I recently found out my biological father is a man whom I grew up around in my hometown. His children saw the connection as well, and I have been contacted by them.
He is still alive but he is 87, and his wife has no idea about this. The oldest son recently told him about me, but I do not trust my new half-siblings.
Do I have rights to inheritance from this man? What should I do?
The Other Son
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Dear Other Son,
What you decide to do next depends on what you want. Getting to know him and proving he is your father could also go hand in hand. Would you like to have a relationship with this man and get to know him? Is it important for you to know where you came from and the circumstances surrounding your birth, and find out whether your biological father knew of your existence?
These are questions that may keep you awake at night, or at least leave you wondering about the kind of man your father is — rather than, or, indeed, in addition to, his net worth. Why allow other people to come between you and your biological father? You are only an outsider as long as you act like one. Time, unfortunately, is not on your side.
Non-marital, biological children are entitled to inheritance, as long as they are not expressly disinherited in their parent’s will. But they must first prove that they are direct beneficiaries, either through DNA evidence, birth certificates and/or “openly and notoriously” acknowledged paternity. This can also be done via text message, photographs and testimony from friends.
Regina Kiperman of RKLaw, an estate-law firm in New York, says a non-marital child can inherit from their father if “the father, during his lifetime, acknowledged paternity by signing a document which meets certain requirements set forth in Social Services Law” or “if there has been a court ordered determination of paternity during the father’s lifetime.”
Other ways of establishing paternity as outlined by Kiperman include: “Paternity has been established by clear and convincing evidence, such as genetic marker (e.g. DNA test) or evidence that the father openly and notoriously acknowledged the child as his own (e.g. obtain a letter from one of the father’s friends that confirmed that the father declared the person to be his daughter).”
Given the often short statute of limitations for contesting wills, it pays to be proactive. The law firm Antonelli & Antonelli had a client who filed objections to his sister’s administration petition because she failed to include him in the will and formally notify him of her application. In that case, the father had claimed his non-marital son as a dependent on his tax returns.
I hope you find the answers — and satisfaction — you seek. There may, for instance, be lifelong sibling relationships waiting for you, in addition to an inheritance. If they have reached out to you of their own accord, it seems unlikely that they are set on thwarting a relationship with your biological father — or, indeed, any inheritance that could come from acknowledging such a relationship.
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