While people have been wondering when Kobe Bryant’s funeral will be held, another question that has gone unanswered after his tragic death last weekend is whether the NBA legend died with having a last will and testament in place. With his mammoth net worth that made him one of the wealthiest athletes in the world, Bryant’s estate is expected to be the subject of increasing interest for his family and others.
The retired Los Angeles Lakers star was killed along with eight other people, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash in southern California on Sunday morning. Bryant was just 41 years old and seemed primed for a successful and fruitful career after professional basketball. The news devastated his fans and the world at large. But no one was affected more than his family, especially his widow Vanessa Bryant and their three surviving young children.
Bryant died with a net worth of about $600 million thanks in no small part to being the second-highest-paid NBA player of all time with career earnings of $323 million just from his 20 years’ worth of league contracts alone, according to Forbes. But while many people probably assume that uber-wealthy people who don’t have to worry about money keep lawyers on the payroll to handle things like a living will, that’s actually not the case in many notable instances — especially with Black folks.
The list of wealthy Black celebrities who have died without a will in place in a significant one. Names on it include Prince, who died with a net worth of about $300 million died without having a will. So did John Singleton, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix and the great Bob Marley, to name but a few.
A failure to adequately plan for what happens to an estate in death is fairly common for Black people, according to legal scholar Roy W. Copeland. “The failure of African Americans to prepare wills is likely attributable to distrust of government, a belief that their children will ultimately inherit the land and reluctance to cause division within the family,” Copeland wrote in a 2014 essay entitled, “Heir Property In The African Community: From Promised Lands to Problem Lands.”
Estate-planning lawyer Lori Anne Douglass told Black Enterprise that “Black Americans are 50% less likely to have a living will in place in comparison to other groups.”
In many cases, the lack of having a will and testament in place can spark family disputes, as has been seen with the battles over the estates of Prince and Aretha, for example.
Snoop Dogg, a married father of four — the same family situation as Kobe — famously boasted to Business Insider in 2016 that he did not have a will. When the rapper was asked about his estate planning t prepare for his death, Snoop said in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t concerned with any that.
“I don’t give a f— when I’m dead. What am I gonna give a f— about?” he asked rhetorically before continuing. “Hopefully, I’m a butterfly. I come back and fly around and look at all these motherf—–s fighting over my money and shit, like, ‘Look at all these dumb motherf—–s.’ Ha!”
Having a living will in place is a good way to control what happens to a person’s estate in death. Michael Jackson, whose music has generated more than $1 billion in revenue since he died in 2009, was a perfect example of that fact. Black Enterprise reminded readers that he “had a will in place that allotted his robust financial returns to go to his children with his mother, Katherine Jackson, as the executor of his estate. There was never any risk of confusion or family members with ulterior motives attempting to gain access to an estate with a seemingly endless amount of capital.”
Chances are that Kobe — known to cross all his T’s and dot all his I’s — did have a will in place to make sure he controlled his finances in death as he did in life. However, it was no secret that he and his parents were not on good terms for many years — they didn’t even attend his wedding. There were reports that Kobe and his dad had recently been reconciling, but there were also reports that he and his mother were not speaking at the time of his death. All of which makes it unclear if they were in his will or if they were recently added to his will or if he even had one in place at all.