Kobe Bryant achieved both fame and fortune as an NBA superstar, businessman, family man, and citizen of the world. The news of his tragic death in a fiery helicopter crash in January has left his many fans and admirers stunned and deeply saddened. As the world mourns Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and the seven other people killed in the crash, we are poignantly reminded of Bryant’s widespread influence. In Bryant’s beautiful wife, Vanessa, and the three young daughters he leaves behind, we are also reminded of the pressing need to prepare carefully for the welfare of our families long after death.
When someone like Kobe Bryant dies, it is natural to wonder what will happen to the family, property, and money he leaves behind. This is especially true in Bryant’s case. Between his 20-year NBA career and endorsements, it is estimated that Bryant made about $680 million. This amount does not include the income generated from Bryant’s successful business ventures or likeness rights. It is entirely possible that Bryant’s estate could be one of the largest a professional athlete has ever amassed.
While Bryant’s death is far too recent to know the particulars of his estate, it is entirely likely that Bryant had estate planning documents in place before his death. His sharp business acumen and long professional sports career suggest that he would have taken care to set up trusts or other estate documents to ensure the quick and peaceful transfer of his assets to his wife and children. In fact, depending on the quality and thoroughness of his estate plan, there is a good chance that we may never know the full details of his estate. If he has the right protections in place, his heirs will enjoy a level of privacy that probate court does not allow.
On the other hand, even wealthy businesspersons and celebrities sometimes make the mistake of assuming that death is a distant possibility and put off their estate planning. While it seems unlikely, it is still possible that Bryant could have pieces of an estate plan in place – a Will, for example – but did not take the time to set up all of the proper vehicles for asset protection. Even if he did have an estate plan in place, his unexpected death at such a young age could still create some difficulties for his family. For example, he may have started the process of setting up trusts to protect parts of his estate, but may not have fully completed the transfers. While the chance of challenges to his estate seems remote, wealthy estates tend to attract people eager to get their piece of the pie. While both problems could potentially be avoided with the right estate planning in place, only time will tell whether Bryant had his affairs in order.
In the meantime, Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, is the most likely inheritor of any assets left unprotected by his estate plan. As his surviving spouse, such assets will most likely pass to her tax-free after probate. But so will the responsibility for any estate planning and wealth protection Bryant did not complete during his life. Depending on Vanessa’s relationship with her husband’s advisory team, this responsibility could potentially become a heavy burden for her, particularly as she mourns the loss of both her husband and her child.
Thinking about Vanessa and her children, we can only hope that Bryant’s estate plan also focuses on protecting them against the consequences of his unforeseeable death. The sad truth is that tragedies like Kobe Bryant’s death can happen to anyone, at any time. This is what makes estate planning so important, and not just for sports superstars. Estate planning is for everyone, regardless of age, celebrity status, or income.