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Hermès billionaire wants to bequeath fortune to his former gardener

By Hanna Ziady, CNN

London (CNN) — A descendant of Europe’s richest family has reportedly begun a process to adopt his middle-aged former gardener, planning to leave him at least half of his roughly €12 billion ($13 billion) fortune.

Nicolas Puech, 80, a fifth-generation descendant of the founder of French luxury goods company Hermès, wants to cancel a contract that would bequeath his fortune to the Isocrates Foundation, which he founded, and instead make his employee a legal heir.

Swiss newspapers Tribune de Geneve and 24 heures reported the news earlier this month, describing the potential heir as Puech’s “servant, former gardener and handyman.”

The charitable foundation is contesting Puech’s plan to cut ties, which it says it learned of only recently. “From a legal point of view, a unilateral cancellation of the contract of inheritance seems void and unfounded,” the organization said in a statement shared with CNN Wednesday. “The foundation has therefore opposed the cancellation of the contract, while leaving the door open for discussions with its founder.”

Referring to the Swiss media reports on Puech’s “wish to adopt his employee,” the charity said it wasn’t in a position “to judge or comment (on) this initiative,” adding that it “leaves it to the relevant authorities to decide on this matter.” CNN has contacted the billionaire’s lawyer for comment.

Established by Puech in 2011 and funded by him since, the Isocrates Foundation supports public interest journalism and civil society organizations working toward a “healthy digital public space,” according to its website.

The inheritance contract between the foundation and Puech, who isn’t known to have children, reportedly provides for his shares in Hermès to be left to the foundation. That is, unless he becomes a father, in which case his child would be entitled to a part of the inheritance, and at least 50% in the case of a son.

Puech purportedly owns 5.7% of Hermès, a company known for its silk scarves and leather handbags. A post-pandemic boom in demand for luxury goods has propelled Hermes to a valuation of nearly €211 billion ($230.8 billion), making Puech’s stake worth around €12 billion.

Hermès stopped breaking out Puech’s stake in 2016 but listed him as holding a 5.8% stake in its 2015 annual report. The latest report lists “other members of the Hermès family group” as holding a 5.7% share in the firm.

The Hermès family is the world’s third wealthiest, according to an annual Bloomberg ranking published earlier this month.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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