In kinship cases, there is often a disagreement over whether or not a person claiming an inheritance is a child of the decedent.
Some cases are easy: a child was born while his mother and the decedent were married, there was a paternity (filiation) order issued during the father’s lifetime, or a father filed an affidavit during his lifetime acknowledging paternity.
In more difficult cases, paternity needs to be proven in a probate proceeding by clear and convincing evidence, which only works if the father acknowledged the child openly and notoriously during his lifetime. Another way to prove paternity is by a DNA test plus other corroborating evidence.
Due to new developments in DNA science and New York estate law, it may now be possible to prove paternity without obtaining the father’s DNA, by sampling the father’s other male relatives (i.e. other children).
Establishing paternity is important. Without it, the child would have no legal inheritance rights or rights to social security and VA benefits, coverage under the father’s medical insurance or life insurance benefits or access to information about the medical history of the father’s and the father’s family.
By establishing paternity during his own lifetime (or simply placing the child into a will), the child is now considered a legal heir to the father’s estate. Even if the father does not make a will or trust and dies intestate (without a will), the child has the legal right to inherit under New York intestate laws. Also, if the father’s will and/or trust does not include the child as a beneficiary, the child could still contest the will or trust claiming inheritance if the child can prove in court that the will was invalid or the father was coerced or under undue duress at the time the will or trust was made, there was fraud or the father’s signature on the will was a forgery.
Besides the legal and financial aspects of establishing paternity, there is also the emotional aspect of the child getting to know who their father is and having the opportunity to establish a relationship with the father if both the child and father are willing to do so.
Since paternity matters are complex and can affect who is entitled to inherit your estate, it is important to seek legal advice from a New York estate attorney when involved in a paternity matter concerning a child born out of wedlock. The attorney can prepare the necessary documents and represent you at any court hearings regarding the paternity matter. In addition, a New York estate attorney can also assist you with other estate and tax matters.
If you wish to speak to a New York City estate attorney, call the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin at (212) 233-1233.