As you’re developing your estate plan, you may be thinking about a child you fathered many years ago with a woman you never married. You’ve had no relationship with that child over the years and maybe have no idea where they are or even if they’re still alive.
Either way, you’re focused on developing an estate plan that will help provide for the children you’ve had with your spouse(s) and their children. What about this other child? Can they come in and lay claim to part of your estate? What does the law say about “non-marital descendants,” or what used to be called “illegitimate” children?
It depends on whether you have an estate plan
If you draw up an estate plan (even just a will), you have the right to leave any of your children as much or as little as you choose – or nothing at all. Therefore, no one can demand a share of your estate even if they can provide DNA evidence that they are your biological child.
If you die without a will, however, which is called “dying intestate,” state law determines how your estate will be divided among your heirs. That includes children.
If you never acknowledged the paternity of (and maybe never knew about) a person who claims to be your biological child, they will need to provide evidence of your parentage to seek a share of your estate if you die intestate. The best way to do that is through DNA testing.
If they can prove through DNA evidence that you were their parent, they are entitled to a share of your estate under Pennsylvania law if it’s being divided by the court. How much will depend on whether you have a spouse who survives you and how many other children there are.
Sparing your family any unwanted surprises like this after you’re gone is just one reason why it’s wise to have an estate plan. This leaves the distribution of your assets in your hands rather than the state’s.