Discovering your ancestry can be both fun and fascinating. At-home DNA tests have grown in popularity in recent years. Often given as a unique gift for loved ones, the kits reveal details about our individual and collective pasts. Unfortunately, these tests aren’t all fun and games. When a test reveals an unexpected relative or biological child, your estate plan may need updating.
If you do not have a will, a newly discovered biological child could be entitled to inherit your assets just like your other children. This could spell serious trouble for your known-family after your passing. Without proper planning, a person with whom you have no relationship could end up with the same inheritance as your other children.
Even with a will, a newly discovered biological child may be able to claim a share of your assets under the pretermitted heir rules of your state. A pretermitted heir is someone who has not been mentioned or specifically left anything in a will. Regardless of being left out, such “heir” may still be able to demand their legal share under the state laws of distribution and descent.
Genealogy isn’t the straight-forward hobby it once was. If you decide to take a DNA test, it’s important to be aware of the risks. We may be used to our medical information staying private, but commercial DNA testing companies are not subject to the same privacy laws that hospitals must obey. As soon as you send your DNA off for testing, it becomes part of a database regulated by the company behind the kit. These companies can volunteer their database for all kinds of unexpected uses. Police, pharmaceutical companies, and app developers are all hungry for this kind of data.
While it’s never a good idea to let fear guide your decision-making process, it’s a good idea to know exactly what you are getting into when taking these DNA tests. Even if you are certain you don’t have an unknown child to worry about, these tests can bring about all kinds of unexpected legal consequences. With the proper planning, though, you can rest easy knowing your assets are protected.
But if an unknown child is discovered, it is not a predetermined conclusion that the child would want anything from you financially or is looking for an inheritance. The child may be only looking for important family medical history or to connect with family the child wasn’t aware existed prior to the DNA test. Be sensitive to the impact the discovery has an everyone involved.
If you’re concerned about your estate planning after taking a home DNA test, schedule an appointment to meet with us as soon as possible. We can help you formally outline the specific individuals you want to inherit your assets in your estate planning documents and those you wish to disinherit. By avoiding general terms like “children” in your plans and being as specific as possible regarding your wishes, we can eliminate confusion that could lead to demands from an unknown biological child.