While the Gateses did not provide details of how they would structure their finances, they are believed to have a prenuptial agreement. The Gateses are the largest owners of farmland in America and have vast investments though Cascade Investment, which manages Mr. Gates’s personal wealth and owns large stakes in The Four Seasons hotel chain, the Canadian National Railway and AutoNation, the country’s largest chain of car dealerships, among other companies. The family owns multiple homes and properties, including a 66,000-square-foot mansion in Washington.
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Mr. Callahan said that Ms. Gates, 56, could assume even more influence in the years ahead.
She already has her own firm, Pivotal Ventures, which she has used to invest in issues related to women’s economic empowerment. Should she receive a portion of Mr. Gates’s Microsoft holdings, she could set up a new foundation or make direct gifts to other causes she supports.
“You could imagine Melinda Gates being a much more progressive giver on her own,” Mr. Callahan said. “She’s going to be a major force in philanthropy for decades to come.”
In 2019, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, and his longtime wife, MacKenzie Scott, divorced. Ms. Scott received Amazon shares worth $36 billion at the time and immediately set about giving away billions of dollars in direct grants to a range of progressive organizations.
Mr. Gates has recently stepped back from some of his business activities. Last year, he left Microsoft’s board of directors, as well as the board of Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate run by his close friend Warren Buffett.
Mr. Buffett has donated billions of dollars to the Gates Foundation over the years and has pledged to leave the majority of his fortune to the foundation when he dies. In 2010, Mr. Buffett and the Gateses created the Giving Pledge, an effort to get wealthy individuals to commit to donating a majority of their money to charitable causes.
Mr. and Ms. Gates have faced relationship struggles over the past several years, two people close to them said. There were several times when the relationship neared collapse, but they worked to keep it together, the people said. Mr. Gates decided to step down from the boards of Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway, in part, so he could spend more time with his family, these people said.