The Amazon CEO, 54, who is now the richest man in the world with an estimated net worth of $137 billion, and his wife MacKenzie, 48, announced Wednesday that they would be splitting after 25 years of marriage, and experts say their decision has huge financial ramifications.
Included in Bezos’ $137 billion estimated net worth are a multi-million dollar real estate portfolio, various charitable gifts and foundations and about 16 percent of Amazon’s stock, all of which will most likely need to be divvied up — in half, if the couple did not have a prenuptial agreement as has been reported.
How the couple divide the Amazon stock has major ramifications for the massive company, whose overall stock is worth about $800 billion.
“It’s a question of how they will distribute the assets without altering or affecting adversely the value of Amazon,” says Marilyn Chinitz, a New York-based divorce attorney who is not associated with the case. The couple, she says, “will not want to do anything — not only for themselves, but also for the public — that will tank a major company in the U.S. economy.”
The pair could work out a plan to hold onto the stock together.
“My intuition is that they will end up holding the stock as a unit because they can vote together more powerfully and they will both have decision-making rights,” says L.A.-based family law attorney Steve Mindel, who is not involved in the proceedings. “Then there will be some system for if they can’t both agree, a tie-breaker or board of directors who will meet and vote in favor of either party.”
Chinitz agrees. “They are smart enough to know they want to continue to grow Amazon and not dilute the interest and not dilute his control in the company,” she says. “I suspect they will work out an intellectually honest and fair agreement that will allow the company to continue to flourish. And I would suspect that she will not be inclined to push for a settlement that would make him sell his shares. I think they will do it in a careful way that will maximize value and that does not put a diminished valuation on the stock.”
So far, there’s no sign that the Bezoses’ divorce will be contentious. “If we had known we would separate after 25 years, we would do it all again,” they wrote in a statement on Twitter, adding they would “remain cherished friends” — though news quickly broke that Jeff Bezos has been dating former news anchor Lauren Sanchez, 49.
“It’s likely an uncontested, amicable divorce, it’s just you have layers and layers of people signing off on it,” says L.A.-based tax attorney Bruce Givner. “I’m guessing [MacKenzie] doesn’t contest the control of the business. If she said ‘No, I can run this business better,’ we would have a different story.”
Amicable or no, the division of their impressive assets will requite a lot of lawyers.
“It’s going to take an intense legal team,” says Mindel. “You’re going to have a corporate legal team, the family law legal team, the estate planning legal team, a tax legal team, this requires a minimum of 6 to 20 attorneys on each side of the table. ‘Half’ is going to be an interesting term.”
–with reporting by Liz McNeil