Bill and Melinda Gates: The inside story – How divorce could cost Mr Gates up to $68 billion

Melinda Gates could be set for the biggest divorce payout in history as she and her husband, Bill Gates, divide nearly $150 billion (euro 125 billion) in assets.

heir holdings include 242,000 acres of farmland, a mega-mansion nicknamed “Xanadu 2.0”, shares in Microsoft, and Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook.

The potentially colossal settlement could eclipse the current record of $38 billion that Jeff Bezos paid to his ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, two years ago. Ms Scott accepted 25 per cent of Mr Bezos’s Amazon shares, allowing him to keep the bulk of his wealth.

Washington state, where Mr and Mrs Gates filed for divorce, is one of a handful of US states with “community property” laws. That means that acquisitions during a marriage are presumed to be divided equally upon divorce, although couples can mutually agree not to.

Mr Gates is the world’s fourth-richest person, with an estimated fortune of $146 billion, according to Bloomberg.

When the couple married in 1994, he was worth less than $10 billion, so an equal split could mean a settlement of up to $68 billion. The divorce papers did not suggest that the couple had a prenuptial agreement.

According to the documents they have made a “separation agreement” which is confidential. That means that the details of it may never be known, and there will be no ugly court battle.

Among the three companies of lawyers being used by Mr Gates is Munger, Tolles & Olson.

In a Netflix documentary two years ago, Mr Gates described his wife as “truly an equal partner”. But in her divorce petition Mrs Gates said: “This marriage is irretrievably broken.”

She signed the divorce petition on Monday at their home near Seattle, Washington, which has been dubbed “Xanadu 2.0” after the palatial residence depicted in the film Citizen Kane.

On the same day, Mr Gates signed his response hundreds of miles away at his massive holiday retreat next to a golf course in the California desert.

Mr Gates owns about 1 per cent of Microsoft, worth around $26 billion.

A bigger slice of his wealth, about $50 billion, is invested through his Cascade Investment company.

Through it he owns stakes of more than $10 billion each in the tractor giant John Deere, the waste and recycling company Republic Services, and Canadian National Railway.

The couple’s property empire includes a $43 million mansion in Del Mar, California, equestrian estates in California and Florida, a 492-acre ranch in Wyoming, and an island in Central America.

Mr Gates is also the biggest private owner of farmland in the US, holding 242,000 acres in 18 states.

His $100 million art collection includes Leonardo’s Codex Leicester manuscript of writings, which he bought for $30.8 million in 1994.

The couple have three adult children and the divorce was filed several months after their youngest turned 18.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, jointly run by the couple, is the world’s largest charitable organisation.

A spokesman for the foundation said the couple would both remain as co-chairs and trustees. The foundation’s endowment will not be affected.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]

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