Attorney Harold Hudson answers questions Tuesday about Diane McIver’s will. (Bob Andres)
An estate planning attorney hired by Atlanta lawyer Claud “Tex” McIver and his wife, Diane, testified he drafted codicils for the couple’s wills before McIver shot and killed his wife last year, that, if executed, would have altered Diane McIver’s will that’s now in probate.
Atlanta attorney Harold Hudson said at a Sept. 5 hearing that, after the McIvers executed separate wills in 2005 and 2006, they repeatedly sought his advice on proposed changes. They had a long-running disagreement over arrangements tied to the inheritance of the couple’s Putnam County farm, he said.
Hudson also said that, in 2009 or 2010, he drafted codicils for the couple but did not know whether Diane McIver ever signed.
Hudson testified in a challenge by McIver’s legal defense team to the legality of multiple searches Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard’s staff conducted in April during their investigation leading up to McIver’s June indictment on murder charges.
County prosecutors and investigators searched Hudson’s law offices and his home in April while hunting for a more-recent will or a codicil they believe Diane McIver may have signed that could provide a motive for her death, according to search warrant affidavits.
While McIver and his lawyers acknowledged McIver shot his wife, they insist it was a tragic accident. McIver’s attorney, former judge William Hill, has said prosecutors’ insistence on the existence of another will is “made up out of whole cloth.”
Prosecutors have been searching for a later will since two individuals they identified as “close friends” of Diane McIver—including her bookkeeper—said they believed McIver signed a new will that would likely have included godson Austin Schwall as a beneficiary. Schwall is not listed as a beneficiary in the will now in probate. The boy is the son of Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall.
Hudson’s testimony at the suppression hearing provided new insight into why prosecutors, seeking a more-recent will, searched his office and home, Tex McIver’s home and a storage unit that Diane McIver rented with a co-worker. Hudson previously testified in April before the grand jury that indicted McIver.
At the Sept. 5 hearing, Hudson testified that the McIvers had a long-running disagreement over how and whether their personal and joint ownership of their farm should be converted to ownership by a separate entity for tax purposes.
“I don’t recall there being a heated argument about it,” Hudson said in response to a suggestion by Fulton County Assistant District Attorney Clint Rucker, who is prosecuting McIver. “There was definitely a disagreement.”
Hudson said that, in restructuring the farm’s ownership, Tex McIver—who was then a senior partner at Atlanta’s Fisher & Phillips—was seeking deductions for the farm’s operating expenses and a desire to shift liability from him and his wife to a limited liability corporation. Under the proposal, if his wife died, McIver would have 100 percent ownership of the proposed limited liability corporation slated to become the farm’s holding company, Hudson said.
While questioning Hudson, Rucker also suggested that Diane McIver did not want to transfer ownership of the farm the couple jointly owned to a third entity because, based on what her husband proposed, “It would not ensure that Mr. McIver’s children would not be able to gain control of the ranch, and Diane McIver objected to that. … She wanted to make sure her interest in the ranch went to Austin Schwall, her godson.”
Hudson agreed. “The objection to putting the property into that [LLC] was that, if Diane died first, she wanted her ownership interest in the property to pass as she directed. She did not want it necessarily to go to Tex’s children,” the lawyer said. But, he added, Diane and Tex McIver “were both very keen on Austin.”
Hudson said that he did draw up codicils to both McIvers’ wills regarding the farm. Tex McIver signed and executed his codicil, the lawyer recalled. But, he said, “I don’t believe Diane ever signed it. I don’t believe she was willing to go forward with it. … If she signed a codicil that I produced, then Ken Rickert would know better than anyone.”
Hudson explained that, for much of the time, he was negotiating with Rickert, who was working on Diane McIver’s behalf over proposed changes. Rickert is general counsel of U.S. Enterprises, an advertising company owned and operated by Billy Corey and where Diane McIver rose to become the company’s president before her death.
On Thursday, Rickert confirmed that he spoke with Hudson multiple times on Diane McIver’s behalf.
“There were complicated tax and estate issues involved, and I did not feel I was in a position to advise her that there was absolutely no way that his children would inherit,” he said, “We were at an impasse until we got certain answers.”
In Diane McIver’s 2006 will, which is currently being litigated under seal in Fulton County Probate Court, Rickert is designated as the trustee of any trusts or other assets Diane McIver did not specifically bequeath, although she appointed her husband as her executor.
Hudson also said that, to the best of his recollection, he never had Diane McIver sign a new will. But Rucker said prosecutors secured search warrants for Hudson’s home and office only after the lawyer told the grand jury he “wasn’t sure” whether he had drawn up a new will for Diane McIver. “Did you tell the grand jurors … you did not remember whether or not there was a second will that had been prepared for Diane McIver?” Rucker asked.
“You told me that somebody had told you, or Diane told somebody in 2015 or 2016, that she had prepared a new will,” Hudson said. “You were looking for a new will in 2015 or 2016. I told you I didn’t do it. And I didn’t do it.”