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Steve McNair — a likely estate administration mess.

Posted by Sasha Golden | Jul 19, 2009 | 0 Comments

Most readers know by now that Steve McNair, the former Tennessee Titans QB, was killed in a murder-suicide by a woman who was not his wife. McNair left no will. Hoo boy….Now his widow has mess that could make the Michael Jackson estate look like a piece of cake to administer by comparison.

During his football career, McNair earned over $75 million in NFL salary alone — never mind the millions earned from endorsements, licenses for the use of his name and likeness, personal appearance fees, etc. He and his wife had two children. There are also two older (minor) children who may or may not be his, but for whom he was paying support.

According to The Tennesseean, since there was no will, under Tennessee law, 1/3d of the estate will go to his wife and the remaining share will be divided among his children. Mrs. McNair has stated that she does not know whether the two older children are McNair's biological children. You can bet that those boys' legal guardians have hired lawyers by now to protect their claims. You can also bet that Mrs. McNair's lawyers will demand proof of paternity before these children see a dime.

Then there's that pesky matter of failing to plan for federal estate taxation. That 2/3ds of the estate which doesn't go to the wife will be subject to a maximum 45% federal estate tax, since the value of the estate is over $3.5 million. If we assume that the estate was worth $50 million, and if 1/3d passes tax-free to the surviving spouse under TN law, then that's $33.34 million. Subtract the $3.5 million exemption for deaths in 2009, multiply by 45% for the tax bracket– or $13.49 million in possible estate tax!

This could have all been avoided.

A good estate planning attorney would probably have set up the estate to postpone a significant portion of the estate taxes until after the death of the second spouse. There probably would have been an irrevocable life insurance trusts established so that an insurance policy would pay the millions of dollars which will be owed to the Federal government in estate taxes. He might have set up a charitable remainder trust, which would have created an annuity for the widow and then left the remaining funds to charity without any estate tax.

I can safely predict that a number of Tennessee lawyers and the IRS will make a lot of money off of this case because of a lack of any estate planning. I also expect that the court may order trusts created for the benefit of the children (once it determines how the 2/3ds of the estate get divided), as a judge will not like the idea of young children receiving millions of dollars without any professional supervision over the funds' use. Saddest of all, there are two (or four) children who will have to grow up without their father's love while almost certainly overhearing other family members arguing over his money.

About the Author

Sasha Golden

Alexandra “Sasha” Golden received her undergraduate and law degrees from Boston College, and has been practicing law in Massachusetts since 1994. Attorney Golden is a long-standing member of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) and of the Probate and So...


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