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’s homes and properties include a 66,000-square-foot Washington State mansion, which features amenities such as a trampoline room, a screening room and a multiroom library filled with rare documents and artifacts.
Mr. Callahan said 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. (Mr. Gates has his own private office, Gates Ventures, for pursuing interests outside the foundation.) 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 variety 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.