Kobe Bryant’s estate plan and California probate situation

“There are no words” was a text I received from a good friend born and raised, and still living, in Los Angeles. He’s a big Laker’s fan and a big Kobe fan.  Kobe was beloved in LA but also throughout the US and even the world. He was truly a world class athlete.

RIP Kobe Bryant – LA Lakers – August 23, 1978 – January 26, 2020

I have words but it’s because I deal with death every day of the week. It’s what I do professionally and it’s all I do professionally.  My practice is 100% California probate cases.  Please understand this post is made with zero actual knowledge of Kobe’s financial or estate planning situation.  I am merely making guesses. His estate plan is probably more complex than a regular guy like you or me. So this post is about Kobe Bryant’s estate.

So the first thing I thought was what would I do if I was contacted by Kobe’s widow or, more likely, one of her attorneys or assistants.  The reality is it sucks no matter what.  A young man has died, one of his children was on the helicopter with him, and 7 other people also died. There are no words to put in to perspective the death of 9 humans including multiple children. As a probate attorney, with 25 years experience, I can separate the personal and the business. My job is the business of probate or the business of cleaning up the financial side of things. That’s what I am hired for. So, WHAT WOULD JOHN PALLEY DO?

A guy like Kobe Bryant seemed to have a lot of irons in the fire so to me the first thing I would do would be to get letters of special administration issued to Kobe’s wife or maybe even a professional fiduciary or possibly even another probate attorney.  My guess is there are going to be assets and liabilities just in Kobe’s name alone so having letters issued right away could be important so that someone steps in his shoes to legally making decisions if needed.  While we know they had trusts and LLCs we don’t know if all assets are in those entities but I can almost guarantee not everything is properly titled as it almost never is.

I would also, simultaneously, file for full letters.  I would probably ask for the same person (Vanessa, professional fiduciary or another probate attorney) to be appointed and, of course, with full IAEA authority. This assumes there is no will which names an executor. If there is a will naming an executor we would evaluate those names and determine what’s best and then talk to them about serving or declining to serve depending on who they are and what experience they have.

If there is no will (which typically waives the requirement of a bond) it would be hard to get bond waived since there are minors so I would put the appropriate surety bond in place.

Another reason to have a third party appointed administrator as there are very likely going to be some conflicts of interest if Vanessa was the administrator of the estate.  This is really an important point.  For one, she will likely need to file a spousal property petition to transfer her share of assets to herself and for a second there could be some major creditor issues since 9 people died in the helicopter crash.  Plus, she might need to make some tax elections or disclaimer within 9 months of death.  Plus, there could be assets with split interests.  There are just a lot of issues that could come up which might make having a professional fiduciary or attorney well worth it. That’s my guess without knowing more.

I hate to mention the liability but that’s always where my mind goes. Who might sue the estate?  I would put the estates of every person who died on the helicopter on my creditor’s notice list.  That’s not sent out for a couple months so we have time to put the list together.  I would look through Kobe’s various business ventures to determine if there are any loose ends or any possible issues. I would then put those people and/or companies on notice.

Next step would be to set up guardianships for the minor children to the extent it’s needed. Guardianships are required if a minor (under 18 years old) is inheriting assets outside of a trust.  This might be the case here.

I did some digging and see that their beautiful house in Newport Beach is titled in an LLC. It was previously titled in a trust in Vanessa’s name after they bought it from Laker’s executive Rob Pelinka. The act of holding a personal residence in an LLC is quite unusual for us mere mortals. However, their 6 bedroom, 9 bath, 15k square foot house is in an LLC.  There are multiple websites that give out the address but I hate to do that. Here’s an article about his former house in the LA Times.

The bottom line is we don’t know what Kobe’s situation is. I am making assumptions and guesses in this post. I would assume he and Vanessa set up a living trust but like most 40’ish year old people they probably didn’t have the trust very well funded. Most 41 year olds don’t think they are going to die and they typically think of a trust as something they will deal with in the future.

Beyond all that, Kobe seemed to have a lot of business ventures going.  I have seen it countless times where younger people, movers and shakers, often have business and real estate interests in their name alone.  It’s not that their spouse doesn’t own half, as they typically do unless there is a solid pre-nup in place, but typically the one spouse just takes care of business and doesn’t want to be slowed by having to get their spouse’s signature on things.  I have seen this many times in my professional career.

So we don’t know but the above are some guesses.  Hopefully Vanessa finds expert probate legal counsel quickly. Yes, it’s tough when you are dealing with such a tragedy but business goes on, lawsuits go on, troubles go on. This stuff needs to be addressed!

Thoughts and prayers.


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