What Are The Implications Of The Gateses Divorce?

Billionaire benefactors Bill and Melinda Gates, co-founders of one of the world’s largest private charitable foundations, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, filed for divorce on Monday.  

After 27 years of marriage, the couple is worth an estimated $146 billion and has no prenuptial agreement in place to divide their fortune. This includes their $125 million family home in Washington DC.

Their foundation has become one of the most powerful and influential forces in global public health with more than $50 billion being spent over two decades to combat poverty and disease. Both Bill and Melinda have pledged that they will continue their philanthropic work together while staying as co-chairs and trustees of the organization.

Their divorce petition requests that the court "to dissolve our marriage" with their communal property, business interests, and liabilities divided "as set forth in our separation contract". That accord has not been made public. 

A separation agreement, or contract, is a legal document a couple signs when they want to spend time apart and live separately. It lists their rights and obligations, such as child support and custody, and is signed without involving the court.  The divorce petition also states that the couple has no minor children. The youngest of their three offspring has just recently turned 18.

Bill Gates' net worth started with Microsoft.  These shares now probably make up less than 20% of his assets. He has shifted much of his stake into the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over the years and his exact stake has not been disclosed since he left Microsoft’s board.  His biggest asset is Cascade Investment, a holding company he created with the proceeds of Microsoft stock sales and dividends  Through Cascade, Gates has interests in real estate, energy, and hospitality as well as stakes in dozens of public companies, including Canadian National Railway and Deere & Co.

Melinda Gates also has an established organization called Pivotal Ventures, an independent executive office that gave her the opportunity to pursue ideas, projects, and investments that might not fit within the structure of the Gates Foundation.  Melinda, who met Gates while herself a Microsoft employee.  While the couple says they’ll keep working together, it is possible for Melinda to create her own foundation to direct increased attention to efforts such as women’s empowerment, for which she is a strong advocate.

While the amount of money at stake, in this case, is unimaginable for most of us, many details of their assets and estate being kept private.  The Gates’ divorce demonstrates that there are unpredictable repercussions that follow the concentration of such wealth and it’s potential ramifications where such immense philanthropy is involved.


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