Mandatory Credit: Photo by Elaine Thompson/AP/Shutterstock (10103068b)Bill Gates, Melinda Gates.
Elaine Thompson/AP/Shutterstock / Elaine Thompson/AP/Shutterstock

With a net worth of $130.4 billion as of May 4, 2021, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates most recently ranked as high as the fourth-richest person in the world, according to Forbes. His fortune plummeted substantially from $186 billion overnight as Microsoft stock dropped 0.76%. Although Gates stepped down from the board of Microsoft in March 2020, he still holds approximately 1.3% of the company’s shares, according to the New York Times.

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On May 3, Gates announced a divorce from Melinda Gates, his wife of 27 years and the mother of his three children. The couple issued a joint statement, which Bill Gates posted on Twitter. The announcement, in part, said: “After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage. 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.”

The two plan to remain co-chairs and trustees of The Gates Foundation, a not-for-profit organization with assets worth $50 billion based on its financial statements, NBC News reports.

The couple didn’t have a prenuptial agreement, but, according to TMZ, which obtained the divorce documents, the Gates’ will split their property based on a “separation agreement” that has not been made public. They have asked for a court date in April 2022, but TMZ says the divorce is most likely to be settled without a trial.

What’s at stake in the divorce, and how has this famous power couple built their fortune?

Bill Gates’ Net Worth: $130.4 Billion

GoSkills.com reports that more than 1.2 billion people in 140 countries around the world use Microsoft 365, the software giant’s productivity suite and one of its main products in addition to the Microsoft Windows operating system. Gates co-founded the company and remains a technology advisor, although he stepped down from the board in March 2020.

Microsoft’s CEO until 2000, Gates traded the top title for the role of chief software architect until 2008, when he shifted away from his daily work at the company to dedicate more time to his charity, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — one of billionaire Warren Buffett’s favorite charities. Gates stepped down as Microsoft’s chairman of the board in 2014.

Bill Gates: His Rise to Tycoon Status

Maybe destined to become one of the richest men in America from birth, Gates’ knack for computers dates back to childhood. In 1967, 12-year-old Gates met his future Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen while the two were students at the Lakeside School — an exclusive private school in Seattle. The next year, they started programming together in the school’s computer center, forming a partnership that would one day be worth billions.

After graduating from high school, Gates enrolled at Harvard University in 1973. Two years later, he convinced MITS — the company behind the world’s first personal computer — to let him develop software for its MITS Altair computer, for which he was paid $3,000 plus royalties.

A busy year for Gates, he also founded Micro-Soft in 1975. He and Allen changed the company’s name to Microsoft the next year and by 1978, the company’s year-end sales exceeded $1 million.

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Where Did Bill Gates’ Money Come From?

As expected, the bulk of Bill Gates’ money comes from Microsoft. Along with Paul Allen, he took the software company public on March 13, 1986, and investors couldn’t wait to get a piece of it. During the IPO, Gates made just $1.6 million on the shares he sold, but his 45% stake in the company gained a market value of $350 million.

Now the leading software company in the world, Microsoft has a market cap of $1.61 trillion as of November 2020. In 2020, it was ranked by Forbes as the third-most valuable brand in the world, behind only Apple and Google.

Gates holds only slightly more than a 1% stake in the company he built. In August 2017, he donated 64 million Microsoft shares valued at $4.6 billion to an unknown recipient. Probably not a coincidence, an SEC filing by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that same month listed a donation of 64 million Microsoft shares.

Overseeing a fortune the size of Gates’ is a full-time job, which is handled by Cascade Investment, his personal wealth-management firm. Run by Michael Larson, the firm manages both the Microsoft co-founder’s private wealth and the endowments of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust.

Additionally, Gates debuted his $1 billion Breakthrough Energy Coalition investment fund in December 2016. Along with roughly 30 other deep-pocketed investors — including Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Meg Whitman and George Soros — the coalition is committed to investing in technology that can help combat climate change.

Most recently, Gates has contributed $300 million to fighting the coronavirus pandemic through his namesake foundation.

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Bill Gates’ Home

Now that the question, “How rich is Bill Gates?” has been answered, you’re probably curious about how he spends his money — particularly when it comes to housing.

Gates married Melinda French in 1994. They have three children, and the family has lived in a mansion in Medina, Washington, that cost $60 million to build in the 1990s. By 2009, it was assessed at $147.5 million. Nicknamed Xanadu 2.0 by the billionaire, Bill Gates’ house took seven years to build.

In addition to his 66,000-square-foot compound — which boasts seven bedrooms, 24 bathrooms, a 2,300-square-foot reception hall and a 2,100-square-foot library — he also spent $14.4 million buying up surrounding properties for privacy.

It is unclear what will become of the couple’s home in the divorce settlement.

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Melinda Gates’ Net Worth

Melinda Gates has also amassed her own fortune, largely through her work with Microsoft Corporation. Celebrity Net Worth lists her net worth at $70 billion on her own.

After graduating Ursuline Academy of Texas in 1982, she earned a B.S. in computer science and economics and an MBA from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, Celebrity Net Worth says. She went to work at Microsoft as a marketing manager shortly after graduating, and led the development of top Microsoft products, including Publisher, Works and Word.

She has served on several boards of directors during her career, including drugstore.com and The Washington Post, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

Melinda Gates ranked #5 on the list of Forbes’ 100 most powerful women in 2020, behind Angela Merkel, Christine Lagarde, Vice President Kamala Harris and Ursula von der Leyen.

In 2015, Melinda Gates launched Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company with the goal of advancing “social progress in the United States,” according to its website.

In 2019, Melinda Gates released her first book, “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.”

Income from her company or book advances and royalties are not readily available.

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Bill Gates’ Charitable Donations

He’s the richest man in America, but Gates shares his wealth with those in need. Along with his soon-to-be ex-wife, he launched the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000.

Now the largest private charitable foundation in the world, the nonprofit had $49.8 billion in endowment assets as of Dec. 31, 2019, according to its website. The charity has made $54.8 billion in grant payments since inception — as of Dec. 31, 2019 — with $5.1 billion in direct grantee support provided in 2019.

A trustee of the foundation, billionaire Warren Buffett pledged $30 billion in Berkshire Hathaway stock to the nonprofit in 2006. He funds his gift in annual installments, and in July 2019, he donated $2.7 million to the Gates Foundation.

Headquartered in Seattle, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation employs more than 1,600 people in nine locations across the globe. In 2019, the nonprofit provided support to grantees in 48 states and Washington, D.C., along with more than 100 countries internationally.

Not surprisingly, the bulk of Bill Gates’ money is going to charity. In 2010, Bill and Melinda Gates joined Warren Buffett to create the Giving Pledge, which invites billionaires to pledge the majority of their wealth to charity. As of 2020, more than 200 of the world’s wealthiest individuals, couples and families had agreed to commit their fortunes to the greater good.

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What’s at Stake in the Divorce?

With Bill and Melinda Gates worth combined totals close to $200 billion, it’s unclear how their assets will be divided, but there is definitely a lot at stake. They did not have a prenuptial agreement together, several sources show, but they did have a separation agreement which stated that assets would be “divided.”

Additionally, Melinda Gates’ petition for divorce stated that “spousal support is not needed,” which indicates she will not get any additional money or interests in Microsoft beyond the 50% share as the result of an even split. Bill and Melinda reside in Washington state and the petition was filed in King County, Washington. Since Washington is a community property state, assets acquired by each during the marriage could be evenly divided, but the terms of the Gates’ separation contract has not yet been made public.

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Laura Woods contributed to the reporting for this article.