The eldest daughter of one of the world’s richest couples, Bill and Melinda Gates, has spoken for the first time about her parents’ shock marriage split.
Tech heiress and medical student Jennifer Gates, 25, took to Instagram to say it had been a “challenging stretch of time for our whole family.” She has a brother, Rory, 22, and a sister Phoebe, aged 19.
Billions of dollars of real estate, business interests will have to be divided, with the couple reportedly with no prenuptial agreement, meaning they must thrash out what will happen with their many billions of dollars in assets – and the future of their world-leading philanthropic foundation.
“I won’t personally comment further on anything around the separation, but please know that your kind words and support mean the world to me,” Ms Gates said.
“Thank you for understanding our desire for privacy while we navigate the next phases of our lives.”
The Microsoft co-founder and his wife of 27 years announced their shock impending divorce on Tuesday (Australian time).
The couple have three adult children – Ms Gates, 56, reportedly filed for divorce in their “irretrievably broken” marriage only this week.
In the divorce papers, Ms Gates has sought a court date for April 2022, but the couple are widely expected to reach a settlement before them.
Announcing their split in joint tweets, they said they would continue to work together at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “but we no longer believe we can grow together … at this point in our lives”.
New York divorce lawyer Leslie Barbara expects the Gates divorce to rival that of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos and his then-wife MacKenzie in 2019.
Mr Bezos was worth $160 billion at the time. He kept most of the couple’s assets but his ex-wife got a $35 billion stake in the giant online retailer.
The Gates have similarly eye-watering amounts to split. Mr Gates, 65, is No.4 on Forbes World Billionaires list with $124 billion – just behind Mr Bezos ($177 billion), Elon Musk ($157 billion), Bernard Arnault and Family of Moët Hennessy and Louis Vuitton fame ($150 billion) and ahead of Mark Zuckerberg ($97 billion).
“They will likely continue to partner together rather than buy each other out and sell off assets,” Ms Barbara told USA Today.
“It appears that it might make more sense for them to continue their professional endeavours in a similar fashion. But don’t get me wrong, this will be complicated. Issues of control, passing on the assets to the next generation will likely be at the forefront of the negotiations.”
The future of myriad other investments will also need to be determined. Bloomberg says holding company Cascade Investment is Mr Gates’ biggest asset. It has interests in real estate, energy, hospitality, Canadian National Railway, Deere & Co and was once valued at $80 billion, although Mr Gates has reportedly given away much of that to charity.
He remains a significant shareholder in Microsoft, with a 1.3 per cent stake, valued at $26 billion.
The Gates also own several homes including a sprawling mansion nicknamed Xanadu 2.0 in Medina, Washington. It covers a 6000-square-metre block overlooking Lake Washington that was previously valued at $127 million.
There’s more real estate too. Last year, according to The Wall Street Journal, the couple bought the former home of Madeleine Pickens, the ex-wife of billionaire T. Boone Pickens, in Del Mar, California, valued at $43 million. They also own a 120-hectare horse farm in Rancho Santa Fe, California, near San Diego, that they bought for $18 million from weight-loss guru Jenny Craig.
The Gates Foundation, founded in 1994, has more than 1600 employees, and has issued grant payments of more than $US54.8 billion ($A70.9 billion), according to its website.
“This is bigger than the two of them. I anticipate that they will do everything they can to ensure that this will be preserved so that their legacy will be carried on,” Ms Barbara said.
USA Today said the foundation had issued a statement saying it expected “no changes” due to the impending divorce.
“They will continue to work together to shape and approve foundation strategies, advocate for the foundations’s issues, and set the organisation’s overall direction,” it said.