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Publications | June 26, 2023
4 minute read

Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes: Kobe Bryant

All too often, the demise of a celebrity serves as a cautionary reminder of the many pitfalls and traps related to estate planning.

In January of 2020, NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna tragically passed away in a helicopter accident. Like many people, Kobe had a completed and valid estate plan that, unfortunately, did not accurately anticipate the future and had not been updated to reflect a recent important life event — in this case, the birth of a daughter in 2019. Capri was only six months old at the time of her father’s unexpected death, and Kobe’s estate plan had not been amended to make provisions for her.

Privacy concerns and avoidance of probate court — and all its associated delays, fees and costs — stand out among the many reasons people engage in estate planning. These are surely objectives Kobe had in mind when he established the Kobe Bryant Trust for the benefit of his wife, Vanessa, and his daughters, Gianna, Natalia and Bianka. Nevertheless, the deficiencies of Kobe’s estate plan gave rise to the necessity of probate court intervention, which in turn exposed his private matters to the public eye.

In March of 2020, the trustees of the Kobe Bryant Trust filed a petition with the probate court to add Capri as a beneficiary. The goal was to ensure Capri received equal treatment with her older sisters under the Kobe Bryant Trust. Several months later, after many court filings and hearings, payment of substantial legal fees and costs, and exposure of the family’s personal matters to the public, the petition was finally approved.

While this situation might have been easily prevented by a simple clause in the trust properly anticipating the possibility of children born after the signing date, or by a quick and easy modification of the trust shortly after Capri’s birth to explicitly name her as a beneficiary, the more important lesson is that changed circumstances can thwart your estate planning objectives. And while the deficiency in Kobe’s planning seems like a trivial oversight, had the court not approved the change, Capri would have been disinherited of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars.

While you may not be planning on leaving hundreds of millions of dollars to your children, your personal matters and legacy are still very important to you and your loved ones. It’s important to get your estate plan right and to keep it updated to ensure it accomplishes your goals when it takes effect. With that in mind, here are some tips:

Make an estate plan review part of a regular routine. You should commit to reviewing your estate plan at regular intervals because things change over time — your family and friends change, as do your financial circumstances and your goals, values, worries and concerns. Additionally, state and federal laws are constantly changing. Therefore, your estate plan should be seen as a dynamic process that evolves over time, not a “one and done” project to check off your to-do list and never look at again.

Review and update your plan after important life events. These events might include:

  • Acquisition of new assets, like a house.
  • Commencement of a new business venture.
  • Retirement.
  • Inheritance.
  • Marital status change for you or someone named in your estate plan.
  • Death or disability of a family member or someone named in your plan.
  • Birth or adoption of a child to you or to someone named in your plan.
  • Relocation to a new state or country.
  • Children reaching age 18.
  • Issues affecting a beneficiary’s life, such as creditor problems, an inability to properly manage finances, or alcohol or substance abuse issues.

Remember, passing away unexpectedly before completing or updating your estate plan is not the only potential problem. While relatively few people die out-of-the-blue from accidents or surprise medical issues, the number of people who will suffer an unexpected disability is alarmingly high. While some of those people make a full recovery, many do not. Having your plan prepared can prevent expensive and time-consuming legal proceedings and emotional turmoil for your loved ones in the event of your disability.

Don’t be afraid to call your attorney with questions or changes in between estate plan reviews. We consider ourselves your personne de confiance — a trusted friend and sounding board — in addition to your legal advisor. We want to hear all about you and your family, your business, your charitable endeavors and everything else. When you no longer have the capacity to take care of yourself, we want to see to it that you’re taken care of. And when you’re no longer around, we want to ensure your legacy is carried on in exactly the way you envisioned. If you keep us in the loop, we can help you determine when it’s time to update your plan.