Pattie Lovett-Reid: Financial advice for Bill and Melinda Gates as they end their marriage

It isn’t about the money. It is about the legacy.

After 27 years of marriage and three children Bill and Melinda Gates are going in separate directions and ending their marriage.

Publicly they have demonstrated to be great administrative partners in life but it wasn’t enough.

In a statement released via Twitter the couple announced:

“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.”

If COVID-19 has taught us anything it has taught us that life can be short and it appears the Gates are setting themselves up for the next third of their life separately.

This, is in my opinion, is a couple who will not be fighting publicly or even privately over the division of assets. It will come down to the legacy they want to continue to build and ultimately leave.

In other words the Gates Foundation. A Foundation with $51B in assets. A Foundation they have poured their hearts into.

I don’t expect any sort of public misalignment that could potentially compromise the good this couple has done to date and their future philanthropic endeavours.

However, a divorce is a divorce and the same rules apply to all and terms will ultimately have to be agreed to.

At the end of the day they really are no different than anyone else going through a divorce. The same laws apply to the rich when it comes down to the division of assets. Even if the assets are larger, Bill Gates is currently the 4th largest man in the world and more difficult to valuate. The only real difference is they aren’t likely to be bickering over pensions or the matrimonial home.

The Gates like anyone going through this should consider the following:

  1. Don’t abdicate financial responsibility to anyone. Have an understanding of your assets, your income, your expenses and if applicable your liabilities. Be clear on your goals that matter the most to you and how much money you will require to achieve them.
  2. Have constructive conversations seeking to understand each other rather than being judgmental. Being defensive rarely yields the results you had hoped.
  3. Settle out of court. It can prove costly and very public and that could prove risky for both parties. The money you were arguing over will simply get spent on the invariably high cost of the legal process when it could be better aligned to the things that matter – such as their Foundation.
  4. Don’t let emotions rule your divorce. Yes, this is easier said than done. An important step is to be aware. If you can’t solve the problem legal experts will have to step and decided for you. Better to work things through as best you can.

This couple has always been private and will likely be carrying out their divorce in a private manner as well. Don’t expect a public display and an airing of the personal laundry.

They are a different form of rock star. They are financial rockstars who have led by example on how to really give back. That isn’t likely going to change and will be key in their settlement and their foundation.

This is sad but it happens and I don’t doubt for a minute the pain of a divorce hurts whether you are rich or poor.

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