I've written articles before about the mess that murdered NFL quarterback Steve McNair left behind because he died without a will. I had predicted a possible fight between his widow and the two minor children from prior relationships, because she didn't list them as heirs on the probate filing. The official story from the McNair camp is that they have to file claims with the Estate to be recognized as heirs, which they haven't yet done even though they both have attorneys representing their interests.
My personal view: it was inappropriate not to list the two kids, and perhaps his widow, Mechelle McNair, realized it afterward. Regardless, it now appears that the children won't have to fight to prove they are entitled to inherit, at least for now.
But even with one fight avoided, the Steve McNair Estate is far from easy. First, there's the matter of what's in the estate. His widow's attorney recently filed an inventory listing estate assets at around $19.6 million. Most of this money (about $16.9 million) was invested in stocks and bonds. McNair also owned at least two corporations, one of which was a cattle business called McNair Farms, Inc. (Quarterbacking and cattle farming does go hand in hand, doesn't it?)
There may be more assets than that. An inventory is the court document that lists the assets that pass through the estate. It only includes the property that was in Steve McNair's name when he died. Any assets that were left jointly between he and his wife, or children, wouldn't need to be listed.
Early indications are that most of assets were left in his name only, not with his wife. Mechelle McNair, as the widow, had the right under Tennessee law (as in most states) to file a widow's election. This allows her to elect to receive a different amount from the estate than what she'd otherwise get. In Tennessee, this means 40% of the assets, rather than the one-third share she'd get under the intestate law (which is the law that decides who gets what when someone dies without a will). She recently filed to receive the 40% election.
But, this 40% "elective share" is reduced by the value of any assets she received through joint tenancy or otherwise outside of the estate. Because she chose the 40% option, it suggests Mechelle didn't receive as much outside the estate. Otherwise, she would have taken the 1/3 option.
This is a bit surprising when one considers that McNair earned $90 million from his playing career, plus marketing, endorsement and other business profits. This makes the $20 million figure seem almost small. Did he spend all that money?
Questions, problems and complications. Those are usually the result when someone dies without the proper estate planning. Steve McNair should have at least had a basic will. Even better, with a properly-funded revocable living trust, his heirs would have avoided probate court altogether.
One of the biggest benefits for avoiding probate court (other than the costs and legal fees caused by probate) is privacy. Because probate court is very public, the media gets to report on everything that happens.
And in this case, that includes a certain claim by an apartment building owner who says that McNair's Estate owes unpaid rent. Why is that something that the McNair family would have liked to keep private? Because the person who lived in that apartment was a 26-year old woman. The apartment owner says McNair paid for the rent in this apartment in cash, but this woman was the only one who lived there. And this was not the same woman who was his mistress that killed McNair before shooting herself.
Quite the contrary, in fact. According to unnamed "friends" of McNair, the reason he was murdered by his mistress was that she suspected him of having a second affair. Maybe all these women explains what happened to the rest of his 90 million bucks.
Yes, it's messy. It sure is ugly. And I still predict hostilities will surface between McNair's widow and the two minor children. All of this would have been sorted out in private, outside of probate court, if the 36-year old McNair had done the proper estate planning.
In fact, as celebrity stories like this one prove, everyone (even 36-year olds) owes it to their family to do proper estate planning.
Posted by: Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law. You can email him at awmayoras @ brmmlaw.com.Follow us on Google+