We’ve already discussed Prince’s passing previously here on the Estate Planning blog. Prince, one of the most successful music artists of all time, passed away without leaving a will. This means that he died intestate, and the laws of the state he was domiciled in dictate who will inherit from his estate. That almost universally means that your closest living relatives, usually a spouse or child, will inherit in an intestate situation, but this can get tricky. In Prince’s case, siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins and now self-proclaimed children have come out of the woodwork to lay claim to the late singer’s vast fortune and catalogue of music. Prince has no acknowledged surviving children, who would be near the front of the line in an intestate situation. So how exactly do you go about proving you’re the son of a decedent?
Acknowledged Children, Have No Fear
New York intestacy law is very clear on who will inherit when the deceased is intestate. If there is a spouse but no children the spouse inherits everything. If there are children but no spouse, the children inherit everything. If there is a spouse and children, the spouse inherits the first $50,000 plus half of the balance of the estate, with the children splitting the rest.
Children by legal definition, can be a broad category. For children to inherit from their parents through intestacy, New York requires that there be a legal parent-child relationship. Biological children born within the marriage are automatically assumed to be legal children, and even children born after a person dies can be a legal child. Adopted children are treated just like legal biological children and will inherit under intestacy statutes. Foster children and stepchildren who were never adopted formally will not inherit however.
Proving Your Familial Relationship
Children born outside of a marriage though and who were never legally recognized have to prove their familial relationship in order to inherit through intestacy. This is governed by the New York Estates, Powers & Trusts § 4-1.2. In order to prove consanguinity or blood relationship with the deceased, New York requires that a kinship hearing be held. At this hearing, the person claiming the blood relationship must not only prove that relationship but must also establish the identity of the common blood relative and construct a family tree. The most common methods of proving kinship include birth, death and marriage records. Testimony from disinterested third parties can also be considered. Above all else though it must be shown conclusively that there are no other living relatives who have a claim to the estate equal to or greater than to the claimant.
In the case of a previously unclaimed, out of marriage child, establishing paternity would be the first step to claiming a part of an estate. The blood relationship has to be present if a child was never acknowledged or adopted during a decedent’s lifetime. Next, the child has to show through a family tree that they are the closest living relative and therefore have the greater claim on the decedent’s estate.