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Steve McNair Estate unsettled after one year

It's been just over a year since Steve McNair, the former NFL quarterback, was murdered on July 4, 2009, at the age of 36.  The Probate Lawyer Blog covered the initial drama surrounding the estate in a series of articles.  In the months that have passed since then, the estate has been relatively quiet.  It's been rather surprising given the early fireworks last summer.Steve McNair and son

McNair died with an estate worth more than $19 million but without even a basic will.  It looked like trouble initially when his wife named their two kids as estate beneficiaries in the probate paperwork, but failed to list his other two kids (from two other mothers).  The family was far from harmonious even before McNair was killed.

McNair and his wife, Mechelle, had hired an artist to paint a family portrait.  The artist hadn't been paid and filed a claim against the estate.  Before the estate settled and paid the artist $5,000, she revealed an email from McNair.  He wrote that his "wife has some disagreements" with his two older boys "who are not by her, so I wouldn't be having them in the painting."

So far, the boys and their mothers haven't been fighting in court against Mechelle, despite the early controversy from last summer.  But then again, the estate has been mostly stagnant to this point (other than one wild claim), so they haven't really had much to fight about yet. 

McNair's prized restaurant in Nashville, Gridiron 9, was closed shortly after he died.  Mechelle tried to sell McNair's interest in that business, but it was blocked by his cousin who co-owned it with him.  McNair's ranching/farming business and his mansion called "The Ranch" (near his childhood home in Mississippi) are also up in the air.  McNair's home in Nashville was for sale before he died but has since been taken off the market.

So in summary, a year has passed, nothing substantial has been sold, and no one knows how much they'll get.  Reportedly, there's a court hearing set for September 19th, at which the family members will learn how much they'll inherit.

Delays like this are not unusual for estates left in a mess because of non-existent estate planning.  When people don't take the time to make out a basic will (which is the case with approximately 2/3 of adults in this country), these types of delays and complications are common.

That's why we recommend that people work with experienced estate planning attorneys to put their affairs in order.  In fact, most people should create a revocable living trust.  When properly used, it avoids probate court entirely.  And it also reduces the costs, delays and potential conflicts that happen for any estate -- especially an "intestate" estate (meaning one that has no will).

So what is unusual about this estate (other than the fact it's worth around $19 million)?  How about the murder case.

The police were confident it was an open-and-shut case.  McNair's girlfriend was dead beside him with a gunshot wound in her head and a gun nearby, in an apparent suicide.  McNair's body was riddled with several bullet holes.

But the family of his girlfriend, 20-year-old Sahel "Jenni" Kazemi, say that she wasn't suicidal.  They worked with a retired cop who investigated the case and presented findings to a grand jury, arguing it was a robbery, not a murder-suicide.  He points out how unusual it was for McNair to only have $7 in his wallet, when he usually carried hundreds. 

The grand jury felt it wasn't enough evidence to reopen the case.  So the matter is officially closed. 

Now we'll have to see how long it takes for his estate to close too.

Posted by: Andrew W. Mayoras and Danielle B. Mayoras, co-authors of Trial and Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founders 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. Andrew and Danielle are husband and wife attorneys, professional speakers and consultants across the country.  Follow us on Facebook and Google+.