What we can learn from Bill and Melinda Gates

Did you know that people who have been married for 20 years or more are in the second-highest group of divorce rates in Australia? (Australian Institute of Family Studies).  While our divorce rates are significantly lower than those in the USA (30% versus 50%), 28% of our divorces are those who have been married for more than 20 years.  The highest rates of divorce belong to those who have been married for less than 7 years.

So, Bill and Melinda – having been married for 27 years, are definitely not alone in no longer wishing to “grow together” and see out their next chapter side by side. But what to do with all they have accumulated together.  It feels like it could be terribly complicated trying to divvy up all that stuff.  With billions involved in Microsoft, and billions involved in their charitable trust The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (through which they have made total grant payment of US$54.8 billion to fight poverty, disease, and inequality around the world) and their numerous properties and assets held around the world, the numbers are overwhelming. 

In reality, and, according to the experts, this is probably a simpler divorce settlement than the average Joe and Jane.  Why?  Family law expert, AVA Solicitor’s Pamela Pearce says, “The very fact that the Gates have so many big endeavours and assets will mean that they have teams of lawyers, accountants and financial partner that will know exactly where everything is and what it is worth.  There are simply too many people they are accountable to for their houses not to be in order.” With many “average” Australian families do not have financial advisers or teams of lawyers and accountants managing their finances and keeping track of every penny. 

Knowledge is the key.  No one goes into marriage hoping it will end in divorce.  Most of us imagine growing old together surrounded by our loving families.  But you can’t argue with the facts. 

What can we, then, learn from Bill and Melinda?  There are some simple things we can do to ensure the best possible outcome.  As with everything, the first step is to have knowledge.  Know what you have.  Know where it is.  Know what it is worth. Understanding where and how to access individual and joint financial products is important in the event of any emergency, be is a death or divorce (and sometimes they feel the same.)

The second step is to front foot it.  Too many people know their marriage or relationship is ending, but they are reluctant to address it.  Burying your head in the sand never helps any situation.   The sooner you can come to terms with the end of a relationship, the sooner you can plan for the future.  List your assets, understand what state jurisdiction they fall under, understand your on-going expenses and don’t be afraid to get advice.  Understanding the law and what you are entitled to can demystify the process and make it a little bit less overwhelming.  The more you know, the more likely you are to be able to avoid a high conflict scenario.  It helps you to manage your expectations whether you are the instigator of the separation or not. 

The most important piece of advice is to have a trusted financial and legal team.  Preferably before you embark on a divorce.  Like having a good General Practitioner, a good legal and financial team is about minimising risk, managing your wealth health and preparing for the future, whatever that make look like. A good estate plan just makes good sense, whether you are married, single or separated. 

So, we don’t all have Bill and Melinda’s billions, and we may not all be saving the world one vaccination at a time – but we can work on saving our sanity and protecting our family’s financial future.  The team at AVA Solicitors is here to help. 

Pamela Pearce - Senior Associate

Pamela is a senior team member who practices in the areas of wills and estates, property and commercial law.