In January, we reported how the deaths of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Brianna, in a helicopter crash demonstrated the vital need for estate planning for people of all ages. At the time, little was known about the planning strategies Kobe had in place to protect and preserve his estimated $600 million estate for his wife, Vanessa, and three surviving daughters, Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months. Since then, court filings made by Kobe’s widow have shed light on both the successes and failures of Kobe’s estate planning efforts. On the positive side, Kobe created an extensive estate plan, which included the Kobe Bryant Trust to protect his assets, reduce estate-tax liability, and pass on his wealth to his family. While the contents of trust remain private, the court documents do provide a summary of the trust’s terms. Upon Kobe’s death, the trust was set up to allow Vanessa and her daughters to draw from the principal and income of the trust’s assets during Vanessa’s lifetime, with the remainder going to their children upon Vanessa’s death.
However, while the trust lists Vanessa and his oldest daughters Natalia, Brianna (who died in the crash with her father), and Bianka as beneficiaries, his youngest daughter, Capri, who was born just six months before Kobe’s death, was not included in the document. Reportedly, Kobe and his lawyers simply never got around to adding Capri to the trust before his untimely death at age 41. And the trust apparently contained no provisions for including “afterborn children,” or children born after the trust document was signed.
A tragic oversight Seeking to fix this oversight, Vanessa Bryant and Kobe’s best friend and former agent Rob Pelinka—who were named Co-Trustees—petitioned the Los Angeles probate court to modify the trust by adding Capri as a beneficiary with equal rights as her sisters. Unless the court agrees with the petition, Capri will be ineligible to inherit her share of the family estate held in the trust, which could amount to wealth and assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
According to the petition, the trust was created in 2003 after the birth of the couple’s first child, Natalia, and its intent was to provide for the support of Vanessa and all of the couple’s children following Kobe’s death. As evidence of this intent, the petition points out the fact that Kobe amended the trust to add daughters Brianna and Bianka after they were born. Although it’s likely the court will agree to the trust’s modification to include Capri, the fact remains that Kobe and his legal team made a major error by not updating his plan immediately following her birth or creating flexibility in the trust to provide for further children. This mistake has undoubtedly cost Vanessa hefty sums of money in attorney’s fees and court costs. But it also failed to accomplish two of the trust’s biggest benefits—keeping Kobe’s surviving family members out of court and conflict and maintaining the family’s privacy, since details of the trust were required to be submitted to the court and therefore, to public scrutiny.
And the most unfortunate part of the whole situation is just how easily this oversight could have been avoided.
Stay up to date It’s a popular myth that estate planning is simply a matter of creating the proper documents, filing those documents away for safekeeping, and only revisiting them upon the creator’s incapacity or death. However, this is far from the truth. Indeed, this oversight by Kobe’s lawyers illustrates why most plans—even those created by multi-millionaires—fail to keep families out of court and out of conflict. And though Kobe’s family can easily absorb these costs, your family probably can’t without significant impact.
As Kobe’s case shows, even the most well-intentioned plan can prove ineffective if it’s not regularly updated. Estate planning is not a one-and-done act—your plan must continuously evolve to keep pace with changes in your family structure, the legal landscape, your assets, and your life goals.
And unfortunately, this kind of thing happens all the time. In fact, outside of not creating any estate plan at all, one of the most common planning mistakes we encounter are plans that no longer works because it hasn’t been updated. Yet, by the time the family contacts us after they’ve lost a loved one, it’s too late to fix it.
We recommend you review your plan annually to make sure it’s up to date, and immediately modify your plan following events like births, deaths, divorce, and inheritances. We have built-in systems and processes to ensure your plan is always up to date, so you won’t need to worry about forgetting anything.
Mapping your assets You should also create—and regularly update—an inventory of all your assets, including digital property like cryptocurrency, photos, videos, and social media accounts. By doing this, your family will know what you have and how to find everything if something happens to you, and none of your assets will end up in our state’s Department of Unclaimed Property. We will not only help you create a comprehensive asset inventory, we’ll make sure it stays regularly updated throughout your lifetime. And with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, creating such an inventory is something you should take care of immediately. In fact, this task is so urgent, we’ve created a unique (and totally FREE) tool called a Personal Resource Map to help you get the inventory process started right now, by yourself, without the need for a lawyer. To learn more, visit PersonalResourceMap.com, which will help you create an inventory of everything you own to ensure your loved one’s know what you have, where it is, and how to access it if something happens to you.
As Kobe’s sad story illustrates, death and illness can strike at any time, and even the most extensive estate plan can fail without the proper systems in place to keep it updated. To ensure your plan works exactly as intended for the ones you love most, contact us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, today to review and update your current plan, or create one if you have yet to do so.