Tuesday, July 21, 2009

State could settle Steve McNair's estate

With no will, law would split assets By Chris Echegaray • THE TENNESSEAN • July 21, 2009 Tennesseans who die with wills get to decide where their money goes, Nashville estate attorneys stay. Die without one, and the state decides. That's an issue being sorted through by the family of former Titans quarterback Steve McNair. The football star had no will, an emergency court filing last week by his wife said, nor any apparent estate planning. Mechelle McNair is compiling her late husband's assets, a task that must be completed in less than two months. Under Tennessee law, if there's no will, a surviving spouse automatically is entitled to a third of the estate and children get the rest. And it gets more complicated with children from previous marriages or relationships, said Denty Cheatham, a Nashville attorney who handled the 14-year-long Conway Twitty estate case. Twitty was rewriting his will when he died. "Those situations cause a lot of difficulties," Cheatham said. "When the children are not the children of the surviving spouse, frequently there is conflict." McNair earned $90 million during his 13-year career with the Houston Oilers, Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens. The bodies of McNair and Sahel "Jenni" Kazemi were found July 4 at a Second Avenue condo the former Tennessee Titan rented with a friend. Investigators say McNair was sleeping on his couch when Kazemi, a woman he had been dating for months, shot him four times before ending her life. McNair's blood-alcohol limit when he was shot was twice what Tennessee considers too drunk to drive, the state's assistant medical examiner said on Monday. Kazemi, 20, who shot McNair and then herself, had a small amount of marijuana and no alcohol in her system, Dr. Feng Li said. Hearing scheduled Kazemi was facing a DUI charge after a July 2 traffic stop with McNair in the passenger seat. The video of her traffic stop includes her admission that she was high at the time. Li said McNair's blood-alcohol level was around .16. The final report won't be released until next week, he said. On Wednesday, Adrian Gilliam Jr., the man who police say sold Kazemi the gun she used in the shooting, is due in federal court for a bond hearing. He is being held without bail on a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. 2 sons with Mechelle McNair left behind four sons — two with his wife, Mechelle McNair, and two older ones with separate women in Mississippi. Paternity will have to be established for his two older sons so they can make a claim to the estate, legal experts say, but neither had filed a claim in probate court by Monday afternoon. Without protections through trusts and other means, an estate of over $3.5 million can get taxed 50 cents for every dollar, said Nashville attorney Richard Johnson. Handling the estate gets more expensive without a will, he said. An inventory of assets is taken, attorneys representing all sides are involved, debts and taxes are paid, Johnson said. "In these situations, a common term used is that it gets messy," Johnson said. "A lot of times everybody has an opinion and it gets expensive. Leave a will. When I go around to speak to groups about leaving a will I tell them, 'You decide what happens and not the state of Tennessee.' '' There are two ways to leave a will. Usually, a lawyer draws one up or a person can leave a holographic will, which is handwritten by the person. Lawyers advise the former and not the latter. Cheatham said a simple will can be drafted for as little as $150. "I encourage people to have wills," Cheatham said. "A lot of people try to avoid wills. They are not expensive."

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