She made a small fortune in real estate, and Diane McIver amassed an impressive collection of the finest furs, hats and jewelry. At the time of her death, the woman who began her career answering phones was worth millions of dollars, and her husband, Claud “Tex” McIver, was to inherit most of it.
Until he was found guilty of her murder. Under a Georgia law that dates back to the 1950s dubbed the “slayer statute,” a convicted murderer can’t inherit from his victim.
That was a point of pride for Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard.
“Because of the jury’s verdict today, Tex McIver will not have access to Diane’s estate,” Howard said at a news conference following the verdict on Monday. “If he had been convicted of the involuntary manslaughter, he would have had access to that estate. He will not have a chance now to get that money because of his conviction for the offense of felony murder.”
So what happens now to Diane McIver’s estate?
Already, Tex McIver has auctioned off most of his dead wife’s lavish wardrobe. The timing of that estate sale — held weeks after she died — raised eyebrows. Tex McIver said he needed the cash to pay off some of the hefty bequests she made to friends in her will.
Tex McIver, 75, will most likely be barred from things like Diane McIver’s life insurance policy and retirement benefits.
But some estate lawyers said that he could still be entitled to half of the couple’s beloved Putnam County ranch, which played a starring role in his six-week long trial. The McIvers were traveling from the ranch the night of the shooting and jurors were shown numerous pictures of the sprawling, western-themed property, which features a wine cellar, a pond, a stable stocked with horses and a separate “saloon” entertaining area.
The McIvers had what’s called a “joint tenancy with right of survivorship,” meaning Tex McIver could still keep ownership of 50 percent of the property. Each of the McIvers owned 50 percent of the ranch, according to property records. Though Tex owned the ranch before he and Diane married, in November 2005, he deeded half of the property to his wife.
“He owns one-half of that land, no matter what,” Atlanta attorney Kasey Libby said. “His half-interest is not affected by the murder because it is not property Diane owned when she died.”
Had Diane, 64, died from a cause other than murder, Tex McIver would have been able to reclaim his late’s wife portion of the ranch. The issue becomes whether the slayer statute takes precedence over Tex McIver’s right of survivorship, according to local attorneys. Atlanta attorney Robert Aitkens said there has not been another case like this one in Georgia.
“It raises the question, ‘Does he keep an undivided one-half interest?’” Aitkens said.
THE VICTIM: Who was Diane McIver?
THE VERDICT: Charge by Charge
After Diane McIver’s death in September 2016, her husband served as the executor of her will. But when he was criminally charged and indicted, state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, a lawyer, was brought in to oversee the McIver estate. Oliver testified during the trial, but declined to discuss the case in depth Thursday.
“There’s significant issues relating to the Georgia slayer statute relating to the administration of Diane McIver’s estate and I’ll be working to resolve those issues,” Oliver told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Attorney Morgan Akin said Diane McIver’s estate should now be treated as though her husband died first.
“Even if there’s a joint tenancy with a right of survivorship, he forfeits that and it’s treated as though he pre-deceased her,” Akin said. “That means the property would remain in the estate.”
The McIvers discussed — and initially disagreed — on who would inherit their holdings following their deaths, according to testimony and emails shown during the trial. Tex McIver wanted his son from a previous marriage to be named as a beneficiary.
But Diane, who had no children of her own and was estranged from her family, insisted the McIvers’ godson, Austin Schwall, inherit the bulk of her estate. The discussions over their wills would continue for several years, and though Diane McIver told others of her plan to leave much of her estate to Austin, an updated will was never located.
“I am leaving the ranch and everything else I have to Austin,” Diane McIver told at least five people, including the boy’s mother, Anne Schwall, who testified at the trial.
Austin, who was 10 when Diane McIver died, was exceptionally close to “Mommy Di,” and she wasn’t shy about her love for the boy. It’s not known whether Austin will now inherit anything from Diane McIver’s estate.
Tex McIver is sure to have accumulated substantial legal bills as part of his defense, which was led by some of Atlanta’s most prominent criminal defense lawyers. And testimony at the trial made clear that he was already financially strapped before his wife’s death.
The lingering questions over money likely won’t be answered any time soon. Tex McIver is set to be sentenced May 23 but his attorneys have already indicated they plan to appeal the conviction. And in order for the slayer statute to be applied, the murder conviction must be final.
But even if Tex McIver appeals, it doesn’t seem likely he would get acquitted of killing his wife, Akin said.
“I’m a gun person. And I’ve got a double-action revolver,” Akin said. “To shoot that by accident, that’s a stretch right there.”
READ THE LAW
53-1-5. Right of individual who feloniously and intentionally kills or conspires to kill to inherit
“An individual who feloniously and intentionally kills or conspires to kill or procures the killing of another individual forfeits the right to take an interest from the decedent’s estate and to serve as a personal representative or trustee of the decedent’s estate or any trust created by the decedent. For purposes of this Code section, the killing or conspiring to kill or procuring another to kill is felonious and intentional if the killing would constitute murder or felony murder or voluntary manslaughter under the laws of this state”
The Story So Far:
What’s Happened: On Monday, a jury of seven women and five men found Tex McIver guilty of felony murder and three other lesser charges. He shot his wife, Diane, in the back as they rode in their SUV near Piedmont Park. Tex McIver has maintained the shooting was a terrible accident. Prosecutors said he was motivated by greed.
Next Up: Tex McIver is set to be sentenced on May 23. The felony murder conviction carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison but Judge Robert McBurney will have the option to make him eligible for parole. His attorneys have pledged to appeal.