Here's Who Inherited Walt Disney's Money After He Died

When Walt Disney struggled in the late 1920s to get himself and his fledgling animation studio off the ground, it is unlikely that he envisioned his name eventually becoming one of the most titanic media brands in history. His first feature film, 1937's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," was a groundbreaking success and truly paved the way for his empire of films, merchandise, and theme parks.

While the company did go through a substantial rough patch after its founder's death, it came back to life in the 1990s with both the "Disney Renaissance" and its collaboration with Pixar. Within the span of 2006 to 2020 alone, the company's acquisition of various properties such as Marvel and LucasFilm contributed to it soaring from a value of $60 billion to over $201 billion (via Statista). Disney's own net wealth at the time of his death in 1966 was between $100 million and $150 million. Taking inflation into account, that's over $1 billion in today's money (via Celebrity Net Worth).

Walt's fortune is the subject of accusations of corruption

According to Inspiration Feed, 90% of Disney's fortune was split evenly, with his wife and children receiving 45%. A charity that was established received another 45%; most of that went to CalArts, a private art school. The remaining 10% was intended for his family members. Unfortunately, the fate of part of his fortune has become murky. In 1993 Sharon Mae Disney, the younger and adoptive daughter of Walt and Lillian Disney, died at the age of 57. She left behind three children — Victoria Diane Brown and twins Bradley and Michelle Lund. They stood to inherit $400 million, which became $200 million each when Brown died in 2002.

However, this was only on the condition that they were judged to be "mentally capable" by adulthood, a likely response to learning difficulties that the twins suffered growing up (via Daily Mail). Due to Bradley having been additionally and falsely diagnosed with Down syndrome, he was denied his share, while Michelle received hers. Both the trustees and the now-removed Judge David Cowan regularly refused to remedy the situation, leading to accusations of corruption (via The Orange County Register). This is also in spite of the fact that Michelle's own mental faculties are in question following an aneurysm she suffered in 2009 (via JD Supra). In contrast to this ongoing struggle, their four cousins have enjoyed comparatively quiet lives with their own shares and careers (via Insider).

Some family members are better with their finances

While two of Walt Disney's grandchildren are embroiled in a court battle over their inheritances, other members of his family seem to be better at staying out of the spotlight. Disney's older daughter, Diane Disney Miller, had several children of her own who were slated to receive a portion of his fortune (via the Hollywood Reporter). Diane herself passed away in 1993, but her children are still alive and benefiting from the family name. A sizable portion of Walt Disney's wealth was handed down in the form of stocks in the company, according to the Hollywood Reporter, and has continued to accumulate wealth over the years.

Roy P. Disney, a grandson of Walt's brother and company co-founder Roy O. Disney, stated in 2020 that the family owned less than 3% of the Disney corporation, according to Insider. Even with ownership of such a small percentage, Insider reports that would put the value of the family's shares at nearly $4 billion in today's dollars.

Some relatives are pushing back against the family wealth

Despite the fact that their wealth allows them to own things like private jets and multi-million-dollar estates, not every member of the Disney family is enjoying the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Walt's brother, Roy, has donated more than $70 million since receiving her inheritance nearly 40 years ago, according to The Cut, and frequently speaks on the need for measures like a wealth tax to combat inequality.

"It's fundamental to remember that you're just a member of the human race, like everybody else, and there's nothing about your money that makes you better than anyone else," Abigail Disney told The Cut. "If you don't know that and you have money, it's the road to hell, no matter how much stuff you have around you."

Though many of the Disney family are tight-lipped about exactly how much they have inherited and what the full extent of the fortune is, Abigail has stated it is enough to "be a billionaire" if she wanted to be (via The Cut). While so much of Walt Disney's fortune is tied up in court between his direct descendants, those who have access to the family's assets seem to be able to live pretty comfortably.