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Steve McNair's Estate Up in the Air

Last week, the judge overseeing late NFL quarterback Steve McNair's multi-million dollar estate allowed for the release of $2.5 million to McNair's widow and four sons. When McNair died in 2009, leaving an estate valued at more than $19 million and no personal will to speak of, the question of where his estate would end up immediately went to probate court.

Two of McNair's sons were by his widow, while the other two were from a previous relationship. While it may seem obvious that a good portion of McNair's estate would be going towards them anyway, the thing about probate without a will is that nothing is taken for granted.

In some cases, probate is a useful tool. It's public, for one, and makes it harder for ill-meaning individuals to cause trouble. However, one of the biggest downsides to probate is time. When an estate enters probate with no personal will to guide the proceedings that time can stretch on indefinitely.

Complicating McNair's case is the fact that his estate is so large and, one imagines, diverse. Few estates consist of only monetary assets. However, estates consisting of multiple vehicles, homes and other property take all the longer to probate.

In the end, with no will in place, McNair essentially left the direction of his loved one's inheritance to the court. Had an estate plan been in place, it's unlikely the process would have been this difficult.

Of course, McNair's death came as a shock to all who knew him. In no way could it have been foreseen. Unpredictability, too, is one of the things that a comprehensive estate plan will address. In fact, for many, that's the very reason they have one - just in case.

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