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  • Writer's pictureJenny Rozelle, Host of Legal Tea

Celebrity Estate Planning - Kobe Bryant - Episode 14

Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners! This is your host, Jenny Rozelle. We’re back to “estate planning of the rich and famous” where we chat about celebrities and their estate planning. Most of the time, I feel like we are talking about celebrities and their POOR estate planning tactics – but last episode, we talked about Michael Jackson, and he didn’t do a terrible job. Kobe is about the same way – he didn’t do a terrible job, but he doesn’t get an A+ either!

Let’s dive into Kobe and his estate plan, shall we?

First, we are going to chat about Kobe’s family – Kobe was married to a lady by the name of Vanessa Bryant. According to Kobe’s Wikipedia, he and Vanessa met in 1999 – he was 21 years old and she was 17 years old (when they met). Six months later, they got engaged and on April 18, 2001, they got married. Subsequently, the couple had 4 children – Natalia, Gianna, Bianka, and Capri. The oldest, Natalia, was born in 2003 – and the youngest, Capri was born in 2019.

On January 26, 2020, Kobe, along with his daughter, Gianna (she was often called Gigi, for short), was traveling to another county in California to attend a basketball game via a helicopter. They were not traveling alone – they had a six family friends with them, too, and of course the pilot. The weather that morning was less than ideal – it was rainy, it was foggy, and actually most air traffic was grounded due to the weather. The helicopter took off at 9:06 AM. By 9:30 AM, the pilot communicated with a nearby control tower. The controllers told the pilot he was flying “too low.” At 9:45 AM, the helicopter crashed into the side of a mountain – and tragically killed everyone on board.

I often think, “Am I ever going to come across a celebrity/famous person that gets an A+ for their estate planning?” And it finally hit me. The answer is probably yes – BUT we just probably won’t know about what went down with their estate plan. After all, those that get an A+ are the ones that DON’T hit the news – when individuals have a solid plan, their “mistakes” aren’t made public because things are settled nice and privately.

On the surface, when I started researching for this episode on Kobe, I was like, “Okay …. Okay …. Good …” then I stumbled upon his estate plan and where his mistake occurred.

So here we go…

According to a blog from the Law Office of Jordan W. Jacob, an attorney in the State of Florida, Kobe actually had established a Living Trust to “protect his assets, reduce estate tax liability, and pass on his wealth to his family.” It was called the Kobe Bryant Trust.

The purpose of The Kobe Bryant Trust was to support his wife, Vanessa, and their children upon his death – expressly, it stated that Vanessa and the girls could take both any principal and income from the Trust while Vanessa was living. Then, upon Vanessa’s passing, the remaining Trust assets went to their children. That sounds all fine and dandy, I’m sure – except here comes the part Kobe missed something.

The Trust was originally created in 2003 shortly after the birth of their first child, Natalia. After each child was born thereafter, he’d amend the Trust to include the newborn – except he has not gotten around to amend the Trust to include their youngest child, Capri. If you run the math, Capri was a mere 6 months old when Kobe passed away. I’m sure Kobe thought that he’d get around to it – after all, he was only 41 when he passed away. But he didn’t. And it became too late.

Still according to Jordan W. Jacob’s blog, the Trustees of The Kobe Bryant Trust are Vanessa and a dear friend of Kobe, Robert Pelinka, Jr. Because the Trust had not been updated to include Capri, the only way to change or amend the Trust at this point is to involve the Court. So, Vanessa and Robert petitioned the Los Angeles Probate Court in March 2020 to request that the Trust be changed to include Capri as a beneficiary.

In the event that the Court disagreed and stood by the document, Capri would not be allowed to inherit from the Trust – which is reported to be in the neighborhood of $600M dollars. The Petition that Vanessa and Robert submitted included evidence to show that adding Capri would have been the intention of Kobe – the evidence provided to the Court was showing that Kobe amended the Trust after every child’s birth. He did it after Gigi was born, he did it after Bianka was born, and his intention would not have been to exclude Capri.

Thankfully, the Court agreed with their argument. According to ET Online, the Court approved their request and is allowing Capri to be added as a beneficiary of The Kobe Bryant Trust.

This misstep, though, I’m sure cost some serious dough – money, that is. Specifically, court costs and legal fees. I’m rather certain that had Kobe gotten around to amending his Trust to include Capri as a beneficiary, he may be one of those A+ celebrity estate planners. We may have never heard about his estate plan … and I probably wouldn’t even be doing this episode. But here we are … his estate plan got exposed all while his wife and family are trying to grieve from his tragic passing. I’m sure the last thing he would have wanted would be to have Vanessa and Robert involving the Court because goodness sakes, they needed privacy to grieve.

The lesson from Kobe clearly is to keep your plan updated. Step 1 is to makes sure you #DoYourEstatePlan, and Step 2 is to keep the darn thing updated. Clients often ask me how often an estate plan should be updated – actually as I write this, the last meeting I was in, the client asked how routinely they should update it. I responded, “Well, attorneys will answer this question all over the board – so here’s my answer…” and I proceeded to share with them, what I’m about to share with you.

Some attorneys will say, “You should update your plan every “x” number of years.” Like, say every 5 years or 10 years. I don’t like to say a number – I often recommend to look out for big life events and depending on the life event, a change to your plan may be necessary. What are some examples I’m talking about? Here are some:

· New children (*cough, cough* Kobe)

· New grandchildren

· New assets

o How they are owned or beneficiary-designated?

o Property in a different state

o Have you moved?

o Inheritances

· Relationships that have fizzled

o Is someone in your estate plan estranged and you don’t want them included?

· Marriages or Divorces

· Health-things

o Have you gotten a diagnosis that we should re-examine things?

o Cognitive impairment like dementia/Alzheimers

o Special needs kids or beneficiaries – consider how they inherit

· Etc.

I get it – that’s a lot to watch out for. Life has a way of going really fast, and before you know it, a FEW of these things may apply. For that reason, THAT is why some attorneys say a “x” number of years – because they’d rather not count on the client to remember that “this life event has occurred and I should go see my lawyer.” I see both perspectives – the “x” number of years argument and the “look out for life events” argument. There are pros/cons about both – just like everything in life, right?!

Something I’ll mention is that my firm has a voluntary, optional program – we call it our Maintenance Program. Long story short, a year (or so) after a client signs their estate plan with us, we offer them to remain in our Maintenance Program. To do so, there is a minimal annual fee. The Program entitles the client to a variety of benefits, but the most popular reasons clients remain in are:

- Annual meeting with our office (to keep them, the client, accountable on changes in their world that may necessitate changes to their documents);

- No fee (beyond the Program fee) for changes to documents – need a new version of a document? No problem – no charge!

- If there is a change in the law that impacts our little estate and elder law world, we get a hold of our Maintenance program clients. (If a client is not in the Program, once the estate plan is signed, our attorney-client relationship is over … legally and ethically-speaking. So the Maintenance Program allows for the relationship to continue!)

- Lastly, if after the passing of the client, the family needs our assistance, their fee is capped at a reduced fee than non-Maintenance clients.

I share all this with you to say that if you #DoYourEstatePlan with someone else, inquire if they have a similar program. Some attorneys do, but most do not. I think the numbers speak for themselves – we’ve been offering this Program to clients for over 10 years and every single year, it has a retention rate of 85-90% meaning 85-90% of clients see the value in the Program and stay in. If there’s anything I hear about it often, clients say, “There’s no dollar you can place on my peace of mind…and that’s what the Program gives me.”

Alrighty, let’s wrap up this episode, huh! Well, next week’s topic is a cautionary tale – a real-life case I’ve personally worked on. It’ll be a good one. So stay tuned for that! Until then, Legal Tea Listeners…take care and be well!


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