In 2003, Kobe Bryant created a trust for the benefit of his wife, Vanessa, and their children. Last amended in 2017, the trust does not provide for their nine-month-old daughter, Capri. If Kobe were still alive, the trust could have been amended with relative ease by his signing an amendment drafted by his estate planning lawyer. However, since his tragic passing, the trust became irrevocable (i.e., Kobe is no longer alive to revoke or amend the trust) and any modifications to that instrument will require court approval.
As such, on March 17, 2020, Vanessa filed a Petition to Modify Trust in Los Angeles Superior Court. So what is required to modify a trust once the “settlor” (i.e., creator of the trust) is no longer able to do so themselves?
In North Carolina, and assuming all interested parties consent, the standards by which a court can modify or terminate a trust are governed by North Carolina General Statute §36C-4-411. Interested parties include the trustee and the beneficiaries; in this case, the trustees are Vanessa and Kobe’s agent, Rob Pelinka, and the beneficiaries are Vanessa and two of their children, Natalia and Bianka (Gianna was a beneficiary but tragically died in the helicopter crash with Kobe).
In North Carolina, since their surviving children are minors, a guardian ad litem would need to be appointed to represent Natalia and Bianka’s interests and, upon a showing that all parties otherwise consent, the trust can be modified if the court concludes that modification is consistent with a material purpose of the trust. The same rules and procedures likely apply in California, where this matter is pending. In Vanessa’s case, she pled precisely that same standard: “The material purpose of the Trust is to provide a fund for Kobe’s wife and daughters of Kobe and Vanessa for their support, care, and maintenance and, at the same time, to provide protection for the Trust’s assets so that the assets will be available for the benefit of Kobe and Vanessa’s daughters, equally, upon Vanessa’s death.”
The trust currently provides that Vanessa, Natalia, and Bianka can be paid interest and principal from the trust for their support, care, and maintenance. Once Vanessa dies, Kobe intended the trust to be divided into equal parts for each of their daughters. Unless the modification is approved, only Natalia and Bianka would benefit, a result Kobe and Vanessa did not anticipate or desire. Modifying the trust to add Capri as a beneficiary would conform to a primary purposes for the trust’s creation and will likely be approved by the court.
If you have questions regarding the need to modify a trust, please call us at (704) 457-1010 to schedule a consultation. For more information regarding our firm, attorneys, and practice areas, please visit http://www.lindleylawoffice.com/.