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Court Discusses Non-marital Child Entitlement in Will Contest

In a probate proceeding, two non-marital children have moved to have their status as children entitled to benefits under the after-born statute determined. In a prior decision, the court ruled that any question regarding a party’s status in a probate proceeding should be determined as a preliminary matter and stayed all other proceedings.

Rather than question any of the underlying facts, such as proof of paternity, the parties have consented to have the motion submitted assuming the truth of the non-marital children’s allegations for a determination of whether as a matter of law those allegations state a cause of action entitling the claimants to after-born status.

A New York Probate Lawyer said the father of the children died and was survived by eleven children; three from a first marriage, four from a second marriage and the four alleged non-marital children. The will offered for probate benefits only one child from the first marriage, the petitioner and named executor, who inherits the entire estate valued at several million dollars.

Estates Powers and Trusts Law (ETPL) create a rule of presumed intent for a person who made a will and may have inadvertently omitted a child born after he executed his will. If he gave something to existing children and the after-born is neither provided for nor mentioned in the will and not provided for by some settlement, the after-born shares in the gift to existing children.

Case law has granted non-marital after-born children the same rights as marital after-born children if they can establish their inheritance rights under the EPTL. The after-born statute has been amended to address the rights of after-born non-marital children. Long Island Probate Lawyers said the amendment provides for a non-marital child, born after the execution of a last will shall be considered an after-born child of his or her father where paternity is established. While the amendment became effective only after the non-marital father’s death, it essentially codifies preexisting case law.

The claimants allege that after the father of the children executed his will, he underwent DNA tests in 2005 and 2006 which revealed to him for the first time that he was their biological father. Although the claimants were in fact born long before the execution of their father’s will, they claim that non-marital children, only known or acknowledged by their father after execution of his will, should be accorded the same presumption of inadvertent disinheritance as an after-born child and extended the same rights.

Generally, a child is entitled to after-born rights only if born after execution of the will. There is no reported exception to the rule other than for a child adopted after the execution of a will, even though born previously.

The statute itself speaks clearly of a child born after the execution of a last will. The claimants argue that the meaning should be extended to a non-marital child who is known or acknowledged by the deceased father only after execution of his will. However, a Brooklyn Probate Lawyer said the court is not at liberty to conjecture about, add to or subtract from words having a definite and plain meaning. To engraft exceptions where none exist are trespasses by a court upon the legislative domain. When a statute is free from ambiguity and its sweep unburdened by qualification or exception, a court must apply the language as it is written.

The 2007 amendment to the EPTL specifically restricts a non-marital child’s entitlement to a non-marital child, born after the execution of a last will. The court may not ignore a statute’s language in an effort to derive or construct a legislative intent that could easily have been articulated by the Legislature when it drafted the amendment. The court will not exceed its authority by reading the claimant’s language into the statute. It is accordingly concluded that claimants are not entitled to any rights under the after-born statute.

Legitimate and illegitimate children are often not treated equally and even children from the same set of parents often encounter unequal treatment. If you are one of the many children who feels that you deserve more than what you were given and you doubt the authenticity of a last will, consult a Kings County Will Contest Attorney and a Kings County Probate Lawyer. If you also need the expertise of Kings County Estate Administration Attorney, feel free to call the office of Stephen Bilkis and Associates.

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