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Farmland, artwork and private jets: who will get what in Bill and Melinda Gates's £91bn divorce?

·5-min read
The couple's empire spreads across the width of America - Reuters
The couple's empire spreads across the width of America - Reuters

A leather-bound notebook written by Leonardo da Vinci, luxury mansions, a collection of supercars and vast swathes of farmland across the United States are among the assets to be divided between Bill and Melinda Gates when they embark on one of the most expensive divorce settlements in history.

As the fourth richest person on the planet, with an estimated net worth of $146billion, Mr Gates owns property, artworks and land worth billions of dollars.

The couple announced on Monday that they were divorcing, both posting the same message on their respective Twitter accounts.

They said that while they were splitting up, they would continue to work together on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has given out billions to charitable causes. With an endowment of $49.8billion, it is the world’s largest charitable organisation.

The couple, who met in 1987 and married in Hawaii in 1994, appear to have no prenuptial agreement, but their divorce papers refer to a “separation contract” which they have both signed. It has not been disclosed publicly so it is unclear exactly which parts of their joint estate it covers.

It is an estate of vast wealth, amassed during 27 years of marriage and scattered around the world.

Their divorce settlement will be the biggest in the world since Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie Scott broke up two years ago.

The Leicester Codex, bought at auction in 1994 for $30million - Richard Drew/ AP 
The Leicester Codex, bought at auction in 1994 for $30million - Richard Drew/ AP

One of Mr Gates' most prized possessions is the Leicester Codex, a 36-page, leather-bound notebook of drawings, ideas and observations written by Leonardo da Vinci. He bought it at auction in 1994 for $30million.

It was, at the time, the third-most expensive book ever to be sold, and taking inflation into consideration, the price paid would be equivalent to more than $50 million today.

His art collection, worth well in excess of $100 million, includes oil painting ‘Lost On The Grand Banks’, by Winslow Homer, which he purchased for $36 million in 1998.

Mr Gates also owns ‘Polo Crowd’, by George Bellows, which he bought for $27.5 million in 1999.

The Room of Flowers by Childe Hassam, cost $20 million and William Merritt Chase's The Nursery was bought for $10 million in 2001.

The couple's main residence, named Xanadu 2.0, is outside Seattle in Washington state, and includes a wall inscribed with a quote from F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: “He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.”

It reportedly boasts six kitchens and 24 bathrooms and is estimated to be worth about $131m. It was purchased for $2 million in 1988.

The property got its name from the fictional home of Charles Foster Kane, the title character of the film ‘Citizen Kane.’

This aerial photograph shows the couple's home in Washington state  - Reuters/ Alamy Stock Photo
This aerial photograph shows the couple's home in Washington state - Reuters/ Alamy Stock Photo
Bill and Melinda Gates have a $43 million oceanfront home in San Diego - The Guiltinan Group
Bill and Melinda Gates have a $43 million oceanfront home in San Diego - The Guiltinan Group

They also have luxury homes in Florida, California and Wyoming. The Wyoming home is a ranch that was originally settled by Buffalo Bill. It lies at the end of a seven-mile-long private road and is close to Yellowstone National Park.

The Microsoft founder bought the property in 2009 for a reported $9 million. Known as the Irma Lake Lodge, it was named by Buffalo Bill – real name William Cody – after his daughter.

According to a property listing, “the ranch lies adjacent to Shoshone National Forest and nearby Washakie Wilderness, which gives this property a backyard of over three million acres containing continuous wilderness and forest lands.”

The property’s most interesting feature is a historic, three-room hunting cabin that was built by Buffalo Bill himself, although it is no longer habitable.

Bill Gates is also the biggest private owner of farmland in the US, with 242,000 acres across 18 different states.

To travel, he has a vast collection of more than 20 cars, including a high-spec, limited edition Porsche 959 which took 13 years to be imported to the United States after a struggle over crash test certificates.

The billionaire also owns four private jets as well as a Cessna 208 Seaplane ($2 million) and a Eurocopter EC 135 helicopter ($3 million).

His private jet collection is made up of two Gulfstream G650ER’s ($70 million each) and two Bombardier Challenger 350s ($12 million each).

Mr Gates’ numerous investments include $7 billion in Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, $1.97 billion in Waste Management, $1.5 billion in the Canadian National Railway Company, $1.4 in Caterpillar and $1.38 billion in Walmart.

He has also invested in Beyond Meat, a plant based meat substitute food company from Los Angeles and is the largest shareholder of Autonation - America’s largest car dealership.

Through his company Cascade investment, Bill Gates also owns 47.5 per cent of the Four Seasons Hotel chain, which has 117 properties in 47 countries. He made a joint bid of $3.8 billion in 2006 with Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

Microsoft, The company he founded with Paul Allen in 1975 is worth $1 trillion. But Mr Gates has sold most of his shares, leaving him with roughly 1.3 percent of the company’s stock, worth about $16 billion.

Experts have said that the divorce could have huge ramifications for the world of philanthropy, depending on how Mr and Ms Gates decide to manage the future of the Gates Foundation. Ms Gates has her own foundation, Pivotal Ventures, that has so far focused on women's economic empowerment.

The Gates have three children, the eldest of whom was the first to comment on her parents' split.

"I'm still learning how to best support my own process and emotions as well as my family members at this time and am grateful for the space to do so," Jennifer Gates, 25, wrote on Instagram.

She is the oldest of three siblings, followed by their son Rory, 21, and their daughter Phoebe, 18.

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