Why do I need a NY will? Estate of Steve McNair

As a NY estate lawyer and football fan it is hard to believe 14 years have passed since NFL superstar, quarterback Steve McNair, was murdered by his then girlfriend Sahel Kazemi in 2009.  The 20 year old Kazemi allegedly shot McNair four times before turning the gun on herself and committing suicide.  Prior to this violent ending, McNair enjoyed a career that most professional athletes only dream of.  McNair was drafted as the starting quarterback of the then brand new expansion team, Tennessee Titans in 1997.  The young MVP quarterback would bring the Titans within inches of winning their first Super Bowl in 2000 against the St. Louis Rams.  Throughout his career McNair enjoyed a 13 year run as starting quarterback in the NFL earning more than $80 million dollars in contracts during that period.  All of this came crashing down in 2009 when McNair’s life took a horrible turn.

Making matters even worse was the fact Steve McNair left behind a spouse and four children, two of them non-marital from a prior relationship.  One of McNair’s non-marital sons, Steven McNair, Jr., even bore his namesake.  Looking at this from a NY estate lawyer’s perspective I can tell you this is every family’s worst nightmare.  Not only was the family left to pick up the pieces of a terrible tragedy but now the family had to endure infighting over McNair’s sizeable estate.   From experience I can tell you as a NY estate lawyer there is nothing more financially draining or emotionally exhausting for a family experiencing an unforeseen death than not having a properly executed NY will in place.

In McNair’s Estate, his surviving spouse, Mechelle McNair hired an estate lawyer to petition the court to become the Administrator of her husband’s estate.  In Mechelle McNair’s petition for letters of administration it is vital that the information be as truthful and accurate as possible.  Some of the information the petitioner must include in their petition are the names and addresses of all interested parties, next of kin of the deceased.  In McNair’s case, Mechelle McNair, only included the names of her two marital children with McNair in the petition as distributees, conveniently omitting McNair’s two non-marital children completely.  While non-marital children may have to establish standing to inherit under the NY estate law, they must be included in the Administration Petition as interested parties and afforded an opportunity to establish paternity pursuant to EPTL 4-1.2.(a)(2).  Obviously, McNair’s namesake, Steven McNair, Jr., should have initially been included in the Administration petition and was not.  However once this was brought to the attention of the court it was rectified and McNair’s non-marital children were subsequently added to the petition as potential heirs with rights.

Had Steven McNair had a will, as any NY estate lawyer will tell you, his choice of executor would have been clearly spelled out in his will and his property would have been distributed to the beneficiaries of his choosing in the manner in which he saw fit.  Unfortunately, Steven McNair did not have a Last Will & Testament making it very difficult for his loved ones after his passing.  When we pass without a NY will our NY estate is called intestacy and passes to our heirs in accordance with the NY estate law.  For example a NY estate lawyer will tell you in NY the surviving spouse in an intestate estate receives the first $50,000.00 plus ½ of the remaining net estate assets with any and all children of the decedent sharing the remaining ½ equally.  As you can see what should happen and what does happen when we pass without a NY will are often two different things.  Here, it was common knowledge that Steve McNair had two non-marital children from a prior relationship however the children were still omitted from the administration petition. Had the non-marital children not come forward and litigated this estate issue the children could have been denied millions of dollars from their father’s estate.  On the other hand, if there was a will naming the non-marital children as beneficiaries, there would have been no question as to their identities and rights to inherit from McNair’s Estate.  This is just one of the many reasons drafting your NY will is a necessity.

Additionally, McNair had purchased a luxury home that sits on 45 acres of land for his mother’s use and enjoyment for the rest of her life.  The home was essentially McNair’s mother’s house up until the time of Steven McNair’s passing.  Unfortunately Steven McNair’s name was the only name on the deed to the property.  As a result it did not take long for Mechelle McNair, as administrator of McNair’s Estate, to begin eviction proceedings against McNair’s mother from her own home and subsequently sued her for removing her own personal property from the home claiming it belonged to McNair’s estate, not his mother.  You do not have to be a NY estate lawyer to recognize how untoward and distasteful McNair’s untimely death was, quickly becoming a financial headache for his family exacerbated by the fact he did not have a will.  Had McNair drafted his will, he would most definitely have left the above-mentioned property to his mother.  Instead McNair’s mother was put out of her own home during the administration of McNair’s estate.  This result was the opposite of what McNair intended.  This example clearly identifies the most important reason to draft your NY will, to retain control of your assets after you are gone.

So why are people afraid to have their NY estate lawyers draft their wills?  As a NY estate lawyer I have come to understand there are a couple of reasons humans put off drafting their NY wills.  First, as crazy as it sounds superstition.  Nobody ever said our species was logical and rational otherwise NY estate lawyers would not spend their days litigating NY estates in Surrogate’s Court.  Some people honestly believe that if they put off doing their wills they can somehow prevent their own demise. Unfortunately this is not the case.

Additionally people procrastinate in the drafting of their NY wills because of misinformation.  As a NY estate lawyer it is always surprising to hear how terrified people are of the word probate. Probate is the desired result after carefully planning your estate. Any New York estate lawyer who is an authority will tell you that every successful NY estate plan begins with the drafting of a NY will, whether it’s a simple will or something more intricate. Some clients are so afraid of the word probate, after attending seminars that disseminate misinformation, they opt for more expensive alternatives such as life estates or elaborate trusts. These alternatives are often accompanied by adverse tax consequences requiring substantial loss of control over the subject property and are just not worth the expenditure. Unless your estate is worth tens of millions of dollars probate is the most desirable option in NY.

If you are thinking about drafting a will it does not hurt to speak to an experienced NY estate lawyer.  Feel free to call the NYC estate lawyers at The Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates for a free consultation at (718) 261-2444. Our NYC estate lawyers have over 60 years of combined NY estate law experience drafting and probating the wills for families like yours in the counties of Queens, New York, Kings, Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, Orange and  Dutchess.



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