Warren Buffett's evolving estate plans

Company News

by Glenn Dyer

In a weekend media interview, Warren Buffett revealed a substantial change to his planning for his $US128 billion-plus estate, confirming that his three children will play a major role after his death. He also announced that the Gates Foundation, established by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his then-wife Melinda, will no longer be included in his post-death planning.

These changes follow a letter Buffett issued to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders last November, where he outlined his intentions to revise how his vast estate would be managed after his passing, emphasizing a larger role for his children.

Notably absent from the November letter was any mention of the apparent split with the Gates Foundation. At the same time as the letter, Buffett announced another of his annual November donations to four family foundations, including one established by his late wife, which have been a tradition since 2006.

In his shareholder letter, Buffett emphasized his and his children’s shared belief that dynastic wealth, though legal and common, is undesirable. He also praised capitalism while acknowledging its flaws, including disparities in wealth and political influence.

"My three children are the executors of my current will and the named trustees of the charitable trust that will receive 99%-plus of my wealth as specified in the will. They were not fully prepared for this awesome responsibility in 2006, but they are now," Buffett wrote.

He outlined that the testamentary trust will be self-liquidating after approximately a decade, operating with a lean staff and funded primarily by Berkshire shares.

Buffett also expressed confidence in Berkshire’s enduring strength, stating, "Berkshire’s advantage is that it has been built to last."

In the Wall Street Journal interview over the weekend, Buffett provided further details about the trust and announced a donation of $US5.3 billion ($A8 billion) of Berkshire Hathaway stock to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and four family charities, marking his largest annual donation since 2006. This brings his total giving to approximately $US57 billion since 2006, with $US43 billion going to the Gates Foundation alone.

Surprisingly, Buffett stated in the interview, "The Gates Foundation has no money coming after my death."

Buffett had resigned from the Gates Foundation's board in 2021, coinciding with Bill and Melinda Gates' divorce announcement after 21 years of marriage, finalizing their divorce later that year.

Buffett still owns 14.5% of Berkshire's outstanding shares, despite having donated more than half of his stock since 2006.

Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer has been a finance journalist and TV producer for more than 40 years. He has worked at Maxwell Newton Publications, Queensland Newspapers, AAP, The Australian Financial Review, The Nine Network and Crikey.

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