrote:
Bettencourt Meyers' family now controls its L'Oreal shares through a holding company called Tethys. Sancton told Money he "get[s] the impression that Françoise and her husband Jean-Pierre Meyers, the current president of Tethys, intend to invest more actively in backing new companies," but likely won't make any radical departures; its most recent investment was in a hospital group.
Sancton said the thing to watch now is L'Oreal's relationship with Nestlé, which holds 23 percent of the company. An agreement between the two companies bars either one from changing its stock holdings until six months after Bettencourt's death.
Any major changes could affect l'Oreal's share price, and that would have an impact on Bettencourt Meyers' place on the richest list.
"There has been speculation that Nestlé might either try to take over L'Oréal, or on the contrary, sell its stock beck to the French company and dissolve the partnership that has existed since 1974," Sancton explained.
Bettencourt Meyers has ceded her seat on L'Oreal's board to her son, Jean-Victor, just in his mid-20s. In a 2012 profile of him, the New York Times called Jean-Victor "the little prince" of the company — "a sheltered, publicity-shy scion with a taste for fashion but little experience in business affairs."