Opinion: The Kennedy fortune: How much is it worth and who got what?


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The Kennedy fortune is storied and complex, and is something of a mystery. Sure, we know the family is rich, or at least they sure seem rich. But how rich are they really? Very.

Investigative journalist Gerald Posner did some digging for the Daily Beast and unearthed some surprising details about the clan’s wealth, which is nearly impossible to put a figure on.

Joe Kennedy set his family trusts so they would be hidden from public scrutiny,’ Posner tells us. ‘So although it’s possible to get a lot of information from real estate records, Senate and congressional disclosure forms, and published reports over several decades, many details remain secrets known only to the Kennedys.’


Suffice to say there’s no lack of spondoolicks.

‘The labyrinth of trusts, which dole out only a small amount of money annually to the large Kennedy clan, are invested conservatively and run by financial experts whose goal is to maintain the principal,’ writes Posner. ‘As a result, they were not decimated by the economic tsunami of the past 18 months, and in the case of Teddy’s personal wealth, have dramatically increased over the past four years.’

Based on Senate financial disclosure reports, Posner puts Kennedy’s personal wealth in 2008 at $45 million to $150 million. No will has been publicly revealed, so how his fortune will be divided is unclear.

As for how the money was accumulated in the first place, patriarch Joseph Kennedy made a lot of money with his liquor distribution business, as most people know. But, writes Posner, he’d left that behind in 1946, and most of the the wealth he passed on -- estimated at about $400 million at the time of his death in 1969 -- derived from real estate speculation.

In 1998, writes Posner, the family undertook an immensely smart transaction: the sale of Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, ‘the world’s largest commercial structure,’ for $600 million. It had been acquired by Kennedy in 1945 for $12.5 million. Teddy Kennedy and his sisters, Eunice, Patricia, and Jean, each got $75 million. JFK’s children, Caroline and John Jr., each got $37.5 million, and Bobby’s widow, Ethel, and her 11 children divvied up $75 million.

(Bobby Kennedy’s son Christopher, who happens to be chief executive of the Merchandise Mart, had been expected to seek the Democratic nomination for Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat in Illinois in 2010, but announced this month that he would not seek office.)


Naturally, with lots of heirs and lots of money tied up in trusts, there have been reports of tension, Posner writes. Some of Bobby’s children apparently resented their uncle’s ‘parsimonious doling out of the trust funds.’ The family had no comment.

-- Robin Abcarian

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