How Well Did Eddie Van Halen, Kobe Bryant, and Alex Trebek Plan for Their Loved Ones?

Signing estate planning documentsAs everyone knows, 2020 has been a challenging year for many reasons. Luckily, there are only nine more days left of the year, and we’re hoping that 2021 brings much better things.

Besides the coronavirus pandemic, one of the reasons this year has been so difficult is the many people we have lost, including some who were famous and even legendary. As we near the end of the year, we take time to look back at those famous individuals we have lost in the past year, such as singer Eddie Van Halen, athlete Kobe Bryant, and Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, and the legacy they leave behind.

As I have done in the past, I analyze the estate planning mistakes made by famous individuals tohelp educate others – celebrity or not – as to why good estate planning is so crucial for people of all ages. 

Kobe Bryant’s Trust Wasn’t Updated to Include His Younger Daughter

Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna (“Gigi”), tragically passed away in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020. Kobe’s untimely death at the age of 41 demonstrates the need to plan ahead.

Through his career as a top basketball player and through endorsements, Kobe had nearly $600 million in assets. He was survived by his wife, Vanessa, and three surviving daughters, Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 1.

Since his death, court filings made by Kobe’s widow have shed light on both the successes and failures of Kobe’s estate planning efforts. On a positive note, Kobe created an extensive estate plan to protect his assets, reduce estate-tax liability, and pass on his wealth to his family. Upon his death, a trust was set up to allow Vanessa and her daughters to draw from the principal and income of the trust’s assets during Vanessa’s lifetime, with the remainder going to their children upon Vanessa’s death.

A Tragic Oversight

While his trust lists Vanessa and his oldest daughters Natalia, Gianna (who died in the crash with her father), and Bianka as beneficiaries, Kobe never added his youngest daughter, Capri, who was born just six months before his death. Reportedly, Kobe simply never got around to adding Capri to the trust before his untimely death. Seeking to fix this oversight, Vanessa Bryant and Kobe’s best friend Robert Pelinka, Jr. – who were named co-trustees – petitioned the Los Angeles probate court to modify the trust by adding Capri as a beneficiary with equal rights as her sisters. Unless the court agrees with the petition, Capri will be ineligible to inherit her share of the family estate held in the trust, which could amount to wealth and assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

This mistake has undoubtedly cost Vanessa not only hefty sums of money in lawyer fees and court costs, but it also eliminated the trust’s biggest benefits by failing to keep Kobe’s surviving family members out of court and conflict, as well as exposing some of the trust’s details to the public because of the litigation. The most unfortunate part of the whole situation is just how easily this oversight could have been avoided if Kobe had updated his estate plan, or had the simple foresight to include after-born children when his trust was first drafted.

We always encourage those clients who are in their child-bearing years to include potential after-born children in  their trust planing so that there is no need to modify the trust simply because you have another child.

Eddie Van Halen: Estate Planning After Divorce and Remarriage

In October 2020, rock and roll legend Eddie Van Halen died at the age of 65 after battling throat cancer.

Eddie Van Halen married Valerie Bertinelli in 1981. In 1990, the couple had a son, Wolfgang. Their marriage did not last. They separated in 2002 and divorced in 2006. He got married again in 2012 to Janie Liszewski, his public relations representative.

Doctors first diagnosed Eddie with cancer in 2000. One effort to treat the cancer was surgery to remove one-third of his tongue. As a result, he was reportedly cancer-free for several years. However, cancer eventually returned and spread to his throat and esophagus. At the time of his passing, experts estimate Van Halen’s net worth at nearly $100 million.  

Planning for Spouses and Children

We don’t have all of the details about Eddie Van Halen’s estate planning yet, but you can learn a few lessons from his situation. For those who do not have Van Halen’s stardom but have shared experiences as far as divorce, children, and remarriage, there are some estate planning issues to consider.

Estate planning should account for any alimony (spousal support) that may have been put in place at the time of a divorce.
The terms of the divorce and the conclusions regarding property ownership may significantly impact how one plans to distribute his or her assets upon death.
Additional considerations regarding children from that union should also be addressed. This becomes even more important if more children are brought into the family via a second marriage.

Read my article, How Will Divorce Affect My Estate Planning, for more details.

In Eddie Van Halen’s case, his only son, Wolfgang Van Halen, also worked with his father. Because of the significant assets involved in this estate, it is hoped that Van Halen utilized trusts to facilitate the easy transfer of property and assets to his intended recipients.

Alex Trebek: A Lifetime of Giving to Charity

Alex Trebek, who died last month at age 80, was known for his gracious style and well-timed humor in his role as host of Jeopardy. But what many in his television audience never knew was that the Emmy-award-winning Trebek didn’t just give away millions of the program’s dollars to the show’s successful contestants. For more than 30 years, Trebek also gave away his own money to numerous charitable endeavors, including World Vision – a humanitarian organization that conducts relief efforts for children and families in nearly 100 countries around the world, and it is assumed that he continues to do so after his death through his estate planning documents. While we also don’t know about Alex Trebek’s specific plans, there are charitable trusts such as: Charitable Remainder Trusts that allow you to benefit your favorite charity and receive a stream of income while not interfering with your other estate planning objectives; and Charitable Lead Trusts that allow you to provide a stream of income to a charity for a period of years, or for an individual’s lifetime, while still ultimately benefiting your family members. Read more about these trusts here. Contact us to discuss charitable giving in your lifetime and after death.

What we do know about Alex Trebek is that when asked about estate planning for his children, it was important to him that they “make their own way in the world.” According to Alex Trebek in an interview before his death, “(w)e have trusts for them, but we don’t want to give everything to them. We want them to be able to fend for themselves and make their own way in the world. My son operates a Mexican restaurant in Harlem, and my daughter is going into real estate. So, they are succeeding on their own – but I am their backstop if they need me.”

Want to read more about celebrity estate planning lessons? In the past, we’ve published many articles on this topic on our blog. Click here to read them!

Talk About Estate Planning with Loved Ones During the Holidays

After reading about these celebrities and others, we want to make sure that estate planning is completed and updated regularly so everything will go smoothly for loved ones in the future!

When a loved one dies, family conflict and stress are too often a result, primarily because the deceased did not let their family know their wishes in advance, or they hadn’t planned in advance to begin with. Here are some things you can do over the upcoming holidays, whether in person or on Zoom.

1. Call A Family Meeting

Schedule a time to sit down with your spouse, adult children, parents and other key family members to review your estate plan.

2. Share Your Final Wishes

Tell your family members your end-of-life decisions, where your will or trust is located, and who your estate planning attorney is.

3. Discuss Your Estate Plan

If you choose, you can share the contents of your estate plan with your family in detail or very generally. Each family interacts differently, and you likely know the best way to avoid future miscommunications, stress, or family conflict when you die. If you don’t have an estate plan in place, be sure to make an appointment with an experienced estate planning attorney, such as those at the Farr Law Firm, in the new year.

Estate Planning is Important for Everyone—Start or Update Your Planning Now or in the New Year

Here at the Farr Law Firm, we offer strategies to help all types of people plan for themselves and their loved ones, whether or not you are rich and famous . . . and most of our clients are not! With advance planning, each person can retain the assets it has taken a lifetime to accumulate and the peace of mind that their child(ren)’s needs will be adequately and properly addressed. If you or members of your family have not done incapacity planning or estate planning, or if a loved one is beginning to need more care than you can handle, please contact us as soon as possible to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Fairfax Estate Planning: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Estate Planning: 540-479-1435
Rockville Estate Planning: 301-519-8041
DC Estate Planning: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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