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No one lives forever

January 20, 1997

As obituary writers and eulogists searched to find the words to praise the late Robert Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts football team, we have to believe that some members of his family were grumbling to themselves about what he's left behind for them to clean up.

We recount it here, not to bad-mouth a man whose name has been "mud" ever since he stripped Baltimore of its beloved Colts, but as a warning to those who've been putting off some estate planning of their own.

Although Michael Chernoff, the Colts' chief financial officer, says that the elder Irsay had a very specific estate plan, his son Jim still faces a 55 percent inheritance tax on a franchise valued (by some experts) at $141 million. The Associated Press reports it may take the Internal Revenue Service years to determine the team's value to the agency's satisfaction.

Another problem: The elder Irsay divorced his wife of 41 years in 1988 and married again. Now his first wife and his son are fighting the second wife, in part to deny her any claim to a 138-acre horse ranch and to get the will probated in Illinois instead of Indiana.

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All parties involved now face years of litigation, which, given the size of the estate - more than $150 million - might have been unavoidable. But the amount of money involved doesn't change two things: Logic and good sense sometimes get lost in the aftermath of someone's death. A loving parent ought to do everything possible to spare the heirs a battle over what remains.

Estate planning has to begin in advance, however, and just as local farmers have used incorporation to prevent inheritance taxes from forcing the sale of the family farm, we have have to believe Irsay Sr. could have done something similar for the Colts.

But what we believe is possible may not be, since most newspaper editors are neither lawyers or accountants. Consult someone in one or both of these fields about what you want to happen to your estate, because even having one worth $150 million doesn't guarantee you'll live forever.

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