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Ask the Lawyer: How to Protect Your Estate

Kristen M. Jackson of Jackson Law, P.A. answers tough questions regarding probate, including how to protect your estate when it comes to inheritance so you can ensure your property and belongings are given to the rightful heir.

Ask the Lawyer: How to Protect Your Estate

My wife and I have been happily married for over 20 years, and we have three wonderful boys. I recently learned of a child of mine who was born out of wedlock 34 years ago to a woman I once dated in my teens. Although she was pregnant when I last saw her, I’m shocked to learn I’m the father of a daughter who is now in her 30s. Recently, upon locating me, my daughter requested to meet me and my family. My wife was also shocked and reluctant to meet her. She voiced her concern about if my daughter will receive a portion of our estate should something happen to me or both of us. Is it true that if you have a child out of wedlock, who you never knew, he or she can inherit an equal portion of your estate even though the child has never been a part of your immediate family?

In the United States today, there are over 13.5 million single parents raising over 21 million children. Single mothers constitute about 83 percent of single-parent families. Imagine, nearly 39 percent of children born in the U.S. today are born to unmarried mothers, of which 60 percent don’t know who the father is or didn’t have a father figure in their lives during their entire lifetime. At 47 percent, Florida has one of the highest percentage rates of children born out of wedlock in our nation. So how do these statistics affect the future assets of the father who learns many years later that he has a child?

Far too often, the father of a child born out of wedlock seeks ways to avoid any responsibility for child care or may never know that such a child even exists. Regardless of whether the father knew or not, the financial responsibilities can follow him for life, whether it’s years of back child support payments or distribution of assets to the child during probate. The probate bombshell is the one that often catches families unprepared and enraged. Consider the following example.

Thomas and Abbey were married for 40 years before Thomas died. Because the family’s business and home were in Thomas’s name only and he had no will or trust, it was necessary to open a probate to transfer the assets to Abbey and their three children. During the probate process, Abbey learned Thomas had a child named Jessica out of wedlock long before their marriage. Infuriated, Abbey and her children, now adults themselves, engaged in a battle with Jessica and requested that the probate court deny any inheritance be given to Jessica. Having proved to the court that she was Thomas’s child and a rightful heir, Jessica was granted the same entitlement provided to his other three children.

If you have children out of wedlock or from a previous marriage that you wish to disinherit, contact an estate planning attorney to discuss potential consequences and your options.

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