The Bill Gates divorce is making headlines all over the world – and for good reason. Bill Gates, co-founder and former CEO of Microsoft, and his wife Melinda Gates have filed for divorce after 27 years of marriage. According to the divorce documents, the marriage was “irretrievably broken.”
News of the split is making waves not only because of the couple’s high net worth but also because of the fact that the couple built one of the world’s wealthiest foundations together. The couple did not sign a prenup.
Here’s What We Know About the Bill Gates Divorce
On Monday, the billionaire couple announced their decision to call it quits:
“After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage,” Bill and Melinda Gates said in a statement that Bill Gates tweeted out.
The couple met at a New York trade show in 1987 and got married on January 1, 1994. Melinda was appointed as General Manager of Information Products for Microsoft in the early 90s and left the company in 1996 to focus on her family.
The couple has three adult children – Jennifer, Rory, and Phoebe.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Bill and Melinda Gates are very well known for their philanthropic efforts, having launched the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000.
Bill Gates founded Microsoft with Paul Allen in 1975. Gates led the company until 2000, when he became chairman and chief software architect. In 2008, Gates gave up his day-to-day duties at the company in an effort to put more time into the foundation. He stepped down from the board fully last year to focus more on the foundation and its efforts to fight against COVID-19.
It is estimated that the couple has donated over $28 billion to the foundation. The couple also donated a staggering $250 million last year alone to help the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The foundation is committed to fighting against disease, inequity, and poverty around the world.
Bill and Melinda spoke about the foundation in their joint statement released on Twitter: “Over the last 27 years, we have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives. We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life.”
Today, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is said to have over $50 billion in assets, making it one of the wealthiest foundations in the world. The couple also helped create the Giving Pledge, which is a commitment by the wealthiest people in the world to donate a majority of their wealth to charity.
How Will This High-Net-Worth Divorce Play Out?
Bill Gates has a net worth of $129 billion, while Melinda is worth $65 billion, meaning that this high-net-worth divorce will have quite complex finances and complicated assets. These types of cases often involve an assortment of financial experts.
“Although the complications of divorce are magnified with the Gates’ staggering level of wealth, their situation highlights the many moving parts that need to be coordinated – business interests, illiquid assets, philanthropic endeavors. The Gates presumably should update their estate planning documents, at least to leave each other no more than the minimum they need to. If one of them dies before the divorce/asset split is finalized and the will says leave everything to my surviving spouse, the survivor might inherit a lot more than was intended,” says Sharon Klein, a wealth strategist who heads Wilmington Trust’s National Matrimonial Advisory Solutions Practice.
It is unclear how the Bill Gates divorce will play out, particularly when it comes to splitting assets. According to Forbes, Bill Gates is the world’s fourth-richest person behind Jeff Bezos, Bernard Arnault, and Elon Musk.
The Bill Gates divorce comes just two years after Jeff Bezos, renowned CEO of Amazon, and his wife MacKenzie announced their split, which resulted in one of the biggest divorce settlements in history.
The Legacy of Bill and Melinda Gates
“Interestingly, while the appraisers, accountants and valuation analysts will have a great deal of work to do, the case is not nearly so much about allocation of wealth as it is the Gates’ legacy. Nobody will go without in this case. That much is clear. This couple has devoted a huge amount of time, energy and their vast financial resources to helping others through their foundation and other charity work. The real financial question, and nobody knows the answer to this, particularly the Gates’ who are human beings and are experiencing a full range of emotions as their marriage ends, is whether they will be able to work together to maintain and manage those charitable endeavors moving forward. Although independently, they are still very wealthy and can accomplish great things, together they have become a model for others and a powerful force in our society,” says family lawyer Ed Bouquet, a Senior Partner at Brodsky Renehan Pearlstein & Bouquet.
Given the joint statement Bill and Melinda Gates have issued, we believe their divorce will be amicable and that they will continue to contribute their money, time, and talent to help their foundation deliver on its mission.
Warren Buffett Announces He is Stepping Down as a Trustee in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Just a few months after the billionaire couple announced their split, Warren Buffett announced that he is stepping down as one of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s trustees. As only one of three trustees, it is possible that his role in the foundation has put him in a precarious position which may force him to choose sides over the foundation’s future direction.
“My goals are 100% in sync with those of the foundation, and my physical participation is in no way needed to achieve these goals,” Buffett said in a statement.
The couple states that the split will not affect the foundation, but many people – including employees – are left questioning the foundation’s future.
The Gates’ possibly contentious split has put Buffett in an awkward position, making his stepping down somewhat understandable. Leaving the foundation may be the only way for Buffett to keep his personal relationship with both spouses intact while avoiding what could be a potentially messy split.