The big news early this week in the often overlapping worlds of art, philanthropy, and sophisticated tax strategies was Leonard Lauder's $1 billion donation of cubist art to the Met. It's Lauder's largest charitable donation to-date, and even though he has a long history of philantrophy and is still worth more than $7 billion according to Forbes, it's unlikely he'll ever make a bigger gift. Lauder's wealth is tied up in Estée Lauder stock you see: he simply isn't rich enough to give away much more money or add to his museum worthy art collection, and maintain his controlling stake in the family's business.
The more likely scenario is that Leonard, along with his brother Ronald, will maintain their earlier level philanthropy. While large, their earlier gifts were far below the billion dollar level. Leonard has given $131 million to the Whitney, and Ronald is a large supporter of Jewish charities. Both brothers and their wives have also founded, endowed, and serve on the boards of numerous non-profits (the full lists run for text dense paragraphs on the Carnegie Foundation and Estée Lauder websites).
Despite their giving, the Lauder brothers' net worth has increased. According to the AP, they inherited a total of $5.1 billion in 2004. Per Forbes, Leonard's wealth grew to $3.6 billion in 2008, and topped $8 billion just before his gift to the Met. Ronald's net worth in 2008 was $3.4 billion, took a dive to $2 billion in 2009 and is now $3.6 billion. Particularly for Leonard, that's not the pattern you'd expect from a lauded philanthropist. Personal net worth should decline, not dramatically increase. That's especially true late in life.