Legacy University - Your Personal Resource for Estate Planning 101

Steve McNair and the Perils of Dying Without a Will

Steve McNair and the Perils of Dying Without a Will December 10, 2013 —

While we are all going to die, the one thing none of us knows is when that may happen. That sounds cliché but it is a true fact of life. Hopefully, your plan will grow old with you and have to be changed numerous times, either because you become more prosperous, or your family grows and changes. The fact is, you never know. As an attorney for financial institutions, I have seen countless wills and trusts (or estates without wills); many for individuals younger than anyone might ever expect, and I have seen a remarkable number of families suffer the tribulations of the death of a loved one who was otherwise not prepared.

One notorious example of this concept comes from the estate of the late NFL quarterback, Steve McNair. McNair was a star player for many years, and that he was shot and killed at the age of 36 by a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair. While McNair was actually quite well off, he died without a will.  While most imagine that his family was able to do quite well after he passed, in reality, McNair’s assets ended up frozen in probate court and bad things happened to family members he probably would have wanted to do good things for.

Who Gets To Keep the House? 

This issue not only affected his wife and children. According to various sources and documents, McNair’s mother, Lucille, was lucky to have a wealthy quarterback for a son – a man who cared so much about his mother than he built her a house on a 45-acre tract in Mississippi. She lived there for many years. However, then her quarterback suffered his untimely death, she came to find out that she was not the legal owner of the home – he was.

That was fine, as long as he was alive. He had plenty of money to pay the mortgage. However, because he didn’t have an estate plan, and because he hadn’t named an executor to his estate, the court automatically appointed his widow as the personal representative for the estate. While it might be open to debate whether she was upset over the extramarital affair, what wasn’t in question was that McNair left her and her judgment in charge.

Mom’s Home No More

Almost immediately, McNair’s widow demanded $3000 per month rent from her mother-in-law. If course, Lucille didn’t have $3000 per month, so she was forced to leave the estate her son bought for her. She took a number of belongings with her when she left, which she claims she purchased, but the widow sued her, demanding that the items, worth more than $50,000, be returned. Though it was unlikely that McNair wanted such a thing to happen, no one could stop it, because there was no plan in place that would have stopped it, because McNair didn’t think it was important enough while he was still alive.

Lessons for the Rest of Us

McNair’s story is a tragic case of failures in a spotlight with circumstances which otherwise might seem to play out only in the movies. While we should learn from this example, we could more easily learn from examples in our more common worlds. In my case, I can look to stories involving my best friend’s sudden death at the age of 40, leaving three children, a loving wife and no will.  I can take stock with my father’s estate, passing with a lost will, trust company long out of business and no inventory of assets. We can look to situations such as the husband of my wife’s co-worker who took a tumble down his stairs in the middle of the night – leaving his family and young children without any will or instructions. To describe the pain is one thing.  To describe the ramifications of the family’s ongoing tragedy for having to rebuild a life from scratch only to have to manage in the blind is unnecessarily painful, expensive and time consuming.

If you fail to plan the details of what should happen to your estate when you pass away, your family can be left twisting in the wind. It’s never too late to get started, until it’s too late.


This article was provided by Family Archival Solutions, Inc.  The article is not intended to provide legal or other advice and readers are strongly encouraged to seek professional guidance in connection with estate planning and preparation.  Family Archival Solutions offers a wide range of family preparation services. Copyright © 2013 www.familyarchivalsolutions.com. All rights reserved.