Deathbed transfers of estate or trust assets can look suspicious, and there's good reasons why. The timing is off, to put it lightly, and the ailing maker of an estate or trust can be subject to undue influence. The tragic story of a professional football player's terminal illness and deathbed transfer shares key features I've seen in other litigation battles over a decedent's inheritance.
A native of Alabama, Kevin Turner was a strong, dynamic fullback who spent a total of eight seasons in the NFL with the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. Sports writers praised Turner as an offensive workhorse whose blocking skills enabled the star running backs to score their touchdowns. But over the course of his entire athletic career, Turner also suffered fifty concussions, including black-outs on the field. In the years after his retirement, he began suffering the cumulative effects of these injuries - in 2010 he was diagnosed with the neuro-degenerative condition ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. After Turner's death in 2016, an autopsy found the cause of his ALS was rooted in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) brought on by the brain damage he sustained playing football.
Turner was a devoted father and wanted his three children well-cared for. In 2012 he created a will to ensure that his inheritance would be split three ways between them. When Turner's condition further deteriorated, he hired nurse Allison Sanford as his caretaker in 2013. Two years later, they married in an impromptu ceremony at the local church. When asked by Turner's mother where they were going for the day, Sanford replied they were going shopping. Then, two days before his death in March of 2016, Turner drafted a trust that cancelled out his previous planned distributions to his children. Instead, he transferred his NFL lifetime pension to Sanford and allotted her 35% of the $5 million payout the league provided because of his CTE and ALS diagnoses.
Now Turner's father is taking legal action on behalf of the football player's children. The family not only contends that CTE incapacitated Turner and left him vulnerable to undue influence by his nurse, but they're requesting that the judge annul the marriage for the same reason. Dr. Ann McKee, who heads Boston University's CTE Center and knew Turner for five years before his passing, said:
"Kevin Turner lacked the mental capacity to make an informed decision concerning entering into a marriage contract."
These elements and others will be examined in probate court for a judge to decide. Taken separately or together, the facts of Turner's case are enough to warrant concern. When it comes to deathbed transfers that disinherit children in favor of a third party, it's time to look deeper and demand accountability.