Celebrity Estate Plans (A Series): The Importance of Keeping Your Estate Plan Current

It made global headlines when retired all-star NBA player Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, tragically died in a plane crash in January 2020.  The famed Kobe left behind his wife, Vanessa, and three daughters.  His youngest daughter, Capri, was only 7 months old at the time of his passing.

Fortunately, Kobe appears to have had a robust estate plan in place when he died, including trusts for his wife and three oldest daughters.  The trusts had been amended multiple times around when each child was born.  However, Mr. and Mrs. Bryant had not yet amended the trusts to include baby Capri by the time he passed, nor did the trust contemplate additional children.  As a result, Vanessa and longtime friend and Los Angeles Lakers general manager, Robert Pelinka, Jr. (the co-Trustees of the trusts) petitioned the Probate Court to have Capri included as a beneficiary of the Trust, even though she was not so named before Kobe’s untimely passing.  Vanessa and Robert argue that Kobe clearly sought to provide for his children, and would have included Capri but for his unpredictable death.

No resolution to this matter has been reported yet, however, under California law, Vanessa and Robert will have to show that modifying the Trust to include Capri as a beneficiary furthers the Trust’s material purpose.  While it may seem intuitive that the trust should be modified to include Capri, the time, energy, and expense of petitioning the Court to make this change could have been avoided had the trust been updated when she was born.

This tragedy is a somber reminder that we never know what tomorrow may bring, and how important it is to review your estate plan to ensure your wishes are known should something happen to you.  This is especially true if you have gone through a major life events recently, such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or a child reaching adulthood.

What would happen under the same circumstances in New Jersey or Pennsylvania?  New Jersey law permits the modification of a noncharitable irrevocable trust to be modified if the beneficiaries consent to the change AND the Court agrees that the modification is not inconsistent with the trust’s material purpose. N.J.S.A. 3B:31-27(a).  The Pennsylvania Code allows for the same result. Pa.C.S. 7740.1(b).  As evidenced by Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, even the best laid plans may have flaws if not updated with each major life event.  It is prudent to keep your estate plan current to ensure your wishes are effectuated upon your death.