What can we learn from Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos?
It is not uncommon for the rich and famous to be in the news for a variety of reasons including divorce. Superstars Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos found this out first hand this year as headlines blazed across the nation discussing their separation and divorce, to include speculation over who would get what when the dust settled. Not long after, of course, the rumors were put to rest when it was announced that MacKenzie Bezos would be receiving approximately $36 billion worth of assets in the form of 25% of the couples’ Amazon stock.
Divorce is tough, and when you are divvying up an estate as large as the Bezos’ it can be even more complex – with some high-wealth cases dragging on for months, or even years. For those facing a complex estate that will require division in anticipation of separation and divorce, there are a few key takeaways to consider:
1. Put together a Team
The good news is you do not have to (and should not) walk this path alone. While you may not have access to all the same resources as the Bezos’, you can still put together a qualified team to help you answer the legal, financial and emotional issues that come with divorce. At a minimum, people who are faced with a high-wealth divorce – should consider hiring a divorce attorney, a financial analyst who intimately understands cash flow management, and a therapist or divorce coach to address each of these needs. These professionals can help you work through everything from child support to business valuations
In high net worth divorces, there often exists a substantial variety of financial assets and issues that will be addressed by your team of professionals. You likely understand that your assets differ, but you may be surprised to learn about the varying degrees of difficulty surrounding the division of certain marital accounts, and the tax consequences that may be associated with an improper division of those accounts. Moreover, simply placing a value on some of your assets – including your home, certain defined benefit plans, or unvested interests – can prove exceedingly difficult. Lastly, if a business is involved, there are a host of other issues that must be thoroughly considered and resolved.
2. Divorce and your Business
In many high-wealth cases, either one or both parties may be invested in a business. Whether that is as CEO of a billion-dollar company, or a partial owner of a small family owned business, there are special considerations that should be reviewed. When a company is not publicly traded, and the worth of an ownership interest is unclear, it may be prudent to confer with a valuation analyst in the early stages of your divorce. A qualified professional with experience valuing businesses can assist with determining the value of the ownership interest in question, including any intangible assets involved such as existing goodwill.
3. Property and Investment Considerations
Wealthier couples are more likely to own more real estate and to have other investments that will have to be considered during the equitable distribution phase of their divorce. These assets can include anything from stock and investment portfolios to the vacation homes. Property division can be one of the most contested issues in a divorce, especially for high wealth couples. Conflict can arise at any stage of the distribution process.
For example, spouses may disagree on whether a particular asset is a marital asset to begin with, and thus subject to division. Or, they may agree that an asset is marital, but disagree as to the value of the particular asset. Still yet, in some cases, spouses may agree that an asset is marital, agree on the value of the asset, but disagree on who should receive the property or how the property should be divided.
4. Keep it Compassionate
If you are faced with a high net worth divorce, you may want to consider mediation or collaborative divorce. Generally, when parties commit to using the collaborative process, they are committing to reaching an agreement both parties can accept without having to go to court. Not only can this keep the cost of the divorce process down in the long-run, it gives you and your soon to be significant other the chance to work together amicably to achieve the best results for the entire family.
5. Consider issuing a “Divorce Story”
While most of us will never have to deal with our divorce making national headlines, working together to create a “divorce story” provides you the opportunity to present a united front, even in the face of splitting up. The Bezos’ did just that when they announced their split. While you may disagree behind the scenes – no one benefits from airing their dirty laundry to friends and family. This can be especially true when children are involved. You don’t need to hire a Public Relations firm to make a simple statement that details a unified vision for moving forward. A divorce story can help families set the tone for the divorce process – not just for your children, but for those around you who may be impacted by the split. Even if you disagree on the details about how you “got here” you can probably agree on the guiding principles and the vision you have for your family in the future. Eventually, you will get tired of hearing “I am sorry you are going through this,” and will instead want to hear, “So glad that you guys are working together.”
No matter your situation, speaking with an experienced divorce attorney sooner rather than later can make all the difference in your divorce case. They can provide peace of mind for what lies ahead and can also provide you with a wealth of resources to protect yourself, your business, and your family.