Kobe Bryant’s Untimely Death Highlights the Vital Need for Estate Planning at All Ages

Estate Planning in New Braunfels, San Marcos, and Seguin

By Beverly Davidek

Mar 10

As you no doubt already know, on January 26, 2020, basketball legend Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash on a wooded hillside 30 miles north of Los Angeles. Also killed in the tragic accident was his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven other passengers, who were friends and colleagues of Kobe and his family.

Kobe’s sudden death at such a young age immediately led to a huge outpouring of grief from fans across the world.

Whenever someone so beloved dies so young, it highlights just how critical it is for every adult—but especially those with young children—to create an estate plan to ensure their loved ones are properly protected and provided for when they die or in the event of their incapacity.

While we don’t know the exact details of Kobe’s estate plan (and he may have planning vehicles in place to keep the public from ever knowing the full details), we can still learn from the issues his family and estate are likely to face in the aftermath of his death. I’ll cover these issues here in hopes that it will inspire us all to remember that life is not guaranteed, death can come at any moment, and our loved ones are counting on us to do the right thing for them now.

Kobe's sports and business empire

Between his salary and endorsements during his 20-year career with the L.A. Lakers, Kobe reportedly earned an estimated $680 million. And that’s not counting the money he made from his numerous business ventures, licensing rights for his likeness, and extensive venture capital investments following his retirement from the NBA. That said, by all estimates, his estate has the potential to be the most valuable of any modern athlete.

Given his business acumen and length of time in the spotlight, it’s highly unlikely that Kobe died without at least some planning in place to protect his assets and his family. Even assuming that Kobe did have a plan, when someone so young, wealthy, and successful passes away this unexpectedly in such a terrible accident, his family and estate will almost certainly face some potential threats and complications.

For example, due to his extreme wealth, Kobe very likely would have created trusts and other planning strategies to remove some of his assets from his estate in order to reduce his federal estate-tax liability. (One would hope.) However, because he was so young and still actively involved in numerous business ventures, it seems rather unlikely, given the statistics, that all—or even the majority—of his assets would have been fully transferred into those protective planning vehicles.

And, given the circumstances surrounding the crash itself, the lawsuits have already begun, further complicating the situation from an estate and business perspective. There are still a lot of unknowns, but here’s the bottom line: the post-death handling of Kobe’s affairs is surely going to continue to be complicated.

Though you almost certainly don’t have a Kobe-size estate to pass on, that makes it even more important for you to handle your planning—and really get it done right. Kobe’s family can afford years in court, lawyers upon lawyers, and a loss of some assets to taxes and lawsuits. Your family, on the other hand, probably cannot.

Trusted support when it's needed most

Since Kobe’s wife Vanessa survived him, and it’s been widely reported that they married without a prenuptial agreement, it’s most likely that she will inherit everything. And due to the “spousal exemption,” those assets will pass to her tax free. Yet despite the protection from estate taxes, if she does inherit everything directly, all of the estate-planning, financial-planning, business-management, and wealth-preservation responsibilities for Kobe’s immense fortune will now pass to Vanessa.

That’s an overwhelming responsibility to suddenly have to take on, especially while she’s mourning the loss of both her husband and child. Given the vast scope of Kobe’s estate, ongoing business ventures, and dealing with lawsuits and other legal complications, Vanessa will need the advice and support of her trusted counsel now more than ever. And we sure do hope she has that support, and that it was established well before this point in time.

Unfortunately, many estate planning firms do not engage with the whole family when creating estate plans and the associated legal documents, leaving the spouse and other family members largely out of the loop. Though I can’t know if this was the case with Kobe’s lawyers, such situations occur frequently enough that there’s a good possibility this could be true for Vanessa as well.

And it could be true for you and your family, too. Are you in the loop on the planning that’s been handled (or not) for your parents? Are the people you’ve named in your plan or who you would want handling things for you when needed fully up to date and in the know about your planning?

This scenario highlights the immense value of working with a family-centered planning lawyer who will take the time to get to know your family members and include them in the planning process—even facilitating regular family meetings to keep everyone up to date, as your family dynamics and planning strategies evolve and change over the years.  

While the death of Kobe, his daughter, and the others is terribly, terribly sad, if it motivates you to get your estate planning handled the right way, or updated, the tragedy just might have some positive impact. Whether you already have a plan created or nothing at all, I invite you to meet with me to learn about the specific planning strategies necessary to protect your loved ones and their inheritance if and when something equally tragic happens to you.

This article is a service of Beverly R. Davidek. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure that families and business owners make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for themselves and the people they love.