DNA test kits like those that can be purchased through websites like Ancestry.com and 23andme.com are becoming more and more popular. Many families are learning about unknown biological relatives connected through DNA evidence. These unknown family members may stem from extramarital affairs, sperm and egg donor donation and other covert methods of creating life. These newly discovered family members may become unintended heirs if proper steps are not taken to prevent otherwise.
First, if someone dies without a valid will or trust disclosing how his or her assets should be distributed, then Maryland’s laws of intestate succession kick in to determine the asset distribution. The laws of intestate succession take into account marital status, whether you have children and then looks to other classes of family members such as parents, siblings, etc. If someone can prove through DNA that he belongs to the class being awarded the assets under intestate succession, he can get a share of those assets. This happens whether you knew him or even knew of his existence.
The same can be said for assets being distributed through your will or trust if it contains general class language. If you leave property to “all your nieces and nephews” as a class gift, and someone can prove through DNA to be a niece or nephew, he will be included in the class gift. Experienced estate planning attorneys try to prevent this scenario by using more specific language in the drafted documents. Rather than open class gifts, it is recommended to use more specific bequests. If there is any chance that you may have surprise heirs and you do not want them to inherit, you can simply say so in your will or trust. Including a phrase such as “I disinherit all other heirs, known and unknown” will suffice. Being clear about your intentions in your estate plan is key to ensuring your property goes to the beneficiaries that you choose and no one else.
Related Key Points
- The DNA tests purchased online will not be sufficient as evidence presented in court. A test will need to be conducted by an accredited lab with a qualified expert willing to testify to the results.
- Half relatives inherit the same as whole relatives under Maryland law. If someone has one parent in common but not both, the inheritance share is the same as a child from both parents.
- Legally adopted children inherit the same as biological children. Foster children and stepchildren do not inherit unless specifically named as beneficiaries.
- Children conceived but unborn before the parent’s death may still inherit. There are restrictions on children conceived by artificial insemination.
- For children born outside of marriage, paternity must be determined to inherit unless the child is specifically named as a beneficiary.
- Grandchildren only receive a share if the parents (your children) are not alive to receive it unless you specifically state otherwise in your estate plan.
The results of more and more DNA kits connecting families to surprise heirs will continue to cause issues in estate planning and administration without proper planning. To discuss how DNA results may impact your estate plan, contact the experienced attorneys at Stouffer Legal in the Greater Baltimore area. You can schedule an appointment by calling us at (443) 470-3599 or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.