In January, we reported how the deaths of NBA legend Kobe Bryant (Kobe) and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, 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 the 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, Gianna (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.
A tragic oversight
Seeking to fix this oversight, Vanessa Bryant and Kobe’s best friend Robert Pelinka, Jr. — 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 Gianna 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. This mistake has undoubtedly cost Vanessa not only hefty sums of money in lawyer fees and court costs, but it also eliminated the trust’s biggest benefits by failing to keep Kobe’s surviving family members out of court and conflict, as well as exposing the estate’s details to the public. 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 when it’s too late. 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 type of deal — 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 is when we get called by the loved ones of someone who has become incapacitated or died with a plan that no longer works because it hasn’t been updated. Yet, by the time they contact us, it’s too late.
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.
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.
This article is a service of the Law Office of Keoni Souza, LLC, an estate planning law firm in Honolulu, Hawaii. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That is why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you have ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by contacting our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.
Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I am not your lawyer unless you have paid me for legal advice and we have a signed agreement. Therefore, all information on this website is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. You should contact an attorney trained to work with families on estate planning matters regarding your specific situation. Use of and access to this website or any of the email links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between the Law Office of Keoni Souza, LLC, and any users or any other party.