Bill and Melinda Gates sent shockwaves when they announced they were divorcing after 27 years of marriage.

Between the two, they have amassed somewhere around US$180 billion – roughly equal to the annual GDP of Kazakhstan or Qatar.

Gates’ success began with Microsoft but his shares in the company represent only 19.6 per cent of his wealth. Wealth-X estimates to be valued at around US$26.1 billion. But much of his money is tied to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The couple launched the foundation 25-years ago, which is one of the biggest private charitable foundations in the world with an endowment of around US$50 billion.

Because of the foundation, the division of the assets between the Gates’ may be more complicated than a normal divorce. Court documents show that they have a separation agreement, but the terms have not been made public.

According to a 3 May Securities and Exchange Commission filing, an investment firm called Cascade Investment, which is controlled by Bill Gates, transferred more than US$1.8 billion in stock to Melinda Gates – not a bad sum to receive in a divorce settlement.

The transfer included 14 million shares of Canadian National Railway Co., which are worth around US$1.5 billion and around 2.9 million shares of AutoNation, worth around US$309 million.

Here is a breakdown Bill Gates’ wealth:

Real estate

The Gates have a property portfolio worth around US$166 million in total which includes his 66,000-square-foot lakeside home in Medina, Washington. The estimated value of the property is around US$65 million.

Gates also owns a 30-acre estate in Wellington Florida with an estimated value of US$55 million.

In California, Gates owns two additional properties. In Del Mar, he owns a stake in a property valued at an estimated US$20 million and in Indian Wells, he owns a property valued at $1 million.

He also has a private island in Belize called Grand Bogue Caye which Wealth-X estimates to be worth US$25 million.

One of the Gates’ multi-million dollar properties.

Cars and art

Gates’ collection of sports cars is worth an estimated US$650,000 according to Wealth-X, which includes a Porsche 911, a Jaguar XJ6, Porsche Carrera Cabriolet 964, a 1988 Porsche 959 Coupe and a Ferrari 348.

It’s also believed that he has an extensive art collection worth around US$130 million. In the collection, you’ll find works by Leonardo da Vinci, Andrew Wyeth and Winslow Homer.

Common stock and private holdings

Gates’ biggest asset is the holding company Cascade Investment which he funded with Microsoft stock sales and dividends. His stake in the company is valued at about $29.9 billion.

Through Cascade Investment, Gates has shareholdings worth billions of dollars, including an estimated US$11.9 billion in Deere & Company, US$11 billion in Canadian National Railway and US$1.6 billion in Diageo, to name a few of the many.

He also has Microsoft shareholdings which are valued at around $26.1 billion.

Bonuses

The estimated value of Gates’ proceeds from previous salaries, bonuses, investments, dividends and stock transactions is about US$19 billion.

Philanthropy

The couple have also given billions of dollars to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. According to a blog post in 2019, Gates wrote he had moved US$20 billion worth of Microsoft stock to the foundation and it now has more than US$51 billion in assets according to a tax filing.

In Australia, around 50 per cent of marriages end in divorce. While you might not be splitting billions of dollars like the Gates, here are some tips to consider while you’re dividing the assets.

When to apply for shared asset division

  • The process of separating your assets following a divorce or separation is often referred to as a property settlement. You can apply for property settlement when:
  • You have been married, and are now separated
  • You have been married, and are now divorced, or have had your marriage annulled
  • You were in a de facto relationship and have separated from your de facto spouse
  • You are separating from your de facto spouse

There are a number of additional conditions in relation to de facto relationships, including the length of the relationship, when you separated, and time limits, so it is best to seek legal advice as soon as possible.

If you are not married, and you separated before the 1st of March, 2009, you have different rights and responsibilities under the law.

What exactly does ‘property’ mean?

In legal terms, ‘property’ refers to things that you or your spouse own (assets) and things you or your spouse owe money on (liabilities). You can own these things individually, jointly with another individual, or by a family trust or family company.

Examples of property include:

  • Your family home
  • Money and investments
  • Inheritances and shares
  • Credit card and personal debts
  • Mortgages and loans
  • Superannuation
  • Cars, furniture, jewellery, and other valuable assets

When seeking to divvy up your assets between a separating couple, it generally does not matter whose name is on the documents, who bought which item, or who incurred the original debt. All items are considered equally co-owned.

Settling out of court

You and your former spouse or de facto partner can decide on how to settle your assets outside of court. If you agree on arrangements, you can apply for a consent order.

If you can’t reach an agreement, you’ll need to apply for the court for financial orders.

Before you apply to a court

Before you can apply to a court, you must first try to genuinely resolve the dispute outside of Court. One way of trying to resolve the dispute is through mediation with a family dispute resolution practitioner.

Dispute resolution services

There are a range of government-funded family dispute resolution (FDR) services available in Victoria. An FDR practitioner is a third-party objective mediator, trained in negotiation and specialising in family disputes. They oversee meetings between two parties and facilitate conversations around the division of shared assets.

Pros: It costs a lot less than having to go to court

Cons: Not all matters are suitable for FDR, particularly where there is family violence, or cases of urgency.

Going to court

If you haven’t reached an agreement using FDR services, or through negotiations between lawyers, you’ll need to apply for financial orders through the court. You can apply for orders for:

Property: To specify how your property, income, financial resources, and debts will be shared between the two parties

Maintenance: To work out if you will provide or receive financial support to or from a former spouse or de facto partner

The Family Court recommends seeking independent legal advice when applying for financial orders.

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