Bill and Melinda Gates divorce: How will the couple’s $130 billion be divided?

Katie Strick
·7-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

The announcement of Bill and Melinda Gates’s divorce took most people by surprise - and questions are quickly turning to the numbers. How will the philanthropic power couple divide up their $130 billion net worth? How will they carve up their fleet of fast cars, private jet and luxury properties across five US states? And what will this mean for their rankings in the global rich list?

The Microsoft founder is currently the fourth richest man in the world after Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and French luxury goods owner Bernard Arnault. But should his fortune split in half following the divorce, experts say Gates’ ranking could drop as far as number 17 on the Forbes billionaires’ index.

His and Melinda’s foundation is also the world’s largest and despite their pledge to keep working together professionally, questions are already being asked about how their separation could influence the foundation’s work going forward. Some have speculated that Melinda could start her own successful philanthropic foundation, and their joint foundation is currently based at their $125 million family home on the outskirts of Seattle - will this fact affect who gets it and takes charge of the foundation going forward?

News has also emerged that the couple did not have a pre-nup before they married in a lavish ceremony in Hawaii in 1994. Experts expect the separation to be civil - the couple have signed a “separation contract” agreeing how to divide up their assets and they have agreed to keep working together as friends - but the negotiations will undoubtedly have been complex. Despite promising to give away at least half of their wealth via the Giving Pledge, the couple’s joint assets currently include impressive properties in Washington, California, Florida, Wyoming and Massachusetts, an enviable art and book collection and a fleet of luxury cars.

The couple have asked the court to honour their existing separation contract but both parties have hired teams of star lawyers just in case. Melinda’s legal team includes New York divorce lawyer Robert Cohen, whose client list features media billionaire Michael Bloomberg and both of Donald Trump’s ex-wives, and Sherri Anderson, who represented Bezos in his divorce from MacKenzie Scott. Meanwhile Bill is reported to have hired Warren Buffet’s friend Charles T Munger, 97, who specialises in business, philanthropy and real estate and Bill has previously described as the “broadest thinker he has ever met”.

So how will they split it? From their shared rare art collection to what the split means for the couple’s separate fortunes going forward, here’s how the numbers are expected to stack up in what could be one of the most expensive ever divorces.

REUTERS
REUTERS

What’s are Bill and Melinda Gates’s joint assets?

The Gates divorce will be the largest division of assets since the $150 billion divorce of Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott in 2019, and it’s expected to be the second biggest in history behind them.

Bill and Melinda are worth an estimated $130 billion, making them the fourth-richest people in the world, but experts expect them to drop to around number 17 on the Forbes billionaire’s index if they choose to split their fortune in half.

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Getty Images

Rankings aside, the divorce will also involve a carve-up of the couple’s vast property portfolio, with homes across five US states. Their main family home is a $125 million compound nicknamed Xanadu 2.0 overlooking Lake Washington on the outskirts of Seattle, which Gates once said was built to “accommodate sophisticated, changing technology”.

The 66,000 square-foot complex is built in Pacific lodge style using wood from 500-year-old Douglas fir trees and includes an indoor pool with an underwater music system, an art deco cinema, a banqueting hall, a private beach with sand imported from the Caribbean, an artificial stream with real fish and even a trampoline room for the three children.

The house is reported to cost $1 million a year in property taxes and also includes a library featuring four rare copies of Bill’s favourite book, The Great Gatsby and Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex notebook which Bill bought at auction for $30 million in 1994.

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As one would expect from the tech mogul, the house is also said to be full of unique technological touches, with guests wearing personal electronic pins that connect to computers throughout the house, adjusting the lighting, heat and music to their personal preferences. Computer screens on the walls display visitors’ favourite artworks with just the flick of a switch.

The couple’s property portfolio also includes a mansion in San Diego, a 4.5-acre ranch in Wellington, Florida to support their daughter Jennifer’s equestrian interests, a countryside bolthole and seafront property in California, and a lakeside lodge in Wyoming - previously the home of Buffalo Bill. The Microsoft founder reportedly also has partial ownership of the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Massachussets and reportedly owns nearly half of the Four Season Holdings’ hotel chain.

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During their career, Bill and Melinda has also became America’s largest private farmland owners, buying up nearly 200,000 of acres of land across five states US, which will need to be divided alongside Bill’s impressive fast car collection including Porsches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis. The couple also own a private jet, vast art collection estimated at $130 million, and even a $25 million private island in Belize, called Grand Bogue Caye, according to Wealth-X.

How will they split it?

Court documents have revealed the couple didn’t make a pre-nupital agreement before they married 27 years ago, but it appears a lot of the work in dividing up their estate has already been done.

Divorce papers make repeated reference to a “separation contract” which both Bill and Melinda have signed, though this has not been made public.

So who will keep the family home? Bill grew up in Seattle where the compound is based and the house comes with garages for 23 cars - one of his personal passions. He is also reported to have hired a non-family lawyer to represent him: Warren Buffet’s friend Charles T Munger, 97, who specialises in business, philanthropy and real estate. Munger has been through an expensive divorce himself and rebuilt his wealth afterwards and Bill has previously described him as the “broadest thinker he has ever met” - does he have grand money-making plans following his own divorce?

But Gates family home is also the base for his and Melinda’s charitable foundation so the decision over who will keep it after the divorce is likely to have been a difficult one. Their youngest daughter Phoebe, 18, was reportedly living with the couple at the house through lockdown so she and her siblings may well have played a role in the decision.

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What will happen to their fortunes going forward?

Insiders are already speculating as to what the couple will do next. Bill may well take advice from his lawyer and fellow philanthropist Munger, who lost all his money to his first wife, Nancy, in their divorce and went on to rebuild his fortune and become a billionaire.

Bill is obviously in a different boat as the fourth richest person in the world, but he is expected to trust Munger’s advice on business, real estate and investing - they met through working at investment juggernaut, where Bill served on the board until May last year and Munger is vice-president.

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As for his wife Melinda, who has now adopted her maiden surname French, comparisons are already being made between her and MacKenzie Scott, who is now worth $60 billion after her divorce from Jeff Bezos in 2019.

David Callahan, author and founder of the Insider Philanthropy website says it’s too early to know what Melinda will do, but suspects she may well pursue her own philanthropic projects like Scott, who donated $6 billion to charitable causes last year alone. Thanks to her fortune rocketing by almost 50 per cent in a year due to rising Amazon stock, Scott is now the third richest woman in the world.

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Getty Images

So could Melinda follow Scott’s meteoric rise in the philanthropic world? “You can imagine two separate tracks where they’re both working together at the foundation, and each is pursuing their own independent philanthropy outside the foundation,” Callahan told reporters following the Gates’ divorce announcement, saying the possibility of her opening a whole new foundation would have a dramatic impact in the charity sphere.

“Nobody knows what the terms are of their divorce agreement,” he continued. “But if Melinda Gates ends up with just some portion of that wealth and turns to creating her own foundation, it would be among one of the biggest foundations probably in America.” Expect to hear a whole lot more of Melinda French’s philanthropic endeavours going forward.

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