Discovering long-lost siblings has almost become a common occurrence. New DNA technology and the popularity of family tree search tools has made it easier than ever to dig into your ancestry. But what happens when you uncover a new sibling? Including them at Christmas dinner is one thing. Including them in the family estate could be a little more complicated.
This may sound like a situation from a movie, but it happens more than you can imagine. What happens if they are identified while your parents are still living? What if they are identified after your parents are dead? Can they inherit your parents’ estate?
Can a Long-Lost Sibling Inherit?
The answer is “yes,” but only if your parent did not have a will or trust in place. When a person passes intestate (without a will), the state steps in to give you one. In most states, a person’s assets will be split in some manner between the spouse and children if a will is not in place. If that person does not have a legal spouse, most states will divide the estate among their children.
All of their children.
Here is an example: A 50-year-old man finds out he fathered a child when he was a teenager. The father has had no relationship with that child. The man currently has a long-term, live-in girlfriend and wants her to inherit the home they share. Should the man be worried that his estranged child will inherit the house instead of the girlfriend?
What the Law Says
According to most state intestacy laws, which govern estate distribution in cases where there is no will in place, the answer is yes. The child has a right to the estate. For this man, it is advisable to create a will that disinherits his biological child and prevents the child from taking his assets when he dies. He could also create a will that leaves the house to his girlfriend but also leaves part of his estate to his child.
Situations like this may be rare, but they do happen. Even without long-lost siblings, families can be complicated. Many families today include step children and half brothers and sisters. Today a family can be composed of many different relationships. The emotional connections of family members to one another may be very different from their legal connections.
If this is a concern for you, it is critical to seek answers to these types of questions with an Alaska estate planning lawyer. These situations only grow more complicated over time. To set up a consultation at our office, contact (907) 334-9200.