Diane McIver, a well known, wealthy Atlanta businesswoman, was allegedly shot and killed by her husband, Claude “Tex” McIver, on September 25.

The case, in which her husband is now charged with involuntary manslaughter, has made headlines throughout Georgia for months, but it has also sparked a legal battle involving the woman's estate that stands as a lesson for ultra-wealthy and even not-so-wealthy people, according to F. Skip Sugarman, an Atlanta attorney who specializes in estate litigation.

“My first warning is that people do unspeakable things when money is involved,” Sugarman said. “And it can often come from the people you least expect. So there should always be a will in place." But a will is not always enough.

In the McIver case, there are disputes about what happened in the shooting. Tex McIver says he had the gun in his lap while he was in the back seat of the a car because they were driving through a bad neighborhood. He says he was startled by a bump they drove over and the gun went off by accident, sending a bullet through the front passenger seat and killing his wife. 

The driver of the car, Diane McIver’s friend, says the car was at a stop when she heard the gun go off, according to news accounts.

But that is not the only dispute surrounding the case: There's also a conflict involving money. One of McIver's companies has filed a lawsuit saying Diane McIver owed it nearly $1 million. The company, U.S. Enterprises, says it loaned another of her companies the money and she personally guaranteed the loan. Now, U.S. Enterprises wants the estate to pay up.

The lawsuit will probably delay the settlement of the estate for months if not longer, says Sugarman. The situation should be a warning for everyone to do proper estate planning and to be prepared for problems any time a substantial amount of money is involved.

The parts of the estate that go through probate court, either with or without a will, have to be used to settle outstanding debts first and the remainder is distributed to heirs. “A lot of people think they are going to inherit substantial amounts of money, but they find there is little left after paying outstanding debts,” Sugarman says.

But there are ways to protect assets by preventing them from going through probate court, Sugarman says. “A beneficiary can be designated on such things as life insurance and retirement accounts. Real estate and other assets can be purchased in two people’s names. In those cases, the assets go straight to the designee without going through probate court.”

In some cases, assets can be protected by placing them in a trust for a beneficiary. “These actions are not foolproof, but it makes it much more easier to protect the assets.

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