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Inside the luxury lives of Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos - and how their fortune could be split

Olivia Feld
Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie Bezos - Getty Images North America

A "bookish and shy" MacKenzie Tuttle first met Jeff Bezos when she interviewed with him for a job as a research assistant at New York hedge fund D.E. Shaw in 1992.

She got the job and instantly fell for Bezos. "All day long I listened to that fabulous laugh," she told Vogue. The two were engaged after three months of dating and married three months later. 

Mr Bezos, who having left the firm founded Amazon in their garage the following year, has since amassed an $136.9bn fortune - making him the wealthiest man in the world. 

Early on Wednesday morning, after 25 years of marriage, the Amazon chief executive tweeted a joint statement saying that the two are set to divorce. 

Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos pictured at the Sun Valley Resort in Idaho in 2013 Credit: Kevork Djansezian/ Getty Images North America

They reached the decision after “a long period of loving exploration and trial separation”,  according to the statement. The couple, who have four children together, say that they will remain a family and “cherished friends”.

So where does all their wealth come from and how will the fortune be divided?

Amazon

Most of the couple’s $137 billion net worth is tied up in shares in Amazon, which Bezos founded as an online bookshop in 1994 after quitting his job as a Wall Street financier.

Bezos currently owns 79 million shares in Amazon, which gives him a 16 pc stake in the company and is worth around $130 million.

The Bezos's property in Washington D.C. is the former home of a textile museum Credit:  HILARY SWIFT/ NYTNS / Redux / eyevine

But some experts think he may have to give half of his shares to MacKenzie, which would give her an eight percent stake, making her the second most powerful shareholder.

Of course, it’s possible she won’t want anything to do with her ex-husband, and will demand the money in cash. In this case, Bezos might have to sell tens of millions worth of shares, seriously diluting his control of the company.

Property

The couple’s main home sits in the ultra-rich enclave of Medina, near Seattle, minutes away from Bill Gates, who Bezos overtook in 2017 when he became the world’s richest person.

The 29,000-square-foot estate, which includes 200 yards of shoreline along Lake Washington, is worth about $70 million. The couple will also have to divide up their property in Washington D.C., the former home of a textile museum, along with their homes in Beverly Hills, New York City, and West Texas.

"The property acquired during the marriage is common property," said Jennifer Payseno, a family lawyer at the firm McKinley Irvin in Seattle. That includes stock ownership, although Amazon has not filed any regulatory documents to suggest Bezos' stake in the company has changed. 

Jeff Bezos also owns an 11,000-square-foot home in Beverly Hills, California Credit:  Calabrese, CelebrityHomePhotos

Blue Origin

Since 2000, Bezos has joined Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and other billionaires in setting up his own space programme. Blue Origin, which could be worth as much as $28 billion, was the first to successfully test a ‘re-usable’ rocket, and demonstrated its most recent launch in July last year, launching the New Shepard rocket into space.

Bezos wants to drastically reduce the cost of space exploration, and experts believe it could in future decades become his most profitable area of business. Mr and Mrs Bezos will both, no doubt, try to cling on to a slice of the space pie.

Washington Post

Like many entrepreneurs, Bezos decided to lend his name to a highly-respected media brand, buying the Washington Post newspaper for $250 million in 2013.

Famous for breaking the Watergate scandal, the Post has bucked the trend of other American newspapers over the last decade; its readership has exploded, with the newspaper doubling its digital subscriptions in 2018 and recording a profit for the second consecutive year.

Some think the Post’s recent success can be explained by a short-lived interest in Donald Trump (known as the “Trump Bump”), but both Jeff and MacKenzie will still be keen to keep their hands on the world-famous newspaper.

Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos pictured earlier in their marriage

Legal fees

Like many divorce cases in Silicon Valley, which is home to the world’s richest technology entrepreneurs, Mr and Mrs Bezos could soon rack up millions of dollars in legal fees, experts say. Lawyer Monica Mazzi, partner at Sideman & Bancroft in San Francisco, says most divorce cases in the ultra-rich hub are now settled outside of court, sometimes with the assistance of a private judge or mediator.

She says the couple will need lawyers to advise them on tax, estate planning, business and share valuation, and corporate issues.

“There's a real need for discreteness,” she says. “Obviously, given the amount of wealth that these clients have, they don’t want their wealth, their address, their kids names and birthdays, all of that information to be out there.”

How will their fortune be split?

The Bezos’ have not said where or when a divorce will be filed, but if it is in Seattle, Washington, where the family have an estate on a waterfront enclave home also to Bill Gates, Jeff’s massive wealth could be shared equitably with his soon-to-be-ex wife. 

Washington is a “community property” state under US law, which means that all property acquired during the course of a marriage must be divided equally.

With $137.2 billion, Jeff is the world’s richest person, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index; an even split would make MacKenzie, an author, the richest woman with about $69 billion. But even if she receives as little as 1 percent of the fortune, she’d still join the three-comma club.

Most of the 66 women on the Bloomberg index came into their wealth through death or divorce. There are only six self-made women on the list, compared with 313 self-made men.