Legal Consequences of Dying without a Will

    On July 4, 2009, NFL quarterback Steve McNair was found murdered in a hotel room in Nashville, Tennessee. McNair didn’t have a will at the time of his death. In legal jargon, this is known as dying intestate. When someone dies without a will, state law governs how his estate is administered. In McNair’s case, Tennessee law governs since it was his place of residence, also known as his domicile, when he died.
    McNair was married at the time of his death, and his widow was appointed administrator of his estate. McNair had four sons, two from his current marriage and two from previous relationships. Under Tennessee law, when one spouse dies without a will, the surviving spouse is automatically entitled to at least one third of the estate, and the surviving children split the rest. It is possible that this division may have very well been what McNair intended, but without a will to express his final wishes, nobody will ever know.
    Certainly, McNair could not have intended the tax consequences of dying without a will. It is estimated that McNair earned about $90 million during his NFL career. Generally, the larger the value of the estate, the larger the tax burden. If McNair had not established any tax avoidance protections, such as the creation of a trust, his estate may have an enormous estate and inheritance tax liability.
    The McNair case highlights the importance of having a will. The cost of creating a simple will is minimal but avoids considerable trouble.